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Sex Therapy: Is It for You?
These days, many couples find it hard to fit sex into their busy schedules. And it is perfectly normal for people to go through periods when they are just not in the mood for love making. However, if you lack desire for sex for emotional or physical reasons, you may want to consider sex therapy. Seeking treatment for sex problems has become more socially acceptable today, but it is still not easy for many people to talk to a professional about such an intimate concern.
Deciding Whether Sex Therapy Is for You
Before you decide to see a sex therapist, take the time to explore whether it is really what you need. Consider the following recommendations:
- See a doctor initially, particularly if you think your problem is physical in nature—A gynecologist or urologist can detect difficulties due to illness, aging, metabolic or hormonal imbalances. Keep in mind that prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, alcohol, and smoking may also negatively affect sexual functioning.
- Learn more about sexuality—In spite of the greater openness about sexuality today, many people have little understanding of their own bodies and sexual functioning. Informational and self-help books and educational sex videos, which are widely available, can be very helpful. Becoming better informed will help you decide whether you really need therapy. Some people, in fact, are able to solve their own problems through self-help guides.
What Happens in Sex Therapy?
Many people come to sex therapy after individual psychotherapy fails to help them with their sexual problems.
Sex therapy generally addresses the emotional issues underlying sexual problems and employs behavioral techniques to deal with the physical symptoms. You may also need other treatment to care for the physical problems that may be affecting you.
These behavioral techniques involve physical exercises that clients do on their own outside of the therapy setting. Nothing happens in the therapist's office of a sexual or physical nature. (Sex therapists should not be confused with sexual surrogates, who may have physical contact with their clients as part of therapy.)
One popular technique used in treating many sexual problems is called sensate focus, in which couples caress or massage each other without sexual contact. The goal is to help both partners learn to give and receive pleasure and feel safe together. As the partners become more comfortable, they can progress to genital stimulation.
As a result of performing this exercise, many couples discover new ways to experience pleasure other than sexual intercourse.
Other exercises treat specific problems such as women's inability to have orgasms and men's erectile problems. Performing these exercises often evokes strong feelings that are then explored through psychotherapy. People who have experienced sexual trauma or are confused about their sexual identity may need to spend more time working through their feelings. For couples, who make up the majority of clients, the focus is on improving communication and developing greater intimacy.
How Do You Find a Therapist?
When looking for a sex therapist, it is critical to find a practitioner with the proper credentials to deal with this sensitive subject area. A sex therapist should be an experienced therapist with training in sex therapy from a reputable program. Start with a search for a licensed social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist, or psychiatric nurse. For example, the American Association of Sex Counselors, Educators, and Therapists (AASECT) offers a certification program for professionals interested in becoming sex therapists. These types of programs include instruction in sexual and reproductive anatomy and treatment methods. Other topics covered include sexual abuse, gender-related issues, and sociocultural factors in sexual values and behavior.
How Do You Choose the Right Therapist?
In looking for a sex therapist, it is particularly important to find someone who you trust and respect. Do not be afraid to ask questions about the therapist's background, philosophical orientation, and experience with your problem.
Take the time to find someone who is flexible and who will listen to you. If you and your therapist are having difficulties, do not be discouraged. It may take some time to find the right therapist. Ultimately, a therapist should not impose their point of view on you or your habits.
If you see a therapist who says or does anything suggestive, or that involves nudity, end the relationship right away. Sex therapy is strictly talk therapy. Contact is not part of the process.
Most sex therapists look at the whole person and try to help men and women redefine what it means to be intimate. The effects of aging or physical problems do not mean that a couple cannot experience the pleasure and joy of being physical with each other.
American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists
American Psychological Association
Canadian Mental Health Association
Mental Health Canada
Althof S. Sex therapy: Advances in paradigms, nomenclature, and treatment. Acad Psychiatry. 2010;34(5):390-396.
Erectile dysfunction. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated May 7, 2014. Accessed March 23, 2015.
Female sexual dysfunction. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated Msarch 12, 2015. Accessed March 23, 2015.
Meston C, Rellini A. Sex therapy for women's sexual concerns. The Sexual Psychophysiology Laboratory website. Available at: http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/homepage/group/MestonLAB/HTML%20files/Resources%5Ffsd%5Ftherapy.htm. Accessed March 23, 2015.
Sexuality/sex therapy. Good Therapy website. Available at: http://www.goodtherapy.org/sex-therapy.html. Updated February 6, 2015. Accessed March 23, 2015.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 03/2015
- Update Date: 03/23/2015