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Meet Trailblazer Dr. Jennifer Gunsaullus

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dr. Jennifer Gunsaullus.

Dr. Gunsaullus, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I grew up in a small town in Southeastern Pennsylvania and was a bit of a contradiction — I internalized the “good girl” messaging of our society, but was also confident and opinionated. As an undergraduate at Lehigh University, I joined the Sexual Health Peer Educators. This is where I became fascinated with people’s sexual decision-making and also learned that I could love public speaking (I hated it prior to that!).

In graduate school in Albany, NY, I studied sociology and also worked training sexual health peer educators and got involved with sexual activism through performing in The Vagina Monologues. I moved to San Diego at the end of 2003 to escape the cold and snow of the Northeast and finished my dissertation and Ph.D. from the beauty of Pacific Beach.

In San Diego, I jumped into learning about and experiencing holistic health and spirituality, from meditation and mindfulness to Reiki and yoga and personal transformation classes. I started integrating this mind, body, spirit approach into my work as a sex educator, public speaker, and sex & intimacy coach. And I realized that if folks don’t love themselves and know that they are innately worthy, they won’t take care of themselves.

I’ve been in San Diego for 15 years now, and despite developing a thriving coaching practice, I’m shifting my focus to my deepest passion—big picture education and public speaking. I love traveling around the country and creating spaces for groups of people, from 8 to 1000, to challenge how they think about topics like sex, intimacy, and consent, and teach them mindfulness and compassion skills to be healthier, happier, and more communicative.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
My path was never defined. I never said, “I want to help people have better sex lives, and I want to empower women around finding their voice in consent and owning their right to pleasure. I want to reduce the sexual shame that pervades our society.” The whole process has been and continues to be, a process of trial and error. But I love trying new things and being creative, and at times, this uncertainty lights me up because it means anything is possible.

The biggest struggle has always been a financial one since I’m carving my own path. My income is not steady. But I am always motivated by being of service to others and shifting the sexual and relationship paradigms in our country. I like to shop in thrift stores too, which helps!

One piece of advice is to be open to opportunities with good people. It’s been a process for me of learning to trust my intuition about who is good to collaborate with, versus who will be more trouble than they are worth or who doesn’t truly value my contributions. As women, we’re taught to give people the benefit of the doubt, but sometimes that is a detriment. I’ve learned to say “yes” to amazing people and opportunities, but I probably say “no” now more than “yes.” I like communicating clearly and setting my boundaries. It’s always a balance of compassion for others and compassion for myself.

Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
My work is always evolving. I continue to see a few clients in my private practice but have been focusing on writing, creating online courses, public speaking, and helping to run Sex Positive San Diego. My specialty areas are helping women in long-term relationships who struggle with their desire, teaching college students and adults how to actually give and receive consent (we suck at it as a society), and mindfulness in sex and communication.

For many years, I created professionally-produced videos for my In the Den with Dr. Jenn series – they are informative, educational, challenging, and funny. I have over 225 videos on YouTube on my DrJennsDen channel. I also gave two TEDs talks, both on female sexuality.

My first book will be published on August 13, 2019! I’ve worked on this for many years, and last summer, I was thrilled to find a publisher for my book. The title is From Madness to Mindfulness: Reinventing Sex for Women. The editing and re-editing and more re-editing of a full-length book is an exhausting process and I am ridiculously excited for this summer!

In October 2018, I started a podcast with Clint August, on-air radio personality in San Diego. It’s called Sex Talk with Clint & the Doc, and we share a lot of personal stories about sex, dating, quirks, and communication. And we delve into sex stories in the news and common relationship struggles around sex and intimacy. While it’s educational, it’s also really funny!

My approach is unique because it’s always rooted in a sociological understanding of sex, gender, sexuality, and communication. And then I teach mindfulness and compassion skills to help folks get to the heart of their struggles around sex and intimacy. This is the best way to help people remove their armor that gets in the way of the vulnerability and authenticity needed for a beautiful intimate connection with another human being.

Do you feel like there was something about the experiences you had growing up that played an outsized role in setting you up for success later in life?
I have always felt unconditional love from my parents, who are still together after 51 years of marriage, in the same house that I grew up in. I had a very stable and happy childhood, played a lot of sports (and still do!) and was encouraged to explore and try new things. I feel very lucky for all of this and am so appreciative of my parents.

I’ve chosen a rather unconventional path, and I know they have worried about me over the years. I also like to travel alone, which worries them. But they never stop being my biggest fans and I’m so grateful. I think their stability and love and connection has been a big part of why I have the confidence to keep doing what I’m doing, and putting myself out in the world in bigger and bigger ways.

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Image Credit:
Jill McDevitt

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