By MELIA BOWIE, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA PALMS -- The women meet monthly at Pebble Creek Country Club.
An eclectic assembly that includes university professors, real estate agents, designers and entrepreneurs attired in sharp suits and casual confidence.
One of the charter members -- a woman with dark brown hair, a composed smile and friendly eyes -- takes her place among them at the North East Business and Professional Women's club and waits for the introductions to begin.
"I'm Judith Curts," she says when her turn rolls around. "Sex therapist."
The ladies, though discreet, do not disappoint.
Eyes go wide, nervous laughter escapes and then curiosity takes over.
"What's a nice girl like me doing in a job like this?" Curts later jokes inside her sunlit, second-story office near the Shoppes of Amberly.
One of two certified sex therapists who practice inthe Palm Lake office complex in Tampa Palms, Curts, 54, is also one of roughly a dozen such practitioners in Tampa, according to the American Board of Sexology -- placing it just behind Miami.
Curts, once a stay-at-home mother of three, went on to earn a degree in women's studies from the University of South Florida and later worked at the Hillsborough County Crisis Center as a rape counselor.
"I was working with people who had been victimized," said the Tampa Palms resident, explaining that she wanted to take a more proactive role.
Although sexuality is a critical part of how human beings relate to each other, it remains a rarely discussed topic, she said. "It's like the last frontier."
Sex therapy is still a niche market, said William Granzig, president of the American Board of Sexology, which certifies practitioners.
There are nearly 200 board-certifies therapists in Florida, where a license (traditionally within the mental health field) is required.
"It's protection of the consumer," Granzig said.
People might need a sex therapist after a heart attack or disabling accident. They might be grappling with gender issues, sexual orientation or a traumatic experience.
A psychotherapist for nine years, Curts opted to add the specialized counseling to her repertoire after her time at the crisis center.
She went into private practice in New Tampa two and half years ago helping individuals and couples. Her clients are largely high functioning professionals; she refers children and teens to colleagues.
"I don't just do sex therapy, I do psychotherapy (which) is looking into yourself. It includes looking into your past, because it influences everything we do."
With a thriving practice and full list of clients in New Tampa, Tarpon Springs and Port Richey, Curts is now at a point where she recommends clients to her counterpart in the complex, Steve Shealy.
Later this summer, the two therapists are planning a program for couples designed to enhance intimacy through mindfulness and sexuality.
Her work, she said, is "really about . . . learning how to be in a relationship; what it really takes."
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