Channel 4’s The Week The Women Came is a behind-the-scenes look at the world of psychosexual counselling, in which the sexual difficulties of two couples are explored and solved. Counsellor Trudy Hannington practises in Yorkshire, and has been working in her field for over ten years. She is Chair of The College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists (COSRT).
Her first couple, Fiona and Adam, are experiencing difficulty with mismatched levels of sexual desire, a problem that Trudy tells us is not only common, but rarely just about sexual desire itself. In this case, she is correct, and over the program it is established that Fiona has long-standing fears of abandonment, and bad experiences with previous sexual partners. In addition, the fact that the couple are unable to talk about the issue together is established. After several sessions, she is joined by her husband and the issues are explored together whilst a plan of management is started.
Her second couple, Elaine and Keith are older, and their problem stems from Elaine’s menopause, after which vaginal intercourse became extremely painful. Trudy explores alternative methods of sexual contact with the couple, allowing them to re-establish intimacy.
A major criticism of the program surrounds the second couple. Elaine’s problem stems from vaginal atrophy and she has declined HRT. We’re never told the reasons for this, other than she has considered the risks, but we’re never told what kind of consultation regarding HRT, if any, she has experienced. Writing off HRT as something too inherently risky without knowing why, potentially exacerbates some of the misinformation that’s perpetuated on the subject.
Yet overall, this is a sensitive documentary that does explore both of these couples’ problems without judgement and allows Trudy the space to show her specialty as one that is engaging, holistic and actively working with clients to help resolve their problems. The program allows her to be frank with couples, and doesn’t shy away from exploring their histories perceptively. Both couples are able to solve their problems, and the documentary ends with them successfully achieving sexual intimacy with each other: a good advertisement for the counselling process. Considering that Channel 4 is best known for producing medical documentaries that are essentially revivials of the Victorian side-show, a la Embarressing Bodies, this was quite a refreshing take on a potentially difficult subject.
From a public health point of view, The Week The Women Came is a genuinely useful documentary that could provide a starting point for those raising the issue of psychosexual counselling with their patients. Psychosexual counselling is presented as something that should not be feared, even if it explores complex areas; although the issue of HRT information and use needs to be addressed.
The Week The Women Came can be seen on Channel 4’s on-demand service at 4OD.
Dr Sacha Haworth