Sex Therapy Definition
In recent times, psychotherapy has offered solutions for a variety of problems. However, many people still find the types of psychotherapy mysterious and wonder which professionals are licensed to offer it. The fact is that any counseling that involves verbal discussions in a group or individual setting to address psychological disorders and their symptoms is categorized under psychotherapy.
The point of these treatments is to alleviate emotional distress and improve one’s ability to function daily. To offer the treatment, Psychotherapists must be licensed by the state they work in. They can major in different disciplines, such as:
- Clinical Social Work;
- Marriage and Family Therapy;
To become a sex therapist, one must receive additional training that goes beyond the basic requirements for being a licensed practitioner in any of the disciplines mentioned above. Sex therapists in the United States receive certification from the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT).
Certification is subject to the fulfillment of two main requirements:
- Completion of the required hours of education on anatomy, sexual problems, and their cultural and biological foundations.
- Completion of at least 50 hours of supervision of cases with real clients.
A qualified sex therapist works with clients who are unable to have pleasurable sex. Usually, the client is experiencing a disorder that gets in the way of having healthy sexual relationships. The problem may occur in longtime relationships or casual ones.
What Exactly Does A Sex Therapist Do?
A sex therapist treats any sexual problems that come in the way of a healthy relationship. Some of the common problems include:
- Unmatched desire between a couple;
- Sexual disinterest in men;
- Erectile dysfunction;
- Sexual disinterest in women;
- Painful sex;
- Addiction to sex;
- Extreme sexual behavior;
The history of some sexual practice spans several centuries and come from a combination of different cultures. Ancient Greeks, Romans, and Indians are credited with some of the world’s oldest practices. Some people view sexual practices as the outcome of many historical practices, such as:
- Indian Kama Sutra;
- Indian Tantra;
- Use of dildos by women in ancient Greece;
- Hasidic Jews’ purity laws;
- Celebratory rape by victorious warriors
- Rape by the American slaveowners;
- Modern practices of premarital sex.
On the other hand, some people view sexual intimacy as a spiritual union. To the religious people, sex is a blessing and a necessity for procreation. It is tied to your faith and social class.
Sex therapists have a different mindset; they approach sexual issues with a positive, open-minded attitude. They must conduct a comprehensive assessment to identify biological, psychological, and social issues that may contribute to the problem.
Their investigation may identify medical problems that must be treated for therapy to be effective. They might also discover systemic issues related to a couple’s dynamic. Because everyone has a unique cultural and religious upbringing that contributes to their sexuality, a comprehensive assessment is necessary.
Sex therapists can work together with other medical providers who are treating the client for related issues. Because they must have a multi-disciplinary perspective to their clients’ conditions, sex therapists need hands-on experience before certification. Getting several hours of real-life therapeutic experience before acquiring post-graduate qualifications helps them to properly assess issues, diagnose, and treat them.
Because sexual issues sometimes stem from psychiatric disorders, clients may seek a therapist before being a psychiatrist. Other clients may come ready to address traumatic events in their childhood that lead to their inability to enjoy pleasurable sex. Either way, a sex therapist must be able to adopt a multi-disciplinary approach.
The Role of the Mind in Sexual Intimacy
Sexual therapy often encounters various mental issues that hinder sexual pleasure. Anxiety, obsession, low self-esteem, and depression are some of the reasons why disorders develop. Someone’s mental state can prevent them from responding to stimulation from a sexual partner. Because they cannot get into the moment, they develop a negative mentality toward sex.
It is wrong to believe that sex is purely about physical stimulation. A mind is a powerful tool for sexual arousal, sometimes more powerful than the body. Because the mind is a complex organ that drives thoughts and reactions, one’s body can only respond to sexual stimulation once their mind becomes relaxed.
Many women who are too tired from their work or are experiencing hormonal issues may not get aroused by purely physical intimacy. However, with relaxing activity and mental seduction, such women can experience erotic feelings. It is often a good idea for women to communicate explicitly their sexual preferences, limits, and what they enjoy during sexual intimacy.
Men who fear rejection, humiliation, or being unable to satisfy their partner might be unable to respond to physical stimulation. Therefore, mental stimulation through affirmation and flirting may be necessary to get them in the zone. Unfortunately, because of the societal pressure on men to perform sexually on demand, no one thinks that a man may need more than physical stimulation.
