Dr. Tina Sellers: Successfully DeShaming Conversations Around Sex and Sexuality
Success looks like many things and can range from achieving mini-milestones to creating platforms that result in healthy dialogue. Very few would equate success with sex; however, sex and gender feminist psychotherapist, professor emerita, and founder and medical director of the Northwest Institute on Intimacy, Dr. Tina Sellers, has built a successful empire around it.
Pursuing and attaining a Ph.D. in clinical sexology to do formal research on the effects of sexual shame on couples’ intimacy, she started a blog, launched an online community called Thank God for Sex, designed an intimacy retreat for couples, began speaking at various venues, wrote articles, chapters, and books, and established the Northwest Institute on Intimacy to encourage all therapists who treat couples to become proficient at improving intimacy and sexuality in the people they serve.
No matter the demographic, race, or ethnic background, discussions around sex should not be shamed. As a matter of fact, the more open the dialogue, the more knowledgeable and comfortable we become with our sexuality and our bodies. I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Tina Sellars about how she became such a pioneer in this field and how success has been consistent for her.
Dr. G.: It’s an honor to speak with you today. Why don’t you give us some details about you and your story? How did you get to where you are today?
Dr. Sellers: I grew up in a big, Swedish immigrant family. My grandparents and four great aunts lived on a single, huge piece of property, near our home in the Pacific Northwest. My grandfather, Sander, had come to America in 1930 as a 17-year-old soccer player determined to bring his family over and find his American dream.
Family and togetherness were among his central values, and by the time I came along, the family was big, boisterous, extremely loving, and tightly interconnected in healthy bonds of love and good humor.
While my ‘Papa’ (what I called my grandfather) loved America with all his heart, it was his Swedish cooking and Swedish love of the sensual that permeated the culture of how we did family. This included an ongoing and open conversation about bodies and sexuality that happened easily and spontaneously among all of the members of the family. I grew up watching lots of open affection among the adult members of my family—seeing married people flirt, giggle, and sit on each other’s lap.
I didn’t know until I was well into my thirties that I grew up in what I came to call a “sound-bite sex home,” where we learned about sexuality and sensuality gradually over time through bits and pieces of shared, chuckled-over wisdom, rather than all at once in what many people call “The Talk.” I can’t remember one singular conversation about sex because sexuality education was an ongoing, open, age-appropriate conversation that I had with both of my parents, my grandparents, and my aunts and uncles along the way.
It’s really because of the comfort that my family had in sexual matters, and their sense of joy and play in their married lives, that I grew up comfortable with the field and study of sexuality and intimacy. I give all the credit to my Swedish heritage and especially my wild extended family. Their openness was such a gift to me.
I want to see our culture come to a place where all people have access to solid information about sexual health and relational intimacy in all its various colors so that each person can gain a glimpse into what is possible for them. I also want to see the field of psychotherapy, medicine, and theology “grow up” such that proficiency in sexual health and intimacy becomes a standard part of training, and to see loving, intimate touch as a viable avenue to healing attachment. I’m convinced that sexuality can be a powerful resource to nourish our human experience, and that even in our sex-saturated culture, we’re generally missing out on something beautiful, playful, and fun in the way we approach sexuality and commitment. I hope that my work can help us to reclaim it!
Dr. G.: I’m sure your success has not come easily. What challenges have you had to overcome along the way?
Dr. Sellers: One major challenge occurred in the writing of my first book Sex, God and the Conservative Church – Erasing Shame from Sexual Intimacy. Prior to writing my first full-length book, I had only written academic papers and chapters. Academic writing is often dry and boring. I wanted my first book to be both grounded in solid research, but also engaging, accessible to everyone, the public, and professionals alike. That is an entirely different style of writing. It took eleven years and three iterations to get it right! It was worth all the hard work, however, because now, three-and-a-half years later, the book continues to grow in popularity around the globe, healing people who have suffered the effects of sexual shame, religious sexual trauma, and abstinence education.
Dr. G.: Let’s talk about the work you do. What do you specialize in and why should someone work with you over the competition?
Dr. Sellers: At this moment, I am the only person who is publishing at the intersection of child development, sexual development, healing parental shame, and providing resources for parents to be their child’s best relationship and sexual health resource at each stage of the child’s life-cycle (birth to 18). Parental shame and ignorance are what keeps parents from being able to provide the kind of relational and sexual health that they want to provide, so they end up repeating what their parents did with them – which is exactly what they don’t want to do. My work hold’s their hands through each age and stage so they can do it differently while enjoying the process and their children along the way.
Dr. G.: What’s your best piece of advice for readers who desire to find success in their life?
Dr. Sellers: Learn about sexual health across the lifecycle and the impact of sexual shame through reading Shameless Parenting – even if you are not a parent. You will begin to heal yourself as you see what you did not receive growing up, and as you begin to reparent yourself replacing the myths with real sexual and relational health knowledge. Give yourself grace and begin to see how radically valuable you are while being radically imperfect – still on your human learning journey. The myriad of resources in the book will offer many more steps on your journey.
Dr. G.: Speaking of success, what does the word mean to you?
Dr. Sellers: To be known as someone who gives and receives love well, to be the same person behind closed doors as you are in the open, and to make this world a better place through your daily decisions.
Dr. G.: What’s next for you?
Dr. Sellers: I will continue to support physicians, teachers, psychotherapists, and clergy in getting this information into their clinics and classrooms, as I support parents. Soon there will be “Cheat Sheets” for professionals to download on my website.
I will also work to support progressive faith-based groups and parents who were badly hurt by how their parents raised them, and who are seeking support in raising their children differently from how they were raised. I am considering writing a book targeted at that population specifically.
Dr. G.: What you are doing to remove the stigmas and shame around a sexual conversation is important. How can people connect with you if they want to learn more?
Dr. Sellers: More information can be found on my website at www.tinaschermersellers.com and on IG and on ClubHouse: @drtinashameless.