Sex therapy is a kind of psychotherapy, imparted by a specially trained sex therapist, which helps individuals or couples who are experiencing dissatisfaction in their sexual lives. It is based on the premise that sexual activity is a natural and important part of the human relationship and that it should be enjoyed by both parties. Sexual dissatisfaction can cause problems in a relationship, just as a poor relationship can cause sexual problems. Sex therapy can help people with a wide range of sexual problems to understand them, and to make simple changes in their lives that can lead to an enjoyable and fulfilling sexual and affectionate relationship.
It is estimated that between 30 and 50-percent of people will be affected by some type of long-term sexual issue at some point in their lives. However, many do not seek the help of a sex therapist. This is often due to the taboo which still surrounds talking about sex and sexual activity, and many people feel too embarrassed to talk about it.
What is a Sex Therapist?
A sex therapist is a qualified therapist who specializes in sex therapy. They may be a psychiatrist, psychologist, physician, family or marriage therapist, or a clinical social worker. They must hold an advanced degree in a relevant field, and to become a sex therapist they must complete a period of training as well as gain clinical experience. When completed they will receive their credentials from the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT), and these must be renewed every three years.
Sex therapists are trained in the physical, emotional, and biological issues that influence the sexual activity of both men and women. They aim to help people to reflect on their internal conflicts and concerns and to find solutions which will improve their sexual lives and their relationships.
Sex therapists provide verbal guidelines to direct people towards finding answers by becoming more comfortable and honest when talking about sex with their partner. In a sex therapy session, there is never any physical contact, and no sex, between any of the participants. A sex therapist may suggest exercises for the person to practice at home, but no-one is asked to do this during a session.
Sex therapists are respectful of all people, irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender, and their aim is to assist the person only with the specific aspects in which the person has requested help. Therapists do not judge or take sides, they are simply impartial guides whose training and knowledge can help people to improve their sexual satisfaction and enjoyment.
Organizations for Sex Therapy
Certification for sex therapists is not yet standardized, but the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists sets the professional standard. This interdisciplinary organization promotes sexual health and correct sexual behavior and they train sex therapists, sexuality educators, and sexual councilors. Their aim is to increase sexual understanding through sexual education, therapy, and counseling, and they believe that sexuality is an essential, inherent, and beneficial dimension of being a human. Furthermore, they oppose all kinds of sexual abuse or inhibition of sexual freedom that does not infringe on the rights of others.
What Kinds of Problems Does a Sex Therapist Treat?
A sex therapist can treat a wide range of different problems which affect the sexual urge, function, and satisfaction of the person. Sex therapy is aimed at solving emotional and psychological aspects of sexuality rather than physical ones. If there is a physical cause for the sexual dissatisfaction this will be identified and treated by the relevant physician. Erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation in men, and pain on penetration in women, are conditions which may have physical causes that can be treated. However, if the physical problem cannot be remedied, sex therapy can help the person to live with the condition and still achieve sexual satisfaction.
Common conditions that can benefit from sex therapy include lack of confidence or interest in sex, low libido, poor response to erotic stimuli, and the inability to reach an orgasm. The lack of interest may extend further than the actual sexual act and include all levels of physical intimacy. At the other end of the spectrum, sex therapy can also help people with excessive libido, those with undesirable sexual fetishes or desires, deviant sexual behavior, and those who are unable to control their sexual behavior.
Some couples may seek the help of a sex therapist when they are trying to reestablish their sexual relations after having suffered an infidelity, or after birthing. Some couples may have different sexual appetites, or one may have sexual inclinations that the other does not agree with. Sex therapy can also be a big help for people who have suffered abuse at some time in their life.
Some people seek sex therapy after a change in their physical situation, due to an illness or accident, disrupts their usual sexual enjoyment. Sex therapy can help couples to understand that not all sexual encounters need to be “momentous”.
Even among happily married couples less than half of their sexual encounters could be considered ideal, as in when both partners want sex, they are both equally aroused, and they both achieve orgasm. Sex therapy can help partners to appreciate the pleasures of physical proximity at different levels.
Sex therapists can also help people who are having difficulty reconciling their sexual orientation or expressing themselves sexually. As the needs of people with different sexual orientations or genders can vary, a sex therapist may choose to specialize in work with one or more of these kinds of individuals:
- Homosexuals, people who are attracted to and have sexual relations with persons of their same sex.
- Intersex, people who are not clearly defined physically as male or female.
- People who are transgender, people who feel that they are of the opposite gender to that which they appear physically to be.
- Non-binary, a person whose gender identity is not exclusively male or female.
A sex therapist treats all people with respect and will not try to change their sexual orientation. Their aim is to help them to be themselves and to find sexual fulfillment. If you are seeking help for any of these situations, make sure that your chosen therapist has relevant experience in the field.
What Happens in a Sex Therapy Session?
A sex therapy session normally begins, like any other visit to a specialist, with compiling background information which can help with treatment. The therapist will ask the person about their general and sexual health, their sexual background, orientation, and education. They will then want to know more about the specific issues for which the person is attending therapy.