There are specific situations in which the mind plays a pivotal role in sexual arousal. Below are some of these unique situations.
Victims of Sexual Abuse
People with a history of sexual abuse usually have several triggers. Because of their painful past, their minds and bodies develop a defense mechanism that includes certain sensitivities. These triggers may be physical touch, certain smells, specific words, or specific areas of their bodies.
Even though they are intimate with a loving partner, these triggers remain. Once a point is triggered, even if sexual intimacy is consensual, the victim may have a negative reaction. Unfortunately, the partner may develop a negative reaction to rejection and sexual avoidance, especially if he or she does not know about the history of abuse. Therefore, both parties need to get help from a sex therapist.
This disorder presents itself as an obsession with sexual thoughts and behaviors. Hypersexual people may not find sex pleasurable but still struggle to stop overindulging in it. As a result, it affects their self-esteem, sex life, relationships, health, and work. It also affects their mental health.
There are many underlying causes of hypersexuality. An accurate diagnosis of the disorder requires an assessment of one’s biological, psychiatric, and family history. Sex addiction can be addressed in therapy.
Also called orgasmic dysfunction, this disorder affects mostly women. It is when a woman has regular difficulty reaching orgasm after sexual stimulation. It occasionally affects men, although the rates of incidence are lower.
Orgasms are a release of pent up sexual pleasure. They can vary in intensity, duration, and frequency from one person to the next. However, in women who have this disorder, orgasms never occur. They experience sexual pleasure but never get the release.
One of the causes of anorgasmia may be a woman’s inexperience in masturbating to reach orgasm. She may be ashamed of touching herself or feel extremely disgusted by her vulva. In both scenarios, there are psychological issues that need to be addressed,
Some women may suffer from the disorder because they are too anxious during intimacy. Because they are disassociated from the act, their bodies do not receive the full experience of genital stimulation. They have mental or emotional blocks that keep them from getting a sexual release.
Orgasmic dysfunction can cause a lot of frustration to both sexual partners. It can also cause discomfort and disinterest in sex for the person who suffers from it. It is a condition that can be treated through sex therapy.
How Sex Therapy Works
Usually, sex therapy involves identifying the psychological and systemic reasons that underlie the problem. A sex therapist listens and asks specific questions to get insight into the sexual histories of the patient. If it’s a couple’s session, both spouses’ histories are worth noting.
Other important details include the family, cultural, and medical background of the patients. These details help the therapist to have a clear picture of the problem. A PLISSIT model comes in handy in creating a treatment strategy:
- Limited Information;
- Specific Suggestions;
The PLISSIT offers a clear strategy for introducing sex into a clinical conversation and bring specific issues to the patient’s attention. Based on the information gathered from the first sessions, a sex therapist will reflect and come up with a treatment plan. Patients get a chance to ask questions and collaborate on creating a reasonable strategy for treatment.
Most times, sex therapists do not prescribe medication. If there is an apparent issue that might be improved by taking drugs, the sex therapist gives a referral to a licensed psychiatrist who can offer great insights. If the cause of the sexual disorder is vulvar, genital, or pelvic pain, a pelvic floor physical therapist might be consulted.
The complexity of sexual disorder determines how many therapy sessions are needed. Problems that have existed for years, such as childhood sexual abuse and yearlong sexless relationships, may need more time to address. The patient may attend group, individual, or couples’ sessions. The therapist’s strategy may involve several assignments to be done at home.
Homework may be as simple as communication exercises or as complex as an overhaul in sexual practices. During the session, the therapist will describe the homework in detail and guide the patient on how to perform it. The experiences and results will be the topic of discussion during the next therapy session.
In some cases, the therapist may use exercises during the sessions. While the clients are fully clothed, the therapist teaches them how to communicate sexual needs more effectively. They learn how to initiate sexual contact and find ways of comforting a partner whose sensitivities have been triggered.
In addition to AASECT certification, sex therapists may have professional credentials that improve their outlook on psychological issues and methods of treatment. EMDR training helps treat patients who have traumatic sexual flashbacks – being certified in this specific treatment method is helpful. Training in Hakomi or Somatic Experiencing helps sex therapists incorporate embodiment exercises while treating patients who are not in touch with their sensory experiences during sex.
