My Mentor, Sex Therapist and Author Sallie Foley

foleyOne of my mentors during my graduate studies was Sallie Foley. Sallie has been a social worker and sex therapist for 30+ years and currently runs the Sexual Health Certificate Program at the University of Michigan’s School of Social Work. Check out that amazing program here.

My first contact with Sallie was when I was the Peer Education Coordinator at the University of Michigan and I helped to put on ”Sexpertise”, the University’s annual conference on sexual health. Sallie was an integral part of this important conference and one of the premiere speakers, talking about her research and giving workshops on sexual pleasure. I was drawn to her because of her presentation style and energy; engaging the audience, answering their questions, and never stopping her motion until the lecture was done. I made sure to pick her brain every time I had the chance to talk with her, and she was more than willing to answer my questions and provide helpful suggestions.

I also was lucky enough to take two classes from her where I gained much of the knowledge I use on a daily basis – Sexual Dysfunction and Death, Loss, and Grief.

“What?” Sallie asked one class. “Does death, loss, and grief have to do with sexuality?” And that’s exactly what I thought when we started talking about it. But Sallie opened my eyes to the intersection of loss, grief, and sexuality, and I use a loss framework when I’m talking to people about their relationships and their sexuality. Because loss and grief doesn’t always need to mean death. One can grieve the loss of a relationship, an intimate friendship, or even their (sexual) health.

I often ask in therapy “What does it feel like when I say you might not being able to have sex in the way that you want to for the rest of your life?” At first this seemed harsh to me, but it’s a valuable question to start the client thinking about their losses around sexuality. Whether this is a person who has recently contracted HIV and hates using condoms, or a man who is attracted to other men but who has sworn off sexual activity with them. This question starts the process of examining and grieving the loss of a certain aspect of sexuality, and can be very effective in moving forward the therapeutic process.

Sallie’s thoughtful manner, jokes, examples, and knowledge continue to influence my learning and practice. And everyone in the sexual health community boasts about their contact with her. Every month or so I get a text or email from someone in the sexual health community in Michigan stating “I get to work/take a class with/talk to Sallie! I’m so excited!”

Sallie’s book, Sex Matters for Women, is currently in its second edition and recently won an award. You can see her work at www.salliefoley.com.

About Craig VanKempen

Craig VanKempen

Craig VanKempen, LLMSW/MPH, is a sex educator and therapist practicing in the Detroit/Ann Arbor area. His professional interests include HIV, polyamory, compulsive sexual behavior, religion and sexuality, and GLBT issues.