For many people, talking about intimate details is difficult, but part of the sex therapist’s training involves helping people to relax and to communicate freely without feeling uncomfortable. As the therapist identifies the problems, a specific treatment plan will be put together. Sometimes, treatment will be short-term, but it is more common for a long-term commitment to be required.
Therapy can only be successful if the person, or persons, follow the guidance of the therapist, accept the concepts presented to them, and genuinely want to be helped. If attending therapy as a couple, both parties must be prepared to honestly and calmly consider the different issues that are raised and collaborate in finding an acceptable solution to them. It is important to find a therapist with whom the person, or persons, feel comfortable, as a relationship of honesty and trust is vital for progress to be made.
Sex Therapy is Talk Therapy
Once the problem areas have been identified the sex therapist will use their training to guide the person through their problems. Sex therapy only involves talking, there is no physical contact with the therapist or between the couple if two people are participating in the therapy session together. Sexual problems very often are caused by a lack of communication between the couple or a lack of confidence in one or both. A sex therapist can help couples to communicate their sexual desires, needs, and limitation with each other in a calm and controlled manner. People from different upbringings and backgrounds can have different presuppositions regarding sex, and often these are never communicated. A sex therapist can encourage people to express their feelings, desires, and limits without fear. Sex is the physical expression of the many different elements that make up a relationship, and if there are problems between the couple it is quite likely that these will at some time manifest themselves in the bed. Some people use sex as a bargaining tool to get something they want, or they restrict it as punishment. Often people have an idyllic view of what a relationship should be like, that in reality simply cannot be achieved, and sex therapy can help couples to reach a happy balance.
Sometimes, a simple lack of sexual knowledge is the cause of the problem. In this case, the therapist may use books or videos to explain details about the sexual organs and their functions. People who have received little or no sexual education, or who grew up in a repressed sexual environment, may just need to increase their knowledge to improve their sexual satisfaction.
Sex therapists often assign homework for the person or couple to practice in the privacy of their own home. People with limited sexual knowledge may be asked to read books or watch videos at home. The therapist may also suggest using a mirror to become better acquainted with personal body parts. For couples who have fallen into a sexual rut, and have lost interest in intimacy, the therapist may suggest experimenting with sex toys, role-playing, or trying new sexual positions, at home. For couples who lack confidence and trust, the therapist may suggest a practice designed to reduce anxiety and increase intimacy. This involves first touching each other in a non-sexual way, then progressing to touching areas of the body which can cause excitement such as the ears or the feet, and then to genital touching. Finally, this can climax with actual penetration, but the therapist may recommend that at first the couple just become accustomed to strengthening their bond and enjoying physical contact without the need to culminate in a complete sexual act.
The therapist will ask the couple to practice expressing their sexual or emotional needs to each other. Often, once the couple has begun to talk about their needs under the guidance of the therapist they will then find it easier to continue to express themselves to their partner. Sometimes, it is breaking through the initial embarrassment and uncertainty that talking about sex can cause, that allows couples to then go on to develop an honest and satisfactory sexual and emotional relationship based on clear communication.
Individual or Couples
It is not necessary for a person to have a partner or be in a sexual relationship to benefit from sex therapy. Sex therapists attend people either individually, or with their sexual partner. However, if the person is in a long-term relationship, the chances of improving their sexual satisfaction is increased if both partners are involved in, and committed to, therapy.
Should I See a Sex Therapist?
If your sexual function or desire is adversely affecting the quality of your life, then you should seek the help of a sex therapist. Sex therapists can help people of any age, from adolescents through to old people. They are trained to deal with the distinct sexual problems that people of different ages face and to help them to find solutions to them. They can help people from all sorts of backgrounds, with different beliefs, and diverse sexual orientations.
Challenges of Sex Therapy
One of the biggest challenges for sex therapy is the natural reticence that most people have for discussing sexual issues. Some peoples religious or political adhesions may make it impossible for them to talk with a sex therapist. Some people may be more comfortable talking with a therapist of the same sex as themselves, while others may find it easier with someone of the opposite sex. With couples seeking therapy, it is important that they discuss beforehand which each one would prefer and come to an agreement. It is extremely important to find a therapist with whom both people feel comfortable so that they can express themselves freely and honestly. The quality of the therapeutic relationship is vital to the success of sex therapy.
Find a Sex Therapist Now
If you feel that a sex therapist may be able to help you to improve your sexual enjoyment, visit the ThriveTalk home page. Here, you can find qualified therapists who will be able to help you in a convenient and confidential way. This could be your opportunity to find the answers to your questions and to seek the guidance you need towards achieving a more fulfilling sexual relationship.
Sex therapy can help people to increase their sexual understanding and enjoyment and also improve their relationships on other levels. Communication is the most important factor in all aspects of human relationships and often talking about sex is very difficult. A sex therapist can help people to overcome that and can guide them to the honest, close, and pleasurable sexual relationship that every human craves and deserves.