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What Is Sex Therapy?
Let’s talk about sex. Sexual health is an essential part of overall emotional and physical well-being. But if you’re experiencing a sexual problem, the last thing you probably want to do is talk about it. If shame is keeping you from seeking help, know this: 43% of women and 31% of men report some degree of sexual dysfunction. Sex therapy is designed to get to the bottom of sexual issues and reverse them.
Working With a Therapist to Address Libido Problems and Other Sexual Health Issues
Whether you work with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or marriage or sex counselor, sex therapy can help with a variety of physical and emotional issues that can interfere with sexual satisfaction, such as erectile dysfunction, low libido, a history of abuse, and others. And it can help you and your partner work through these issues in a supportive and educational environment.
What Is Sex Therapy and How Can It Help?
Contrary to what some believe, there’s nothing strange, deviant, or kinky going on behind the door to a sex therapist’s office. Indeed, sex therapy is not very different from other forms of psychological counseling. Sex therapy is a type of psychotherapy that also takes into account possible physical problems. When a couple comes in with a sexual problem, a therapist will try to figure out how each of them could be contributing to the issue. They examine behaviour, gradually interpret that for the couple, and come up with solutions.
What Happens in a Sex Therapy Session?
Your therapist will help you work through emotional issues that may be contributing to sexual issues, such as erectile dysfunction. If performance anxiety is an issue, sex therapy would typically begin with learning about performance anxiety, then move on to teaching a couple how to establish open lines of communication to discuss sexual wants and needs. The couple may also explore issues causing relationship stress.
When May Sex Therapy Be Recommended?
Sex therapy may be recommended in a variety of scenarios. Here are some of the most common scenarios:
• Personal Conflict Issues Related to Sexuality This includes, for example, sexual trauma or assault. Therapists recommend seeking individual therapy first to cope with these issues, then gradually including your partner as needed.
• Conflict About the Relationship A common example here would be a partner experiencing sexual boredom. In this case, it’s better to seek therapy alone first so that you can better understand yourself and your own sexual concerns, then incorporate your partner.
• Compulsive Sexual Behaviour (CSB) Once again, in this scenario it’s better for the person with the compulsive behaviour or the partner to see a therapist alone first, then bring in the partner. Sometimes, personal emotions of betrayal, guilt, or fear may need to be explored before incorporating your partner. The one suffering from CSB may also experience a wide range of emotions, such as fear, shame, and anxiety. Addressing your personal emotional experience is important prior to bringing and dealing with your partner — this may enhance communication.
• Couple, Marital, and Sexual Problems For instance, with the infidelity of one partner, therapists typically recommend that the couple tackle the concern or problem together from the start and address the roles they may have played with respect to the issue. No one is blameless in a dysfunctional relationship, and couples can jointly work together to improve the quality of their experience.
• Personal Coping Difficulties Related to Sexuality This area might include if you’ve just been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection and want to learn how to disclose your status to your partner or partners.
You’ll Learn to Be Mindful and More Aware
In mindfulness training, you learn to be present and focused on the here and now, rather than letting yourself get distracted by grocery lists and social plans. When using this concept in sex therapy, you learn to block out extraneous thoughts as well as negative thoughts you might have about your body or your performance. Instead, you are guided in thinking only about how your body is reacting to sexual stimulation.
Experts have found that there’s significant improvement in responsiveness in women suffering from anxiety-related sexual dysfunction. Mindfulness skills that the women acquire benefits their sexual motivation and response both directly, by allowing them to non-judgmentally focus on sexual sensations in their bodies before and during sexual encounters, and indirectly, by improving mood and decreasing stress and anxiety.
Physical Issues Won’t Be Ignored in Sex Therapy
If there is a physical issue, such as vulvodynia or impotence due to radiation for prostate cancer, the therapist will refer you to a medical specialist who will work in tandem with the sex therapist.
Expect Some Sex Therapy Homework
While nothing sexual in nature will happen at the office, the therapist may offer some ideas to try out at home. The therapist may suggest you try something called sensate focus exercises which are designed to help you attune more to your partner. The exercises are typically done in stages, starting with touching or stroking anywhere on the body, except the breasts and genital areas. The goal is to experience the sensation of touching rather reach an orgasm. Eventually, the exercises can lead to intercourse.
Sex Therapy as an Individual vs. as a Couple
Sex therapists can be very helpful in helping to guide one person to help themselves or their partner to overcome self-defeating behaviours. Or they can work one-on-one and then work with the couple together as a unit.
Traditionally, it’s better for people who are experiencing individual sexual issues to seek therapy alone, then gradually incorporate their partner.
Therapists explain that if you are treating individuals, you are only seeing one side of the discussion, while partners who are counseled together will often interact and the counselor or therapist can assess communication styles in real time. If they are screaming at each other or using abusive language, interrupting, or disrespecting each other, the counselor can discern the communication style and what is happening in their intimate life. In addition, during couple’s sex therapy, the therapist can assess the body language of the partners as they both disclose and discuss intimate sexual details. For example, if a couple seems angry or hostile, there might underlying reasons for this.
How Can Sex Therapy Help My Relationship?
• Sex therapy can improve a couple’s relationship in a number of ways:
• Enhancing emotional and sexual communication
• Enhancing sensuality and sexuality through sexual exercises that may help eliminate sexual boredom
• Enhancing the understanding of each other’s sexual needs, wants, and desires
• Enhancing fantasy exploration (a neutral third party could make it easier for an individual to disclose their sexual fantasies)
You Keep Your Clothes On When You Work With a Sex Therapist
One thing is certain: Under no circumstances should you have to take off your clothes in a sex therapist’s office or should the therapist be touching you. Sex therapists don’t touch their patients unless they are gynecologists or urologists and a physical exam is involved.
Do My Partner and I Need Sex Therapy?
Individuals and couples seek sex therapy for many different reasons. These are some of the most common reasons:
• Mismatched libidos (one partner wants sex all the time; one partner wants it rarely)
• Sexual boredom (one or both partners are bored by their sexual relationship)
• A desire to change the paradigm (e.g., discussions about polyamory, or opening up the relationship to other partners)
• Low libido (one or both partners are uninterested in sexual activity)
• Coping with infidelity
• The impact of compulsive sexual behaviours on the relationship and resulting in personal distress
When Shopping for a Sex Therapist
This person will help you with your most intimate secrets, so it has to be someone you trust. You will need to feel safe being vulnerable and taking risks. First, start by considering the gender of the therapist you and your partner feel most comfortable with.
If you are LGBTQ, make sure the therapist is trained and knowledgeable in a way that makes you feel valued.
Environmental issues, such as the confidentiality of the therapy setting, are a factor, too.
Sex therapists often hold degrees in marriage and family therapy, social work, theology, psychology, or medicine.