What Actually Happens When You Go to Sex Therapy?
If you're thinking about looking into sex therapy or are just curious about it, you may wonder what it's all about. First off — don't worry. You're not having sex in front of a therapist to get pointers and tips. Instead, a sex therapist can help you (and possibly your partner) work through issues you may be experiencing. Here's how they do it.
What is sex therapy, anyway?
Dr. Piper Grant, founder of Numi Psychology, is a licensed psychologist and sex therapist that specializes in working with both couples and individuals on issues that relate to sex, intimacy and relationships. She explains that sex therapy is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on sexual function and dysfunction — and while it is a specialized treatment for sexual issues, it actually utilizes many techniques of traditional talk therapy.
"Whether as a couple or an individual — you can go alone or together — sex therapy can help you develop ways to deepen intimacy, heal from sexual traumas, reconnect with yourself and partner, increase your sexual confidence and address sexual dysfunction," she says.
People go to sex therapy for many different reasons, she notes. Sexual concerns are one problem that drives people to sex therapy, but there are other issues that may be at play in a relationship that might lead them to book an appointment.
"Although sexual concerns are common, discord in desire within couple-ships is normal, and sexual dysfunction happens for most people at some point in their lifetime," Grant says. "However, not many people know how to cope or work on the presenting issue."
Some common issues that sex therapy can help with include erectile dysfunction, painful sex, loss of intimacy, low sexual desire, compulsive sexual behavior, difficulty reaching orgasm or a difference in relationship desires. Additionally, sex therapy can help increase your sexual-esteem, help you deepen intimacy in a relationship, recover from sexual trauma and repair past problems in your relationship.
However, it's crucial to keep in mind there is no one-size-fits-all therapy for sexual issues. Dr. Nicole Prause is a licensed psychologist in California and a scientist studying treatments for sexual problems, and she emphasizes that different sexual problems require different treatment therapies. "A woman experiencing pain during intercourse — dyspareunia — does not get therapy that looks much like a woman with anorgasmia," she says.
What happens during a session?
By now, you must be wondering how exactly a sex therapist works with an individual or a couple. As mentioned above, sex therapy is similar to traditional talk therapy — it's just the topic that's different. In essence, a good sex therapist will look beyond the mechanics of sex and will work on addressing the underlying issues, such as behaviors, emotions, traumas or any other dynamics that may be contributing to the sexual problem.
Xanet Pailet, a sex and intimacy coach and founder of Power of Pleasure, explains that her initial sessions allow the therapist or coach to get to know the client and to begin to establish comfort and safety before digging deeper into the client's background and sexual history.
Grant emphasizes that you will not perform sexual acts in front of your therapist, and you should not be touched by your therapist. She also says that it's important to realize that sex therapy has limitations and there is no miracle cure, but if you're working with a qualified sex therapist and have mutual trust and respect between the two (or three) of you, positive changes can be made.
As far as prep work before your appointment goes, it's best not to stress about it. Dr. James I. Millhouse, a licensed psychologist with Atlanta Psychological Associates, notes, "The only preparation needed is to make the decision that you are open to learning new things and a commitment to being totally open and honest."
For those who can benefit from a sex therapist, it's nice to know there are plenty of professionals who can help you work through your issues with kindness and strength so you can be in a place of healing and good health.