We’ll get to the sex therapist shortly. Our first port of call is sex callers at Lifeline.
When I started volunteering at Lifeline crisis counselling 10 years ago, the training for ‘wannabe’ Lifeline telephone counselors was spread over a three-month period. As trainees, we all had a ‘worst fear’ about being on the phones. For many their worst fear was getting a suicide call. But my worst fear was different.
My worst fear was sex callers.
Sex callers rarely present as sex callers. They rarely say, “Keep talking while I masturbate to the sound of your voice”. A small minority of sex callers may be as obvious as that, but I wasn’t worried about that type.
I was worried about a more subtle type of sex caller. The ones that present as non-sex callers.
They will spin a plausible, often tragic story, and slowly hook the counselor into the call. As the call progresses, sexual content starts to creep into the story. By then the counselor is more likely to be emotionally involved and slower to recognize the ‘red flags’ of a sex caller.
Essentially, this type of sex caller tries to groom the telephone counselor for sexual abuse.
My fear was the yuck factor. The fear of feeling tricked, fooled, and used, by a sex caller.
It’s a serious problem. Many phone counselors quit Lifeline due to sex callers.
Upon completion of our training, we got on the phones. We faced our worst fears.
A fellow trainee did get a suicide call as her first call. She had lots of support and she coped fine.
As for me – I quickly lost my dread of sex callers.
I realized that sex calling was ‘just’ an addiction. And that sex callers were as worthy of compassion as any other type of addict.
However, I couldn’t help them. The same way a glass of wine can’t help an alcoholic.
The best I could do is try and avoid allowing them to use me, redirect them to people who could help, and have compassion for them.
And it seemed to work. The sex callers seemed to find my compassion and firm boundaries distinctly un-erotic.
Boundaries can make or break a sex call. One day I had an unsatisfactory call with a difficult-to-engage male caller. As soon as our call was over, he called Lifeline back. This time he got a young, inexperienced female counselor. She didn’t have the skills to manage the call and he did a full-on sex call. She was extremely distressed. I never saw her again after that shift.
People often ask; “Why do sex callers bother Lifeline, why don’t they just call an 0900 sex line?”.
Maybe they do. I don’t think there’s much, if any, data on that.
However, sex callers may call free helplines, such as Lifeline, instead of 0900 commercial sex lines for several reasons.
Forgive the truism, but it’s probably not about sex, it’s probably about power.
A sex caller is more likely to be someone who feels out of control, desperately trying to claw back some control over something or somebody. They are unlikely to get that same sense of power by calling a dedicated 0900 sex line.
The fact that helplines are free may also be a draw card for sex callers. But not for the obvious reason.
Aside from not having to pay to make sexually explicit phone calls, the free nature of helplines has other advantages. Making sex calls to a free helpline means no 0900 sex-chat-line bills are going to show up on their credit card bill or phone account for a partner to see.
Because, according to the Lifeline sex caller profiling, most sex callers are young to middle-aged men in a relationship.
To be more specific they are in relationships with intimacy problems.
Which reminds me of what the sex therapist said to me on our way to the burlesque show.
She said that of all the couples she counselled, all their sexual problems came down to one thing.
I’m gratified I was able to guess it before she said it.
Problems with intimacy.
So, I’m guessing different people manifest their fear of rejection – and resulting problems with emotional and sexual intimacy – in different ways.
Some of us make sex calls to free helplines. Some of us have sex with strangers. Some of us are serial monogamists. Some of us are serial cheaters. Some of us are faux-polyamorous. Some of us go celibate rather than struggle with human intimacy. Some of us are in relationships with people we don’t know and who don’t know us.
Safer not to judge. I think.
What do you think? For me, the topic of emotional and sexual intimacy comes under the heading, “An incredibly important thing we are too embarrassed and too scared to talk about”. And the more we don’t talk about it the worse it gets. So, let’s talk about it. I’d love to know your opinion on this tricky topic. Leave a comment in the box below.
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