Jane walked up and down the street outside what looked like a nondescript house in north London three times before she summoned up the courage to ring the doorbell. The 51-year-old was about to have her first session with Britain's - and indeed one of the world's - first state-certified sex coaches. She was overwhelmed with nerves.
Unlike conventional sex therapists - who talk to clients having sexual problems and give them advice on how to overcome them in their own homes - sex coaching can take place in the bedroom. Its benefits can include anything from achieving better orgasms to simply feeling more comfortable naked with a partner. They can use a range of techniques: talk, role-play or intimate physical approaches like touching or massage.
Until now, this sector has been largely unregulated, and understandably scepticism has run high. But experts talk of a "booming industry" that is moving out of the shadows and into the mainstream. California has become the first state worldwide to certify sex coaches, but it is Britons who are its very first graduates. Jane's instructor, Mike Lousada, is so committed to the regulation of the sector that he is launching the first professional body for the industry across Europe later this year.
Lousada, 45, moved from the corporate world into sex coaching as a way do something "more meaningful" in his life. With his own hang-ups and "shame around the body," he became trained as a counsellor, and graduated from the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality last month as a sex coach. He now charges £80 an hour for talking therapy, and £120 for physical work, which includes genital massage, but can include having intercourse with a client. This would be in very rare cases; say to overcome a situation where a woman wanted, but wasn't able to, have penetrative sex.
Lousada calls his work "sex positive," differing from sex therapy which "arises from the point of view that something's wrong that needs to be fixed." He insists his services, often used by women who have been abused in some way in the past, is "boundaried" and run with a "strict code of ethics." He added: "'I'm showing people how to connect their bodies with someone else's. We are taught at school about pregnancy and sexual disease, but not about pleasure."
There are no recorded figures for the number of sex coaches in Britain, but one of the world's pioneering sex coaches, Dr Patti Britton, found there are at least 80 worldwide, when she conducted the first international survey last year.
Namita Caen, 46, from London, is another state-certified sex coach, working in California. She says interest in her services, which focus on talk, are on the increase as they become "legitimised": "Attitudes are totally changing; People are dying to share what's happening in their relationship".
Jane agrees. She had been living an asexual life for almost thirty years when she decided to take up sessions with Lousada. She said she chose to see a sex coach over a sex therapist, because her "issues were around discovering who [she] was as a sexual woman - in relationship to another." Engaging in talk sessions and intimate massage with Lousada, she said she is now "more comfortable with men" and able to "look in the mirror and see a sexy woman" again.
She added: "I find it fascinating that in the UK 'sex coaches' generally have the unfounded reputation of being some sort of prostitutes by another name - exploiting men and women who are either bored and rich or vulnerable and stupid. Mike's work provided me with a safe supportive environment where I could explore my sexuality as a woman and address the issues and hurts of the past."
The Department of Health advises that "people visit their GP if they are experiencing a sexual health problem" and some therapists have voiced suspicion of coaches lacking their accreditation. But Lousada hopes to change this. His professional body will be launched in the next few months: "Sex coaching is becoming a new profession. We need to have a code of ethics, a disciplinary code, and standards, in order to do this work safely."
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