Chantelle Otten sounds sexy. I’d already been acquainted with the Psycho-Sexologist’s voice through her ‘sexy stories’ podcast (a series of sexual experiences sent in from her followers and read aloud by Chantelle), but the honey-like tone that came through in our voice note conversation carried the kind of confidence that takes work to achieve.
Chantelle is on a mission to empower her clients and followers with “sexual self-esteem”. She does this in part through talking about sexuality, a lot. Sex (or the implication of it) is everywhere – on billboards, in films, albums and our feeds. But the inclusive, vulnerable and meaningful world of sexuality that Chantelle champions is so often absent from discourse.
And it’s tricky – understanding your sexual self is a complex, nuanced process. For Chantelle, sexual self-esteem means “how you feel within your body during sex" and how you feel about who you are as a sexual being. It’s about having permission to feel erotically confident, and having a foundation within yourself that creates and cultivates sexual confidence. I think that a lot of people don’t know how to be sexual beings; they don’t feel confident in who they are sexually. My [online] guide (The Sexual Self Esteem Guide) is about that. It’s there to help us pay attention to how we are as an erotic being, and how we can develop on our own erotic confidence. To be more open minded and intentional with our sexual needs.”
When we do try to access this version of ourselves, what we’re shown in the mainstream mostly fails to speak to those complexities. Porn has proven itself an untrustworthy relayer of information – displaying penetrative sex as the main form, and having that form always end in an orgasm for both parties. And our (as Chantelle puts it) inadequate sex education – that tepid, often awkward class taken in high school – acts more as a warning against consequences like unwanted pregnancies. Chantelle emphasises the need to move beyond this limited scope. “We’re taught that sex is this goal orientated act, that it’s penis and vagina sex. First of all, that rules out a whole part of the LGBTQIA+ community and disability community, as well as those who cannot have penetration.”
When Chantelle talks her voice conveys the passion she has for her work. Having initially studied psychology, she found that she was “too goal-orientated” for general psychology and wanted to explore a field that “hadn’t been focused on just yet in society”. Her mother showed her a video of Esther Perel (a famous psychotherapist from Belgium) discussing topics like infidelity and sexuality, and Chantelle loved the way she spoke; “in a way that made it so much more normalised and made you see that it’s not black and white”.
After talking to sex therapists and realising that there was a gap in sexual therapy for people in their early twenties, Chantelle set out to offer sexology with a “health and wellness aspect”. She studied two degrees simultaneously – a degree of Science in Medicine at Sydney University, and a Sexology degree in Amsterdam – flying back and forth between Australia and the Netherlands. By the age of 26 Chantelle had opened a practice in Melbourne. It now employs over 20 staff members. “It’s been a really hardcore, very intense journey but I’m so motivated. And I’m so excited because I’ve seen such a big change in the way that we discuss sex, which I feel very proud to be a part of.”
I found Chantelle when my best friend showed me her popular Instagram account in one of those rarer kinds of conversation on sexuality. Up until then I hadn’t heard the term sexology, but Chantelle’s Instagram posts offered something I was eager for – an honest, pleasure-driven discussion. When I asked Chantelle what sexology is she gave two definitions, which I came to understand as being her communication style: a scientific explanation and an empathetic one. “Sexology is the scientific study of human sexuality. As a psycho-sexologist I look at human sexual interest; the way that humans behave around sex and sexual functioning. My job, as I like to put it in layman's terms, is to be a detective into someone’s sex life, to help them figure out where their concern is coming from and how we can reach their goals for a healthy, satisfying, shame-free, pain-free sex life.”
The website for Chantelle’s practice displays her personal professional philosophy ‘connection centred care’. “The way that I practice is by connecting with people, connecting with their concerns, connecting with a multi-disciplinary healthcare team for that patient. I feel like in the medical system in Australia, whilst we’re really lucky to have Medicare, unfortunately you can sometimes get medical burnout from seeing a lot of different specialists. So I’ve taken it upon myself to make sure I’m managing all of my patient’s cases and making sure that they are getting the care that they need.”
Below are Chantelle’s responses to my burning questions on sexuality (and maybe yours too!).
On pleasure versus goal orientated sex
“Sex is pleasure orientated. I think we should be looking at it more in terms of how we feel good within our sexual encounters. How do we look at it more as a place you go to rather than something you do? How do we focus more on pleasure? We live in a society that is so high-octane. We’re always achieving, we are so work orientated and we’re not pleasure orientated anymore. We’re not focusing on a healthy balance and I do think that we need to talk more about these issues. We need to talk more from an introspective point of view.”
On talking about sex with friends
“Talk with your friends! [Ask questions like] how do you go with sex? Let’s not just talk about when it’s good and how much you have it, let’s talk about challenges, let’s talk about creativity, let’s talk about kinks, let’s not shame people. Let’s embrace people and let’s normalise the discussion around sex and let’s take away the shame from sex.”
On closing the orgasm gap
“I think that we need to learn a lot more about our vulvas and we need to learn a lot more about why pleasure is for us. If you think about vulva-owners, none of us were taught that pleasure is for us – we weren’t even taught what the clitoris was during school. Even within medical degrees in Australia they don’t have the clitoris usually on a diagram. I think that the point is we’ve been taught a lot about penis masturbation but not enough about vulva masturbation. That is problematic, we need to learn a lot more about empowerment.
I think everyone deserves the right to have pleasurable sex, and if they can orgasm of course we want people to be having more orgasms. That is cultivated through knowledge of your own anatomy, your own body, and your own pleasures. And if you’re the partner of someone with a clitoris, learn how to please them. Open up communication and make that the foundation of a healthy sex life.”
On learning how to be vulnerable during sex
“Vulnerability is interesting because I think a lot of people see it as a weakness but it is actually your greatest strength. It’s the courage to show up and be seen when we don’t have control over an outcome.
I think the first step [in opening yourself up to sexual vulnerability] is actually having some self-awareness. Self-awareness is important because it’s the experience of our own personality and our individuality. It is really about learning how to focus on ourselves and our own actions, our thoughts and emotions, and whether we align with our internal standards. How we align our behaviour with our values, and I guess understand correctly how we are perceived by others. I think if we have a level of self-awareness then we’re able to cultivate a sense of what we can share – and what is affecting us right now. That allows you to be more vulnerable.”