Jennie Hilleren, the co-owner of Edina’s new sex therapy practice, SkyHill, has a simple explanation for how she chose her professional specialty.
After earning her license for marriage and family therapy around 2002, Hilleren noticed that couples’ conflicts tended to cluster around two major sources of insecurity and discontent.
“People’s issues were around finances or sex," she said, "and so I thought, ‘Well, I can do the sex thing.' It just makes a lot of sense to me. Why is it such a weird thing to talk about? It’s pretty normal and natural.”
Hilleren’s business partner, Heather Verjovsky, came to the field in a similar way.
“I found like I could talk about sexuality in a way that wasn’t icky or weird or scary or embarrassing,” Verjovsky said. “Not everybody has that talent, especially in the Midwest.”
When SkyHill opened its doors early last month in Edina's 50th and France neighborhood, the four-therapist practice became just the second sexuality-focused clinic in the Twin Cities. (The University of Minnesota's Program in Human Sexuality dates to the 1970s.)
Hilleren estimated that there are only about a dozen devoted sex therapists in the whole state, a low figure she chalks up to Minnesotans’ bashful regard for bedroom behavior.
“That does say something about willingness to broach the subject, especially considering that we have a lot of therapists in the area,” she said.
Hilleren and Verjovsky said they face a host of misconceptions about their work. Sex therapists are often confused with sexual surrogates—who include hands-on physical intimacy in their treatment techniques—and SkyHill’s website stresses that its therapists have no “sexual contact with our clients, and sessions do not include nudity or sexual behavior.”
Similarly, many assume sex therapists have little to offer beyond tawdry, checkout-aisle Tips and Tricks. Verjovsky said she’s been asked more than once, “What’s the difference between you and Cosmo Magazine?”
“When you first hear ‘sex therapist,’” she said, “I do think that people think, ‘Oh, you must be going to behavioral things, telling people how to have sex, sexual positions.’”
In reality, sex therapy is a branch of mainstream psychotherapy, its conversational treatment aimed at exploring the root causes of clients’ sexual difficulties.
“It’s illuminating when you talk about all the ways sexuality is present in relationships, in everyday life, and how important the relational aspect is to sexuality,” Verjovsky said. “It’s just not portrayed that way in modern media and people get confusing messages. We do a lot of demystifying and challenging of the dominant narrative of sexuality.”
Verjovsky said SkyHill’s 3948 West 50th Street location was chosen based on the convenience and reputation of the 50th and France district.
“There are so many things around for people to do in the area,” she said. “People will make a whole date night out of it: ‘We’re going to go to therapy, we’re going to talk about things and then we’ll go out to a restaurant afterwards.’”
SkyHill’s clients come from across the state, so Hilleren and Verjovsky equivocated diplomatically when asked to characterize the sex lives of Edina residents.
“Edina residents are not all that different from residents of Minnesota in general,” Hilleren said with a laugh. “They’re just as lovely as everyone else.”
The clinic—whose current staff includes another marriage and family therapist, Laura Rademacher, and a physician, June La Valleur—is already looking to expand its practice and plans to hire one or two more therapists in addition to a physician’s assistant or a nurse practitioner.“Being so new and already looking to expand shows that there is definitely interest, a gap in the market,” Verjovsky said.