Eric Marlowe Garrison is a certified sexuality counselor and author. For almost two decades, Eric has promoted better communication and more healthful relationships. He talks to GayRVA about hairy palms, trading chocolate for knowledge and courting.
GAYRVA: So what’s a sexologist?
Garrison: A scientist, health care provider, counselor/therapist, educator, or researcher who studies human sexuality and/or uses that knowledge to benefit others. I am both a clinical sexologist (I help individuals, couples, and polys), as well as a forensic sexologist (I assist lawyers, police, and JAG officers in their sex crimes or divorce cases). I also wrote the internationally bestselling hetero book, “Mastering Multiple Position Sex.”
How did you get into this field?
I was a peer sexuality educator at VCU back in the ’80s. I called our group Project SAFER (Sound Advice for Every Ram) and didn’t realize that our mascot was also a synonym for rough sex when I named it that. The women at VCU who trained me as a peer educator were essential to my development as a sex educator and sexologist, as were my incredible and sex-positive therapist parents.
I also worked for Masters and Johnson, before studying human sexuality at NYU and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine at the University of London. I was/am surrounded by great friends and mentors. I also started the first gay/straight alliance in a Virginia public school system at T. C. Williams High School in Alexandria [the high school featured in the movie, Remember the Titans].
How can a couple benefit from seeing you?
I get a lot of referrals from doctors and therapists who might want their patients to benefit from some sex advice. For instance, I can help a couple have great sex while one is on anti-depressants or another couple where they are HIV discordant and want the most erotic sex possible, or the conservative lesbian couple I helped in NYC, where I saw clients for years, find toys that they both enjoyed.
What’s the biggest issue you see people for?
Sex enhancement. They have ok sex now and want amazing, toe-curling, transformative sex sooner than later.
Are there ways a single person can benefit?
Yes, absolutely! I see people all the time about dating, living with a viral STI (what I call the 4-H Club: HIV, HSV, Hep C, and HPV). I see people who want more pleasure and men who want to have more control over their orgasms.
How important is sex to a successful relationship?
I count it as important for those who have and enjoy sex. If you are a survivor of sexual trauma, sex might not rank high for you, but it could for your partner and that discordance could pose a challenge, one that they and I can face and overcome.
Do gay couples have issues that straight couples don’t?
100% and vice versa. Some same-sex couples think that “because we are the same sex, there will be equality in the relationship!” Not always the case: age, money, race, etc can all rear their nasty heads in any relationship.
Two men, especially of different ages, might have consent issues. Two women might have different pleasure patterns. One of the hardest things to overcome with my L/G clients is the belief that “we have it easy, because we’re the same sex!” My bisexual and trans clients have different issues as well.
Does your job mean that you’re better than many people at relationships?
Knowing more doesn’t necessarily mean doing more. Sexologists are a hoot to seat at the boring table at a wedding, christening, or bar mitzvah, because we’re the ones who add things to the conversation like, “Did you know that the human clitoris has more than 8,000 nerve endings? Pass me one of those chocolates over there and I’ll tell you about it.”
How would you describe your relationship status?
If all the myths about masturbation were true, I’d have to shave my fingertips to read Braille.
Though I enjoy being partnered, I am currently not and celebrate my single and dating status daily. My partners have been and forever will differ from each other in sex, gender identity and expression, and orientation – but always educated, non-smoking, intelligent people with similar traits. Oh, and forget Jerry Maguire: nobody needs to “complete” me or anyone else. I say be whole on your own, and then find your whole partner.
Are you seeing different issues in the twenty-something population than in the 40+ crowd?
Yes, many 20-somethings (I made the mistake of dating two of them in my 30s and 40s) can’t communicate face-to-face, because of their reliance on technology. The feel emotionally disconnected unless they are electronically connected.
That’s why I don’t have a Facebook account, tweet, or have a phone that texts. I love to court and to teach courting and many youth today are totally clueless about that.
Describe your idea of a great date.
Let me describe a great first date. Meet for lunch, so if it goes well, you can get back for dinner that night. If it sucks, you can meet your friends for dinner. Don’t do lunch and a movie; reverse it. Then you have something to discuss over lunch.
Try to spend more time listening than talking, and if the mood feels right, ask for a hug or kiss. Yes, I’m a firm believer in active consent. If it went well, make sure you make a firm arrangement for another date, and don’t leave it up in the air. “Up in the air” is for zeppelins, not people.
And as a sexologist, I don’t encourage sex on a first date, by the way. Rarely have any fantastic relationships started with sweaty sex.
If you had one piece of advice to give to single people about getting/staying in a relationship, what would it be?
As I told The New York Times, always have an exit strategy; I don’t care if it is a roomie agreement, bungee jumping, an invite to a Roman orgy, or a relationship.
I also like to remind people that life-long relationships, regardless of your orientation, sex, or gender, are social constructs.
If it’s not working and counseling isn’t working either, agree to step left and move on. No regrets.
Karen Newton is a freelance writer and full-time nerd who isn’t happy unless she’s going out every night for food, music or art and blogging it at www.icouldgoonandon.blogspot.com.
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