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Member Spotlight: Peggy Kleinplatz

Member Spotlight: Peggy Kleinplatz

By Steph Auteri | From the March 2014 Issue

AASECT member Peggy J. Kleinplatz, Ph.D. has a lot on her plate. She's a Professor of Medicine and a Clinical Professor of Psychology at the University of Ottawa. She teaches Human Sexuality at the University of Ottawa, and is their Director of Sex and Couples Therapy Training. She is also a clinical psychologist. 

In the midst of all this, Kleinplatz has found the time to edit three books, the most recent of which is New Directions in Sex Therapy: Innovations and Alternatives, winner of the AASECT 2013 Book Award.

Speaking of AASECT, she is currently the Chair of Ethics for the organization. 

And as if all this weren't enough, she has been conducting research that focuses on optimal sexual experience.

So out of all of this, what really gets her motor running? Luckily, she somehow had the time to delve even deeper into all of this during a phone chat.

You seem to have a lot going on. How do you spend most of your time these days?

What I don't do much is sleep. 

During the days, I see clients/patients and do supervision. Two nights a week, I teach at the University of Ottawa. On Tuesdays, I also meet with my research team to study optimal sexual experience. 

I love every moment of my day. My only regret is that there aren't enough hours in the day, or there aren't enough of me to do all the things I want to do every day! But I'm incredibly blessed to work in a field where the students are eager to learn, the clients are eager to grow, and the research is engaging.

What are your main areas of interest within the field? 

I have so many. I find the whole field fascinating and compelling. But I would say that if there were one thing that ties together my teaching, research, and clinical work, it's that I'm aiming for not merely the positive, but for the optimal. And that's what my research is focused on: studying optimal erotic intimacy, and how to bring that about.

Conventionally, the goal in sex therapy has been regression towards the mean. This has never been my objective. Over the last 30 years or so, I've tried to help clients attain their full erotic potential. Eventually, my clinical work led to our team’s current line of research.

What has most informed your trajectory within this field?

I grew up in a very sex-positive household. Around the house, I found numerous books by Victor Frankl, Martin Buber, R.D. Laing, and others that opened doors for me. These books encouraged me to believe that a) we can only understand individual behavior and human relations in context, b) therapists fail their patients when they seek to remediate the symptoms of disorder without aiming for all that an individual/couple can become, and c) social justice must be part of our mandates. 

What obstacles have you faced over the years, and how did you overcome them? 

Both our profession and our clients stop too soon and settle for too little. I want to know how to attain the stuff dreams are made of. Our profession has often settled for promoting merely tolerable sex rather than the heights of optimal erotic intimacy. We need a new set of goals for the field. 

I feel strongly that sexuality education is the most important contribution we as sexologists can make. To the extent that we succeed as educators, we can help to make the need for sex therapy obsolete. It's through my work as an academic rather than as a therapist that I've really been able to increase our discourse around optimal erotic  experience.  

What has been the most interesting project you've worked on, and why?

The research we've been doing over the last 10 years or so. First, we had to find "key informants" — the experts who had attained it — to help us define  "optimal experience." Then we had to ask ourselves, what are the lessons to be learned from those who are having extraordinary erotic intimacy? Next: Of those who are having magnificent sex, how did they manage to accomplish that? The question we have now is: can anybody have magnificent sex? Can anyone acquire this capacity? Can the lessons we've learned from those who are regularly having extraordinary experiences help others acquire these capacities as well? I find this endlessly fascinating.

What advice do you have to share with other educators and therapists?

Answers… not so important. Questions are what should be guiding us and our pursuit of knowledge. This sort of parallels my feeling about teaching and therapy. I don't want to act as an agent of social control, shaping clients to become what we consider normative. I want clients and students to looks within and find the answers themselves. I want them to become enamored of asking questions and finding their own answers.

My only regret is that there aren't enough hours in the day, or there aren't enough of me to do all the things I want to do every day!