David Singer on Consensual Non-Monogamy – Smart Sex, Smart Love with Dr. Joe Kort

This week’s guest on Smart Sex, Smart Love is David Singer – a Poly & Kink aware therapist, based in California. A Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, David is not just a Kink Aware Professional, he is also active in the lifestyle, giving him a greater empathy for the challenges that exist for people who refuse to live by other people’s rules. David specializes in working with people practicing or exploring consensual non-monogamy, people involved in kink/power exchange relationships, as well as sex workers.  His clients have been individuals, couples, and polycules. Together, he and Joe Kort get into the nitty gritty of why David decided to come out as kinky, and what exactly consensual non-monogamy is. How do people deal with knowing their partner is with someone else? And, how do consensually non-monagomous people manage potential jealousy?

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Welcome to Smart Sex, Smart love. I’m Dr. Joe Kort, and today I’m delighted to be with David Singer. David Singer is a poly and kink aware therapist based in California, a licensed marriage and family therapist. David is not just a kink aware of professional. He’s also active in the lifestyle, giving him a greater empathy for the challenges that exist for people who refuse to live by other people’s rules. He specializes in working with people practicing or exploring consensual non-monogamy, people involved in kink and power exchange relationships, as well as sex workers. His clients have been individuals, couples and polycules. We’ll talk about what that means. He’ll tell us what that means.

David has a master’s degree in clinical psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy from Pepperdine University. He also has more than a decade of experience working with police and fire departments to help survivors of trauma. David is a sex positive therapist who also is a no sex positive therapist when working with people who identify as asexual. Oh, I see. He strives to create a safe, supportive environment in which people can find their best selves.

As well as his office based therapy, David also offers online sessions with clients who live anywhere in California. He’s a member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, and ensures his clients will never feel condemned for their kinks. Welcome David.

David Singer:                      Thank you, Joe. It’s great to be here.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       It’s great to have you here. You know I’ve never met you. I don’t know you. I just have known you online and seen that you were not just a kink aware therapist, which many therapists identify as, but your kinky as well.

David Singer:                      Yeah.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       And so, to me, I thought that has to be talked about. I wanted to have you on. And do you want to share a little bit about that? Why you chose to come out as kinky?

David Singer:                      So, for a long time, I kind of did this aspect of my practice sort of on the DL. And I had some colleagues that were involved in dungeon scenes out here that knew that I worked with kink people. And so, I would get referrals that way, but most of my work was still with police departments.

In the beginning, I would kind of give these mealy answers, which were true about, well, even when I started training, I kind of had kinky clients and I worked well with them. And it was a slow process to kind of just say, hey, yeah. You know what? I’m actually part of this lifestyle. And I was a little worried about the reaction to it, but honestly, at least to my face, it’s been pretty positive.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Oh, good. So, that’s what I was going to ask you. Positive from even other therapists?

David Singer:                      Yeah. So, that one surprised me. Especially, it’s only last couple of years that I’ve really, really tried to claim this niche of L.A. King Shrink. LAKinkshrink.com. And so, I went to a networking thing for therapists and I gave myself permission like this is just recon. I can just be quiet here and watch what they do. And they had a little thing where you’ve got basically 30 seconds to introduce yourself and say what you do. And I know myself enough to know that I’d be so angry with myself if I didn’t make me do it, that that would be worse than whatever reaction I got.

So, I made myself do it and I said, L.A. Kink Shrink. And I said I work with consensual non-monogamy. I said I work with kinky and that I’m part of those fields. And I’m thinking that A, the earth didn’t inexplicably open up and swallow me.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Good.

David Singer:                      Which is cool.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Yep.

