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Double Life of a Military Sexologist


I kind of live a double life. Most of the time, I live the life of a sexologist, anthropologist, and generally self-reflective person just trying to find my way in the world. During the summer, I put on my uniform and live the life of GySgt Izzo at my military unit in Germany.

I often forget how different these two worlds actually are. As a sexologist and anthropologist, I study things like "the evolution of human mating strategies" and "embodiment." I teach workshops to people who want to know, "How can I get more out of my relationship?" and "How can I figure out who I am?" I talk about things like "self actualization" and "spiritual obedience." As a military SNCO, I'm worried about ISIS, Russia, and how to help my Soldiers, Seamen, and Marines (I work at a Joint unit) become the most technically and tactically proficient military members they can be.

I imagine what it would be like to walk into my military workspace in my boots and camouflage utilities and say the word "intimacy" out loud. We don't play music in my shop, but I imagine that if we did, it would come to a screeching halt. I envision pencils dropping; silence replacing the sounds of fingers tapping on keyboards; blank stares all around. Words like "intimacy" don't make sense in that world. That kind of touchy-feely stuff is for girls.

I remember a handful of years earlier, after I'd completed my first graduate degree in Human Behavior and word got out around the shop that I was going back to school for a doctorate. When the question, "What's this one going to be in?" was asked, I knew to expect at least a few uneasy jokes and smart a** remarks when I replied, "Human Sexuality." But I also remember that after everyone went home for the night, I could expect a knock or two on my door every week from different Marines who weren't coming to hit on me or to "talk shop," but who needed to talk to the professional me instead of the SNCO me. "Is it OK if I talk to you about some of your school stuff?" they'd ask. I knew those conversations weren't going to be about academics; they'd be about sexual performance. Sexual exploration. Being kinky. Being gay. Self consciousness. Shame. Embarrassment. Sexual conquests. Insecurity. Pride... And oh yes, intimacy. There were many of those conversations, and after enough knocks on my door, I came to realize that there's a need for sexologists who "get" the military culture. I came to realize that in the shop (as in most public venues, like Facebook), most of the military guys won't say words like "intimacy" out loud, but their concerns still exists.

In my day-to-day life as a professional, as Dr. Izzo, it's easy to forget the things that are so obvious to GySgt Izzo: that the military culture is different from the culture at large. The touchy-feely stuff that I find so valuable for the general population is rarely even in a language that most military guys or veterans are immediately willing to hear. For those who are willing, it rarely makes much sense.

I'm doing my best to navigate those differences, but it's difficult because there's a professional expectation that those identities will stay separate. I certainly won't be holding group sessions on "intimacy" in cammies, and the touchy-feely worlds of sexology and anthropology would just assume not acknowledge that I'm a Marine in the first place. I guess that means I'll have to be the person who builds the bridge.


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© 2014 by Antoinette Izzo