When you’re an ex­pert on sex­u­al­ity, frank dis­cus­sions just come nat­u­rally – whether at work or at home

Grand Magazine - - CONTENTS - BY PHIL AN­DREWS

Catch­ing up with Robin Mil­hausen, for­mer Grand colum­nist and Guelph’s sex­u­al­ity ex­pert

When Guelph sex-re­searcher and me­dia-celebrity sex­ol­o­gist Robin Mil­hausen was com­ing of age in Colling­wood, it was her fa­ther who de­liv­ered the birds and bees talk to her.

Per­haps fore­shad­ow­ing the ar­rest­ing can­dour his child would come to de­velop for talk­ing pub­licly about sex­u­al­ity and re­la­tion­ships, Ford Mil­hausen served it up mat­ter-of-factly.

“He said: ‘Ev­ery guy is go­ing to want to have sex with you. You’re go­ing to have to pick the right one. Or ones,’ ” Mil­hausen re­calls. “He was a pretty straight-up guy, al­though he didn’t nec­es­sar­ily want to see me talk­ing about sex toys on TV.”

In­deed, her fa­ther, a for­mer real es­tate

ap­praiser, and her mother, Linda, an ed­u­ca­tor, did “see” their daugh­ter’s 82 ap­pear­ances on tele­vi­sion’s “Sex, Toys and Choco­late,” where a range of sex and re­la­tion­ship sub­jects were probed, frankly. But they watched with the sound off.

“He was re­ally, re­ally proud of me, and he al­lowed me to pur­sue this topic with­out em­bar­rass­ment or shame,” says Mil­hausen, now 41, and one of the high­est profile fac­ulty mem­bers at the Univer­sity of Guelph and in her area of aca­demic ex­per­tise: sex and re­la­tion­ships. She has a PhD in ap­plied health sci­ence and is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of sex­u­al­ity and fam­ily re­la­tions at U of G.

“I take any op­por­tu­nity to talk about sex and re­la­tion­ships,” says Mil­hausen, who is an in-de­mand com­mod­ity as a pub­lic speaker, as a fre­quent me­dia source and as an ed­u­ca­tor who rou­tinely pulls in about 400 un­der­grad stu­dents per se­mes­ter for her course of­fer­ings.

In ad­di­tion to the “Sex, Toys and Choco­late” gig on the Life Net­work in the early 2000s, she has been a sex and re­la­tion­ships reg­u­lar on such TV shows as “The Mom Show” (Slice), “Re-vamped” (Slice) and the “Stephen and Chris” show (CBC). She has also been in­ter­viewed for ar­ti­cles or pro­grams in publi­ca­tions such as Cana­dian Liv­ing, Maclean’s, the Wash­ing­ton Post, Chate­laine, the Globe and Mail and the Huffington Post. From 2006 to 2010, she was a reg­u­lar colum­nist in this mag­a­zine.

“The me­dia work is a ton,” says Mil­hausen, who as­serts it also could take up more of her life. But if it did that, it would steal from her teach­ing-re­search time and from her time as a mom and a wife.

“I take the TV stuff spar­ingly now be­cause it does give up a whole work day. Hav­ing chil­dren means I try to be very ef­fi­cient be­tween 9 and 3. Very ef­fi­cient. I don’t waste any time be­tween 9 and 3. And then, 3 to 9: I par­ent in­tently,” she says.

Her hus­band, Steve Jett, 39, a lo­cal psy­chol­o­gist whose prac­tice spe­cial­izes in work­ing with in­di­vid­u­als deal­ing with con­di­tions such as de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety, con­firms his spouse has learned to say “no or maybe later” to pro­fes­sional op­por­tu­ni­ties since be­com­ing a mother.

“Robin’s high profile gen­er­ally means that she’s be­ing in­vited to do many more things than she’ll be able to real­is­ti­cally take on,” says Jett, who met and be­came en­gaged to Mil­hausen when they were doc­toral stu­dents in In­di­ana.

“She ap­pre­ci­ates that life is a marathon, not a sprint. And that the mo­ments we have as a young fam­ily will not ex­ist for­ever. Each fam­ily mo­ment is one to cher­ish, and ex­cit­ing fam­ily mo­ments should be sought out.”

When you speak with their chil­dren, it’s clear Mil­hausen does seek out and cre­ate spe­cial times with Leo, 10, and Molly, 6. “I like to get my nails done with her . . . some­times we go shop­ping. Usu­ally for toys. Some­times for clothes,” bub­bles Molly, a ki­netic, smil­ing sprite, who – like her brother – shares her mom’s sandy-blond hair.

Molly says her mom also reads to her – “old-fash­ioned things, like Goldilocks.”

Fer­ry­ing kids to school and other life com­mit­ments is an­other fre­quent Mil­hausen­the-mom duty. Molly, for ex­am­ple, needs to get to jazz, tap, ballet and hip-hop dance lessons.

“She’s got rhythm in her bones. She’s got rhythm in her soul. She can move,” says Mil­hausen, who has iPhone footage at the ready to de­fend this the­sis. It’s an ex­tended video of Molly bust­ing out an im­promptu and ex­tended dance num­ber at the fam­ily’s home in Guelph’s Sunny Acres neigh­bour­hood.