David Singer:                      And B, I ended up actually having like two people that day come up to me later and want to talk about it. And the next time I did it, I had a therapist come up to me and kind of make sure no one was around and say, well actually, my partner and I are in swinger relationships. And I’m a therapist, and I don’t know how to talk to anyone about this. So, I think once someone says, hey, you know what? I’m kinky. Or hey, you know what? I’m into consensual non-monogamy, you start finding like that guy down the street is too. And I never knew it, because we never talked about it.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Right. You instantly become safe because you’ve come out, and so you’ve created safety for them to come out.

David Singer:                      I hope so. Yes. Creating safety is really kind of a huge thing that I’m trying to do.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Right. Especially on this topic, people have to, because I always say that kink is the gay, right? So, in the ’80s and before, in the ’90s even, being gay was stigmatized and sexualized. And in the ’90s, that’s when I came out as an openly gay therapist, and people questioned me and discouraged me. But I knew that I had to do it for the clients that I wanted to feel safe in my room.

And now, like you, and that’s probably why I found you, I have since come out as kinky. And for the exact same reason I feel like comfortable with it now. I want to be identified that way. I want my clients to feel safety, and I want therapists to learn about kink. It sounds like similar to you.

David Singer:                      And it’s really impossible, I think, in good conscience, to be in a room with a client and talk about accepting yourself, and loving yourself, and being okay with these things of yourself, while you are at the same time not doing it yourself.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Yes.

David Singer:                      Where you’re keeping these parts of yourself hidden and, forgive the term, in a closet.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Yes, I agree. Now, some therapists, I’m just being devil’s advocate here, they’d say, well I mean, what do you share? That seems very self revealing, very personal. It’s your sex life. Is that appropriate for your clients? What would you say?

David Singer:                      It is a little bit different, and I that was something I really struggled with. I kind of think of it sort of like being a therapist in a small town, in that you still, obviously, maintain confidentiality. You still maintain that professional, I hate the word distance, but that difference. But I had a friend who was a therapist in Oklahoma. And she would talk about how she went out on a date, there would be a client that would be serving her. If she ever had too many drinks at a bar, there’d be a client that would see her.

And it’s kind of that same way. Like part of my spiel with clients is, out in L.A. we have a number of dungeons. And I try to tell them that the good thing about me being a therapist in the scene is I know this stuff and I’m there. And the bad thing sometimes is that I’m there. There are times you don’t want to see your therapist. So, I mean you kind of have to do a bit more self-revelation than you would otherwise.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       I relate to that as a gay man, and the Detroit community is a very small, gay male community or gay LGBT community. So, I’m constantly in places where I’m in a group of people, of friends, mixed with my clients who are friends with my friends. And we’re all drinking and talking. And I say to them, this is going to happen if you’re going to work with me, it’s possible we’ll be in these spaces. I’ll never out you. Your confidentiality is private, as always, but it’s going to happen. And the same is true about being kinky, it sounds like.

David Singer:                      Oh, absolutely. We have conventions out here, I don’t know why I said out here, like we don’t have it elsewhere. But there’s a former client from years ago that I run into at every single one of these, every single one of these. And so, she has seen my primary partner. And areas of kind of that kind of wishy washy in confidentiality, that’s a little weird, but it happens.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Yes. So, let’s go into what you call consensual non-monogamy, which is more and more popular, right? It’s morphed into so many names, but that’s the name that’s being used today. Can you define, what does it mean when you say consensual non-monogamy?

David Singer:                      Well, it’s the idea that, I mean, breaking it down, it’s not cheating. It’s the idea of being, depending on how far you go, either sexual, or sexual and romantic, or romantic with more than one person. And that you can do that with honor, with integrity, with transparency. And so, I mean, the big thing nowadays people talk about is polyamory, the idea of being in multiple relationships. And that’s one type of consensual non-monogamy, and that happens. There’s also like swinging. Dan Savage talks about the term monogamish.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Mm-hmm (affirmative).

