What is Sex Therapy?

Q: “You do what?! Sex Therapy?! Is your husband OK with that?”

A: Yes! My partner is very much OK with that. Thanks for asking!

I have come to expect a wide variety of responses from the people I tell what I do. From curiosity to embarrassment to offended looks. Some people react by quickly moving on to a new topic, others make jokes to cover their discomfort. Some seem fascinated and follow up with questions, others seek advice on a personally challenging issue.  Understandably, these various responses reflect diverse attitudes toward sex and sexuality in our culture. In a society where pornography, with its justifiably distorted portrayals of sexual expression (after all pornography IS fiction), is more readily available than sex-positive and accurate health education, myths and fallacies are bound to thrive.

Let me start with clarifying what sex therapy is not. Despite quite common misunderstandings, sex therapy does NOT involve sexual or physical contact between a therapist and a client. Neither does it involve taking off clothes. And although clients do not engage in any sexual behavior in the sex therapist’s office, they are given exercises and tasks to complete alone or with their partners in their own time (and space).

Sex therapy is a form of “talk” therapy. It is a specialty in the field of psychotherapy which focuses on addressing sexual concerns.  A sex therapist helps individuals and couples resolve their sexual challenges by identifying psychological, biological, relational, and contextual issues contributing to their sexual difficulties and applying effective treatment strategies. Most, if not all, sexual problems involve a mixture of physical and psychological factors. Thus, successful treatment should be a combination of integrated interventions. To ensure best treatment outcomes, a sex therapist will refer to and collaborate closely with other professionals (e.g., gynecologists, urologists, physical therapists, psychiatrists, general practice physicians).

Some of the common concerns addressed in the context of sex therapy include difficulty discussing sexual matters, difficulty or inability to orgasm, delayed and premature ejaculation, difficulty achieving and/or maintaining erection, gender identity questions, alternative sexual lifestyle, lack of sexual interest or desire, difficulties with sexual arousal, out of control sexual behavior, reduced libido, lack of sexual intimacy between partners, discrepant sex drives between partners, pain during sex, unusual sexual interests, and sexual trauma.

The more immediate goals of sex therapy are to provide clients with relief from sexual their problems, restoration of sexual function and enhancement of sexual pleasure. However, seeing as sexuality is an integral aspect of human condition and our daily life, satisfying sexual life contributes to overall emotional and physical health.