Here’s What You Should Know About Sex Therapy
Here’s What You Should Know About Sex Therapy
While it was once seen as a stigma, today, seeking out therapy, having a therapist, or having a history of therapeutic intervention is much more commonly seen as a sign of a person trying to become their best self. Rather than an admission of weakness, it’s now a sign of strength.
But while individual therapy has made significant gains in this regard, other forms of therapy — like, for instance, couples therapy or sex therapy — have not yet become as culturally accepted. If you and a partner are seeing a therapist, for instance, the perception might still be that your relationship is failing or struggling.
In the case of sex therapy, this is really too bad. In a sex-negative culture like ours, actively working on developing a healthier relationship to sex, your sexuality, and the way you experience sexual desire is a fantastic way to grow as a person, to develop healthy relationships with other people and to solidify romantic relationships that are sexually unfulfilling.
In order to get a better sense of what sex therapy is, who it can help, and what it can do for you, AskMen spoke to a couple of experts. Here’s what they had to say:
What Is Sex Therapy?
“Sex therapy is an approach to talk therapy that centers clients’ individual and interpersonal sexual and relational concerns with a trained professional,” says sex therapist Dr. Nikki Coleman. “This approach to therapy typically includes a combination of sex education, psychological, emotional, and interpersonal processing along with brain-body connection work.”
“At its best,” says Coleman, “sex therapy is a brave and affirming space to talk openly about your sexual concerns, fantasies, and desires with a trained professional to create your own pathway to having the best sex for you.”
While sex therapy is hardly the most common form of therapy, it’s one that could benefit a lot of people if they’d give it a chance — because far too many people struggle with some aspect of sex or desire, according to Rebecca Story, founder of sexual wellness brand Bloomi.
“Many people experience some level of distress around intimacy,” she says. “For many who live with conditions like genophobia or erotophobia, this aversion could be rooted in physical or sexual trauma.”
But, Story notes, this is not the case for everyone.
“For some, it can be caused by body shame or dysmorphia, religious teachings, anxiety around performance, or something else,” she explains. “In most cases, fear of intimacy develops during childhood. People with this fear may feel unsafe, unstable or unloved and, as a result, could have trouble with commitment, communication or perfectionism.”
Coleman agrees that there are lots of potential issues at play that fall under the umbrella of sex therapy.
“People go to sex therapy for a wide range of reasons,” she says, “but a common element is to improve their personal relationship with their sexuality and their experience of sex with others.”
“Examples include resolving sexual trauma, increasing their capacity for orgasm, learning how to better connect with/please their partner(s), learning how to better communicate their sexual desires and needs, exploring their level of desire (either too low or too high) just to name a few,” Coleman notes. “In addition, people may go to sex therapy to explore/get support with opening up their relationship, exploring kinks/BDSM, and polyamory.”
What Sex Therapy Can and Can’t Do
That being said, while sex therapy can address a wealth of different issues, it’s not a cure-all for an unhappy sex life.
“Sex therapy won’t fix your partner’s ‘sex drive,’ preferences, or interest in sex,” says Coleman. “Sex therapy can often bring long-standing interpersonal issues to the surface that are connected to sex but may require you to address some other psychological/emotional issues. If you aren’t willing to look into those issues, sex therapy might not be a good fit for you.”
“Sex therapy isn’t a place to help someone get rid of their same-sex attraction, kinks or fetishes” either, she notes. If you’re feeling guilt or shame around some of your sexual desires, sex therapy may be able to help you process those feelings of guilt or shame, but won’t rid you of the desires you experience in the first place.
Finally, Story notes, “a sex therapist can’t treat medical or physical conditions that cause sexual dysfunction. In some cases, you will need to see a doctor or relevant specialist to treat any underlying issues that impact your sex life.”
Instead, says Story, “a sex therapist can help with things such as: low libido (lack of desire or inability to get in the mood or become aroused), difficulty having orgasm, pain or discomfort during sex, performance anxiety, and loss of attraction between partner(s). Therapy can help uncover the root cause of these issues and foster healthy partner communication.”
How Can You Tell If Sex Therapy Is For You?
If you don’t already have a comfortable relationship with the idea of seeking out therapy, it can be easy to talk yourself out of it. You can quickly point to a handful of potential barriers, issues or hiccups and tell yourself that it’s not worth the effort.
But the truth is that the benefits of sex therapy can be long-lasting and genuinely transformative for people even if they don’t consider themselves to have an ‘issue’ that needs addressing by a professional.
“If you ask me, almost anybody can benefit from sex therapy,” says Coleman. “We live in a sex-negative culture, and as a result, most of us have some degree of internalized shame about our sexuality. In addition, when we do have sex education in the U.S., it tends to be focused on avoiding pregnancy and preventing the transmission of STIs.”
“Sex is far more complicated than we really acknowledge,” she continues. “Not to mention the influence of religious/cultural values and gender expectations that all have significant influence on our sexuality.”
However, she notes, some people may find sex therapy especially useful or necessary, such as “people who have experienced any sort of sexual trauma, difficulty with orgasming, erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, performance anxiety, experience a different level of sexual desire than their partner that’s causing interpersonal conflict, experience unwanted sexual pain, or just generally are unsatisfied with their sex life.”
Ultimately, Story notes, “if your quality of life, mental or emotional health, or relationship(s) are being heavily impacted by sexual fears or dysfunction, you could especially benefit from working with a sex therapist.”
How to Tell Your Partner You Want to Try Couples Therapy How a Yes/No/Maybe List Can Turn Your Sex Life Around How to Tell Her a Partner They’re Bad in Bed