David Singer:                      That kind of counts is a consensual non-monogamy. Or hall passes, some relationships, the partners travel on business, and when you’re out of state, you can do what you want to do. And the idea is that it’s with communication, it’s with honesty, it’s not cheating. It’s actually, in my experience, both personally and as a professional, it can increase the amount of intimacy in a relationship.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       I agree with that. And I also agree with that around what I would also call and I think is also called consensual monogamy. When I ask my couples, are you monogamous, are you open, are you poly, are you, as Dan savage says, right, like you said, monogamish? Even if they say that they’re monogamous, I look at them and I say, have you negotiated your monogamy? And they look at me like I have two heads. Like what is there to negotiate? We’re monogamous, right? And I’ll say, well, what do you mean?

Well, is it okay that one partner or both of you masturbate privately, use sex toys privately? Can you send dick pics? Can you flirt on Facebook? Can you get online with somebody in Romania and have web sex with the Internet? And one partner will say, well, no. We’re monogamous. And the other partner will say, well, maybe. I don’t know. And then, you realize they have an implicit contract but not an explicit contract. So, isn’t it the same thing, isn’t it?

David Singer:                      Okay. Yeah. Yeah, and A, I love that you asked the question because a lot of therapists don’t ask. There’s such an assumption of monogamy among therapists too. And so, asking the question, I mean, you know this, it opens the door to be able to talk about it. So, I love that.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Yes.

David Singer:                      And I love, like you said, consensual monogamy. I’m not against monogamy. I do think it’s become this automatic default that people get into because A, they don’t think they have any other choice. There are no Disney movies that end and they lived happily ever after and ended up hooking up at Jack down the street.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Right.

David Singer:                      I see it.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Yeah.

David Singer:                      But the idea of putting thought into it. I have no science on this, but my experience has been, I think… so, everything is on a continuum, right? There’s no binary. But I think, in general, there’s a continuum of monogamy or non-monogamy that I think, with no science to back me, is wired in almost as much as gay or straight.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       I love it.

David Singer:                      So, I do think some people are wired monogamous, and there’s nothing wrong with it. But I love what you’re doing of look at it, explore it, make your choices consciously.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Right. And just like open relationships have to renegotiate their contracts, so do monogamous relationships. Every few years, have you renegotiated, have you re-visioned, reexamined? And people don’t do that. I think monogamous couples are more lazy because they think monogamy is going to do the work, and it’s not right anymore than it is for kinky, open relationships.

David Singer:                      Yeah. It’s playing the video game on easy mode. Except it isn’t because you end up, as you’ve seen, as you were talking about, you end up in these boxes that no one thought about. And you end up in this conflict that you didn’t anticipate because you didn’t really talk about what does monogamy mean to you?

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Yes. Yes. Actually, I had, I’ll just say this, I had one gay male couple I worked with and they told me they were monogamous. And I didn’t ask them that question, what does it mean to you, because this was years ago. And they came back and they told me about a really hot three way they had, after a few months working with me. And I said, I thought you said you were monogamous. And they said, we are. So, I put my pen and paper down and said, can you tell me what monogamy means to you? And they said to us, it means we only play together on vacation. So, just that’s a great question to ask, what does it mean to them?

David Singer:                      Yeah.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       So, I want to move it too, because everyone always wants to know, and I want you to answer this if you have the answer.

David Singer:                      All answers are mine.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       You’re the kinky therapist.

David Singer:                      There you go.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       What’s the difference between kinky and vanilla?

David Singer:                      Oh gosh. A, it’s so unfair that the word is vanilla, because I love the taste of vanilla. It’s my favorite ice cream. And I just really think it gets bad press. First off, let me say that.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       All right.

David Singer:                      So, I guess… you know what? So, remember the play Rent?

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Yes.

David Singer:                      That’s how old I am. But anyway, in the song La Vie Boheme they talk about, is anybody in the main stream. The idea being that no one… and I kind of think that’s true. No one is really vanilla, everyone is vanilla ish. And, let us never mention this movie or book, 50 Shades of something or another, and there’s probably 50 shades of vanilla.

