Linda Kirkman wants to talk to you about sex.
In fact, the Bendigo sexologist thinks doing so could help make the world a better place.
Sitting outside a Bendigo cafe, she describes with glee how two friends, long without partners, recently began new relationships.
“They’re loved up, they are transformed,” she said.
“They’ve gone from being grumpy to being happy.”
It is that sort joy she hopes to spark from her consulting room in central Bendigo, the place she meets singles and couples, of all genders, to talk about their love lives. They come to her with a range of problems, or questions.
“Mismatched libidos are a thing for a lot of people,” she said.
“I also see young women who want sounding boards to bounce off about where to go with their relationships.
“People who are single and don’t know how to find a relationship come to me, all sorts of things.”
Dr Kirkman appears comfortable detailing the ins and outs of her job at a table outside one of Bendigo’s more popular cafes, not worried about what prying ears at nearby tables might think.
The idea that sex is not shameful - far from it, in fact - is central to her work.
Asked how she came to be so at ease with a subject matter others might view as racy, she said curiosity struck from a young age.
Sex was, she said, a “taboo mystery”, one she became determined to better understand.
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At 14, she became enamored with the musical Hair, which she saw while visiting her older sister in Sydney.
Three times she caught the overnight train to the harbour city, watching a nubile Marcia Hines and her castmates disrobe in front of the audience.
“The lengths you’d go to see people with their clothes off,” Dr Kirkman said with a laugh.
“I’m a baby boomer, and growing up in that openness was important.”
While she described her upbringing as conservative, she said her general practitioner father was open about sex and sexuality. She also grew up without brothers and was educated in an all-girls school in Melbourne, something Dr Kirkman believes might have allowed her to avoid being “shoehorned” into roles men typically expected women to fit.
“I think if I had fit beautifully into that heteronormative mould, I wouldn’t have been particularly interested,” she said.
“But because that didn’t gel right, I went exploring.
“‘Teach what you most need to learn’.”
Changing the script
Dr Kirkman is quick to clarify that working as a sexologist did not mean she had an “outrageously rampant” sex life herself.
But she has torn up the “heteronormative sexual script” others might expect her to perform.
Listening to her talk, you would be forgiven for thinking Dr Kirkman was discussing theatre: words like “script” and “perform” seem more at home on stage than in the bedroom.
But sex was a type of performance, she said.
Dr Kirkman said many people’s sex lives operated according to a kind of pre-ordained game plan, a prescribed set of acts, often in a rigid order, to which people were expected to adhere.
In heterosexual couplings, the game plan's final goal tended to be gratification for the male partner.
But that is not how things needed to play out, the sexologist insisted. The script could be re-written.
Communication was key: people should be able to say “no”, or “not like that” – and education and practice on receiving a “no” with kind respect was a vital for its success. Government policy and legislation should ensure everyone – men and women, LGBTI people – had the opportunity to make the right choices for them.
Dr Kirkman attributed the discomfort some people associated with discussing sex and their sexuality to a fear of the unknown.
“If you’re questioning your parents or your religion or your community, that’s really big and it’s really scary,” she said.
“It’s all too terrifying; they’re afraid of change, so it’s easier to condemn it than to open up to it.”
But for others, these days were the beginning of a personal, sexual revolution. She recalls a client from another culture who once feared sex outside marriage would see him murdered.
With Dr Kirkman’s help, those fears were dissipating. She was excited to watch those shifts continue.
“There’s a whole lot of people who are exploring the most amazing openness and diversity, and exploring their own gender, when they may not have ever had the safety to do that before.”