Hand Holding

Stefani Goerlich advised that intimacy begins before the bedroom

Growing up in Milwaukee, Stefani Goerlich, 52, owner of Bound Together Counseling, recalled that there were three things polite people do not speak of openly in mixed company: religion, politics and sex. 

“I guess I’ve made a career of all the things you are not supposed to talk about,” said Goerlich, a nationally known sex therapist and author of the bestseller, The Leather Couch: Clinical Practice with Kinky Clients (September 2020, Routledge).  

The book won the 2020 Book Award of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists. This month, Goerlich’s book will be honored with the 2022 Professional Book Award Winner from the Society for Sex Therapy and Research. 

Stefani Goerlich
Stefani Goerlich

Goerlich, who lives in Sterling Heights, began her career as a crisis hotline moderator and first worked as an advocate of those victimized by sex trafficking with at-risk girls and women in Detroit.  

Since her youth in Milwaukee, she said she was drawn to the clergy. At one point, she thought she would join the Navy to become a chaplain. A later-in-life delve into Judaism and Jewish texts led her to begin rabbinical school, but her life took a different direction when her sons developed serious health issues. 

“Rabbinical school meant I would need to spend a substantial amount of time living in Israel, but my sons’ entire medical team of doctors and specialists were here in Detroit,” Goerlich said. She went on to earn her master’s in social work from Wayne State University, specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy. She completed her post-graduate certificate in sex therapy at the University of Michigan where she is on the teaching faculty of the Sexual Health Certificate Program and holds a Ph.D. in clinical sexology. 

“My goal was always eventually to circle back and to finish my rabbinical training, but I came to the conclusion that I could serve God and support people in all kinds of ways,” said Goerlich, whose family belongs to Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township and who also enjoys attending events at the Chabad Jewish Center of Troy. “Being a rabbi means to do deep healing work with people from a uniquely Jewish lens. So, I took it as a sign, and I think that this is where God clearly wants me to be from a career standpoint.” 

A Special Clientele

Because of her interest and knowledge of religion, Goerlich focuses on treating religious clients. Of her Jewish clients, their sexual know-how runs the gamut between inhibition and sexual experimentation, including religious couples who married young but realize they need guidance in getting satisfaction in the bedroom and beyond, she said.

“Some of my favorite people to work with are religiously conservative young couples who are Jewish, Christian and Muslim, who get married very young because that’s the only way to morally explore their sexual desire for one another,” Goerlich said. “Then they realize they don’t know what to do or were not as sexually compatible as they believed.” 

Much about a satisfying sex life sometimes has to do with mystery, physical distance and a temporary unavailability of one’s partner, things that have all been hard to come by during the pandemic. Goerlich said that this topic is also like a two-sided coin: While the pandemic has left her single clients battling loneliness and isolation, married couples have had a bit too much togetherness. 

“The social isolation and inability to meet people and look for partners has been very painful for my single clients,” Goerlich said. “[Psychotherapist] Esther Perel talks about how couples need some distance and separation to maintain desire and attraction. That’s been difficult in the last two years.” 

Goerlich advised that intimacy begins before the bedroom. Elevating mealtime by cooking together, a backrub or even having a technology-free eye-to-eye conversation can be considered foreplay. 

“We rarely have conversations around what we fantasize or are curious about,” explained Goerlich. “Many couples think this means talking dirty or watching something erotic; and for religious couples, that’s not a viable option. But you can talk with your partner about what you find sexy, erotic or loving. Direct conversations like that can be very surprising and can create a sense of intimacy and newness, even if we have not had a chance to experience that in the last few years.” 

Goerlich has also long been an ally to the LGBTQ community. 

“My LGBTQ clients who receive acceptance and affirmation from their families come to me not because of their sexual identity, but because they may be working through anxiety or depression,” Goerlich explained. “For the patients who have not received that love and support, the pain they feel is the most difficult part of my work. I also support my clients seeking gender-affirming care.”  

Find out more at https://www.stefanigoerlich.com.

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Stacy Gittleman is an award-winning journalist and has been a contributing writer for the Detroit Jewish News for the last five years. Prior to moving to Metro Detroit in 2013, she was a columnist and feature writer for Gannett's Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, NY. She also manages social media pages for other local non-profit organizations including the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit. Contact her with breaking news and feature story ideas that impact Detroit's Jewish community at stacy.gittleman@yahoo.com