So, I think in general, Vanilla is the opposite of kink. So,  it’s we come home after work, we watch a movie, and we have missionary sex, and we go to sleep. That’s kind of the quintessential vanilla. I doubt if many people are as vanilla as we think they are.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       And so then, what would make somebody kinky? What would have to happen for that to not be vanilla?

David Singer:                      Well, anything that is exploring is a little bit of kinky. It’s just this label that, is the label really hugely necessary? I tend to think not. So, your couple, they were, in their opinion, monogamous, but occasionally they had sex with someone else together. So, they were occasionally kinky. A lot of people, lot of people, and certainly in the het world, they’re vanilla. Occasionally they like to be spanked. Okay, that’s kinky. Occasionally, they like the idea of a blindfold. That’s kinky. Does that mean that you’re a kinkster? Does it means you’re like one of them degenerates? No. But it just means, you know what? No one is really all that vanilla.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       I like that. That’s a good answer. I’m asking almost as many people as I can on these shows the difference between the two, because there’s so many variations, you know?

David Singer:                      Yeah.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       And I’ve heard some people say, kink is wherever your disgust response starts. So, that for some people they’ll say, well I’m into all these things, but I would never do that. That’s kinky. Well, they’re having to disgust response to it, but it’s only kinky because they wouldn’t get into it.

But I like your definition of it’s exploring something outside the missionary position, or outside the heteronormative, or just sucking and fucking kind of eye gazing sex, which is fine and great. But it’s more than that.

David Singer:                      I was at a BDSM convention once and there was this guy, and he did some, what I considered pretty extreme edge play type stuff. And he said that he would guarantee that the people that would have the most extreme of, oh my God, I would never do that, are almost inevitably the same people who are like two years later where they’re like, oh my God, that was so amazing. So, I think, when you have really, really strong disgust reaction, it sometimes means maybe there’s something that’s happening there within you.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Exactly. Oh my God. It’s so true. What would you say to people that would say, well, people that are kinky, and this is often what people say, many therapists believe, that they’ve had trauma histories. And, because of their-

David Singer:                      Yeah.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Right? So, what about that?

David Singer:                      Sorry.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       No, go ahead.

David Singer:                      Sorry, that question just annoys me so much.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       I know.

David Singer:                      So, I’m sorry.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Why? Say why it annoys you?

David Singer:                      Because it’s not true. I mean, it’s based upon assumption and no research. So, yes. There are some people that try to gain mastery over past trauma through BDSM. There’s also people that try to gain mastery through past trauma by painting with watercolors. We don’t create a causal relationship in our theory because of that one.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Mm-hmm (affirmative).

David Singer:                      So, I think there’s an awful lot of people that don’t have trauma history, and, for whatever reason, are either drawn to kink stuff, or just quite frankly, just find it hot. And to infer that there’s a causal relationship with trauma, I think, is going much more on your prejudice than on actual research.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       I agree. And I’ve actually tried to find research that would affirm that it’s from trauma or not affirm it’s from trauma, and there’s nothing definitive out there at all, just like you said.

David Singer:                      There really isn’t. There really isn’t. But I just, anecdotally, my anecdotal… I know that anecdotal is not research, but I don’t believe there’s a connection.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Well, and then, isn’t this true too, even if it does come from trauma, so what? You know?

David Singer:                      Yeah. Yeah.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       A lot of people, even if they’re not kinky, their sex comes from trauma. And so, we don’t pathologize that and say that something’s wrong with them. It’s really just about people in a position of two consenting adults, isn’t it?

David Singer:                      Yeah. And I do think you hit on something that’s really key, is when therapists choose to stigmatize, to blame causality on something that basically they don’t like. With consensual non-monogamy, it’s not like when you’re in a consensually nonmonogamous relationship, you have a magic pill and you never have relationship problems. You do. And a lot of quote unquote vanilla, I guess I’ll use the term too, vanilla therapists will put the causality on, well, you’re trying to do this consensual non-monogamy thing. That’s what’s causing these problems.