Leo and his mom carve out time for in­volved dis­cus­sions – of­ten dur­ing evening ses­sions in the fam­ily hot tub. Mil­hausen calls the hot tub per­haps the fam­ily’s best in­vest­ment ever for the chat ses­sions it sup­ports with Leo.

It’s clear Mil­hausen “gets” her son. She knows to re­move the crusts on his grilled cheese sand­wiches so they’re the way he likes them. She also ap­pre­ci­ates that what she does for a liv­ing and how she’s pub­licly de­scribed – “sex re­searcher,” “sex ex­pert” and other la­bels – can be awk­ward things for a 10-year-old boy to con­front with friends and strangers.

“I re­ally ac­tu­ally hate that job. Be­cause it’s weird,” Leo says. “I know what to say now when some­one asks me what my mom’s job is. I say: ‘a pro­fes­sor.’ It’s just a bet­ter way to ex­plain it.”

Mil­hausen al­lows that her work en­croaches some­what on the fam­ily’s do­mes­tic scene. For ex­am­ple, there’s typ­i­cally a con­sid­er­able bag of con­doms out in the open in their home – for her use at con­fer­ences.

Mil­hausen is also de­ter­mined to talk about sex­u­al­ity with her kids – em­ploy­ing plain lan­guage that might make many other moms wince.

“Par­ent­ing gives me a chance to put my money where my mouth is re­gard­ing the kinds of in­for­ma­tion I think boys and girls should have grow­ing up,” Mil­hausen says. “They should know about their body parts and the cor­rect terms for those.”

She says Molly knows she has a cli­toris. “She knew about it since she was four.”

Mil­hausen says chil­dren’s ac­cess to the In­ter­net is a game-changer in terms of how and when par­ents should raise sub­jects like

sex­u­al­ity and healthy re­la­tion­ships.

“I think it is ab­so­lutely cru­cial now, in this day and age, with the In­ter­net. I mean, ev­ery one of Leo’s friends has an iPod or an iPad and free ac­cess to the In­ter­net, and some­body has shown them porn. So I just want to keep the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion open so they will ask me a ques­tion when they have it.”

Mil­hausen says she is still in­ter­ested in the study of sex­ual dou­ble stan­dards and the sex scripts that young, adult, het­ero­sex­ual men and women fol­low, which drew her into her field. How­ever, of late, she has be­come pro­fes­sion­ally fas­ci­nated with new re­search into the sex­ual ac­tiv­i­ties, be­hav­iours and at­ti­tudes of mid­dle-aged adults. She is also into the study of “post-sex af­fec­tion­ate be­hav­iour” and its im­pact on re­la­tion­ship and sex­ual sat­is­fac­tion.

“If you are kind and af­fec­tion­ate for six min­utes af­ter sex, it will pay more div­i­dends than if you’re kind at most other times of the day,” says Mil­hausen, speak­ing at the quick pace that sur­faces when she’s un­pack­ing juicy take-aways from her re­search.

Early in their re­la­tion­ship, Jett says he some­times felt “awk­ward and un­com­fort­able” at the sub­jects that sur­faced in con­ver­sa­tions sur­round­ing Robin’s re­search and when ac­quain­tances learned she is a sex­u­al­ity ex­pert.

The spouses are quick to point out that they are quite dif­fer­ent peo­ple. For ex­am­ple, Jett, a for­mer col­lege bas­ket­ball player, is very ath­letic. Mil­hausen de­scribes her­self as “happy when seden­tary.” Mil­hausen en­joys craft beer. Her hus­band does not drink.

But they’re as quick to speak to the strength of their part­ner­ship and of their mu­tual re­spect for each other per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally.

“As a pro­fes­sional, Robin has pri­or­i­tized de­vel­op­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of sex­u­al­ity ex­perts. It is a pas­sion of hers,” Jett says, adding that her ef­forts in this re­gard have been rec­og­nized over and over again.

Mil­hausen says her work with her grad­u­ate stu­dents is one of her great­est sources of pride and mea­sures of suc­cess. And they let her know they ap­pre­ci­ate her, too. Last year, the ma­jor­ity of her post-grad stu­dents re­turned to Guelph to thank her with a potluck tribute event at a lo­cal craft brew­ery. Her stu­dents also suc­cess­fully nom­i­nated her for a Guelph YM-YWCA Woman of Dis­tinc­tion Award.

“The award was read­ing that nom­i­na­tion pack­age,” Mil­hausen notes.

No doubt her fa­ther would have en­joyed do­ing so as well.

How­ever, the man who de­liv­ered “the” birds and bees talk to Guelph’s most fa­mous ex­pert on the topic died in 2015 af­ter a bat­tle with cancer.

Mil­hausen says her fa­ther taught her the value of work­ing and liv­ing with in­tegrity, and his death was “a big change” in her life.

“He was a big cham­pion of my ca­reer,” says Mil­hausen, who vows that the work he helped to sup­port – though some­times with the sound muted – will “ab­so­lutely” see many more chap­ters.

Robin Mil­hausen en­joys a meal at Boon Burger Café on Que­bec Street in Guelph with daugh­ter Molly, 6, son Leo, 10, and hus­band, Steve Jett.

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