And it could be the exact same problems that this couple that’s in Nebraska and been married for 45 years have had, and they don’t have a therapist that says, well you know what? It’s because you’re trying this monogamy thing, and maybe that’s just not right for you.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Exactly. That’s well said.

What if you were working with a client, if you could speak to this, and their kink does come from trauma and they’re putting themselves at risk? How do you help them work with the kink in a safer way? Or how do you work with them?

David Singer:                      Well, just like that. As opposed to trying to pathologize, because I think, in general, we’ve had this discussion via Facebook and stuff, it’s like the addiction model. As opposed to using an addiction model where you pathologize the problem, to try to understand the voice of the problem or the voice, in this case, the action that could be problematic. So, as opposed to saying, well, you shouldn’t do that. That’s risky. That’s bad. Try to understand, what’s the message? Everything we do has a voice.

So, try to understand what’s being communicated there. Why is this happening? And try to do that in a way that’s non-shaming and not creating an us versus them where they want to do this, they know we’re going to say they can’t do this, so everyone digs their heels in. Try to create a collaborative look at what’s behind it, and then try to find out are there ways where this can get expressed in a less potentially dangerous manner.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Great. Thank you. And what about, have you worked with couples where one is kinky and one isn’t?

David Singer:                      Yeah. But much more for me… right now, I do a lot of kink work, but most of my practice honestly, at the moment, is consensual non-monogamy. And I have had couples where one wants to be nonmonogamous and one doesn’t. And what happens, and frankly this happened in my own life, so I can have some empathy for it is, mid relationship, one of the partners discovers this concept of consensual non-monogamy. And they feel like, oh my God, this is what I’ve always wanted. And the other partner is like, no. So, that’s hard.

I mean, that takes a lot of work. And I do a lot of praising to the partner that doesn’t necessarily want to be consensually nonmonogamous or is very threatened by it and really confused by it to be willing to come to a therapist that calls himself L.A. Kink Shrink, as opposed to L.A. Family Values, or something like that. So, that’s one of the hardest things that I’ve tried to work with clients on is negotiating that.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       I love that.

David Singer:                      And it really comes down to easing some of the fears and kind of doing some defining and educating.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       I always talk about how therapists are more than happy to talk with couples and help them with differentiation, differentiation around how they’re going to parent differently, how they’re going to come to an agreement around money, communication, housing responsibilities. But, when it comes to sex, they’re not going to help them erotically differentiate. And that’s so unfair and so unfortunate to the couples, because they deserve a therapist to not jump in and align with one or the other, but to stay out of it and help them negotiate through that, like you said, with empathy for both of them, but particularly for the one who doesn’t want this.

David Singer:                      Yeah.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       But that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be a no and that the one who wants it is going to be a yes. It means they have a lot of discussion to have. Doesn’t it?

David Singer:                      It does. And a lot of discussion, a lot of, like I said, educating, a lot of tenderness. I mean, that ends up being… it’s like there are family therapists that have always said. For me, that’s the big indicator of whether it’s going to work or not, is the amount of tenderness and respect that each can have toward the other, even at this really, really difficult time. And that, when I see that in a client, I’m pretty sure they’re going to work it out whichever way they work it out. And I try to make it clear that, even though I am a kink therapist, I am a consensually nonmonogamous person, I don’t have a vested interest in what their answer is.

Because, like I said, I think some people are wired monogamous. And, if they tried to not be, it would be like if you tried to be straight. It would kill you.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Agreed. I totally agree.

Is there anything else that we did not talk about on this podcast that you want to make sure that people know about you as a kink therapist and the work you do?

David Singer:                      Well, mainly about the population of consensual non-monogamy. Because I think people still think that this is just this really weird, rare thing. And the really good peer reviewed research finds four to five percent of the population currently is involved in a consensually nonmonogamous relationship. And you know that number. That’s roughly the same number that identify as LGBTQ.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Yep.

David Singer:                      And I’m not saying that we’ve had a Stonewall struggle. I’m not saying that we face the same discrimination. But I am saying there’s a lot of resources that people know about for the gay community, for the lesbian community, for the bi community, for the trans community. And there’s very little for poly. And it’s not a protected class. There are people that lose their children in custody battles because they’re consensually nonmonogamous and the ex-partner makes the case in court that they’re cheaters.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       I think what-

David Singer:                      And so, it’s-

Dr. Joe Kort:                       No, go ahead.

David Singer:                      No. I mean, it’s a large population. So, at some point, again, I love occasionally trotting out numbers, they say like 20% of Americans say that at some point, and this like could be college, whatever, they’ve had a consensually nonmonogamous relationship. And that just means like they’re dating multiple people. It doesn’t mean they’ve made a plan. And that’s roughly the same number of Americans that have a cat. So, that’s a lot of people.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       That is a lot of people. And I think a lot of what we do have in common as LGBT and with people who are kinky or consensually nonmonogamous is people’s projections from erotophobia.

David Singer:                      Yes.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       It’s people who have hatred or disgust responses around people who are sexually free. And they can’t tolerate it within themselves, so they can’t tolerate it in people that are around them. Don’t you agree?

David Singer:                      I think that’s really good insight. It’s the thing they can’t tolerate within themselves, and they have to push out against it. And it’s a shame, and it’s not needed.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       50% of gay male couples have had open relationships since the beginning of gay time. I always say that. That study after study has been researched and replicated that 50%, and I’ll sometimes get push back by single gay men who say… they’ll be crying, actually, in my office. And they’ll say, how am I ever going to find a partner if 50% of gay men are in open relationships? And I say to them, I think you’re manifesting internalized homophobia, because why aren’t you looking at the 50% that want closed relationships?

David Singer:                      Yes.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       You know? So, don’t look over there. Look over here. And then, I’ve heard gay men, particularly here in Detroit, say, stay in your own lane. If you’re in a relationship, stop going into my pool. Stop taking away the guy that could be my Mr. Right, because you’re having an open… I mean, and I know this comes from their own discomfort and their own issues that they’re struggling with.

David Singer:                      And it’s in a scarcity mindset. And I dealt with that scarcity mindset just on a professional level when like, okay, do I out myself? Do I come out as this? Basically, am I going to be the [inaudible 00:27:26] of the L.A. psychological world? And, for me, it’s been just the opposite. And I think, in general, once people can abandon a scarcity mindset about whatever the issue is, this sounds so Kumbaya, but I don’t mean it sound Kumbaya, but I do think, once you believe that there’s abundance, there’s abundance.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       I love that. You’re so right. It is a scarcity model, and people just feeling like there’s not enough for themselves or enough for each other. That’s so right.

David Singer:                      Yeah.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Anything else that you want to add about kink or your practice?

David Singer:                      No. Just if people want to get in touch with me, LAKinkShrink.com on the Internet. And they can always reach me at LAkinkshrink@gmail.com.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       That’s so awesome. I have so much respect for you and so much look up to you for doing this, because I know how hard it is, especially in our field. Our field is very traditional. Hopefully it’s changing. Hopefully you and I are bringing out those changes, but you’re right in the forefront. Right in your email, your website, it’s right there. And I just think that’s going to be-

David Singer:                      Yeah. I’m really bad at doing things in half measures. Once I decided I was going to try to claim this niche, if you know me at all, you know I have to jump in. I never get in a pool slowly from the shallow end.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       I love it. I really look forward to meeting you someday and having lots of meaningful-

David Singer:                      I really want that.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Yeah.

David Singer:                      I truly do. I’ve enjoyed talking with you.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Thank you so much, David.

David Singer:                      Okay. Be well.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       All right. You too. See you.

David Singer:                      Okay. Bye, bye.

Dr. Joe Kort:                       Bye.