The Benefits of Sex Therapy
Regardless of whether one is in a casual or committed relationship, sexual pleasure is an important aspect of their lives. It is one of the best ways of expressing love, trust, closeness, intimacy, and freedom. When sex becomes a source of pain, frustration, and discomfort, many people suffer. So, it is important to resolve any issues that get in the way of pleasure and freedom of expression.
Sexual therapy intends to investigate, identify, and deal with the psychological, emotional, and systemic causes of sexual disorder. Those experiencing intimacy problems get a lot of insight through therapy. They get to understand the reasons behind their sexual struggles and differentiate facts from myths. They also learn how their upbringing plays a role in their sex life and how they have enforced unhealthy patterns in their sexual relationships.
Using various techniques and therapy tools, people suffering from sexual disorders change their attitudes towards sex. They work on a new perspective that changes their sexual experience for themselves and their partners.
What Causes Sexual Dysfunction?
Good sex therapy must be tailored to your specific needs. It should take into account your history and present circumstances. Below are some of the reasons for the inability to experience pleasure during sex:
- Stressful events;
- Poor sleep patterns;
- Trauma from sexual abuse;
- Mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and OCD;
- Feelings of guilt or shame;
- Erectile Performance Anxiety;
- Insufficient sexual stimulation;
- Side effects of medication;
- Side effects of medical procedures;
- Pain during intercourse;
- Conflict in the relationship.
Having negative emotions such as shame, embarrassment, and guilt limits one’s ability to connect during sexual intimacy. Whether you are dealing with common concerns or unique issues, sex therapy is the best avenue through which to explore your perception of sex.
For some people, the sexual manifestation of discomfort has more to do with a psychological disorder or physical illness than the lack of sexual technique. Therefore, it is extremely important to seek a therapist’s help to identify the real challenge in your sex life.
When to Get Sex Therapy
Before you decide to get sex therapy, bear in mind that it is quite similar to other types of counseling. Many people assume that seeking help for sexual issues is strange, but this could not be further from the truth. Sex therapy is an acceptable and effective way of dealing with most hindrances to satisfying sex life. Below are some scenarios that warrant a session with a sex therapist.
When Patterns Develop
Failure to enjoy sex one time is not a cause for alarm. However, if the issue persists and develops into a negative pattern, you should seek help. It particularly concerns when sexual discomfort negatively affects other aspects of your life.
You Have an Issue You Cannot Solve Alone
If you have tried many times to solve the sexual problem you are experiencing but have failed, you should talk to a professional. Failing to solve the issue can make you frustrated and hopeless, especially when you do not understand what is causing it. Because therapists are trained to identify and fix such problems, you will be in good hands.
You Experience Discomfort
If your sex life makes you uncomfortable, you might struggle to find someone to confide in. Luckily, therapists provide a welcoming, non-judgmental space where you can talk about your feelings.
You Have Undergone a Major Transformation
When your body goes through a major change, it might cause some confusion. Whether you have changed because of pregnancy, illness, age, or hormones, a sex therapist can help you embrace these changes.
You Are Unable to Express Your Preferences
If you have specific sexual interests such as BDSM, fetishes, etc., you might feel embarrassed about bringing them up to your partner. A sex therapist can help you to deal with these feelings by exploring the reasons behind them. You can also use therapy to learn how to effectively communicate your sexual desires.
Qualities of a Good Sex Therapist
The most basic requirement for the sex therapist you choose is AASECT certification. You may choose one who is currently working under supervision to attain their certification. The point is to hire someone skilled in providing the treatment that you require.
Getting a good professional for your sex therapy puts you at ease and makes you get more from the sessions. If you are concerned that your sexual dysfunction is related to a physical issue, opt for a sex therapist who has a practicing medical background. However, this may not always be necessary because most sex therapists have a network of medical providers they can refer you to. What matters most is being able to trust your therapist and share the most intimate parts of your life with him or her.
A therapist who is conscious of your needs and tries to accommodate them is highly recommended. Because therapy is a personal experience, you must be completely comfortable with it. You need a therapist who is understanding and ready to go at your pace. If you need to see several therapists before finding one you like, that is okay. You should not feel ashamed about that. Feel free to tell your therapist when you are struggling to be honest about certain issues. It helps them understand you better.
Know that it is common for people to feel shy at first when seeking sex therapy. A good therapist puts you at ease and reassures you that there is no judgment. He or she should not create pressure for you to discuss any topics you do not want to. Letting your therapist know that you need more time before discussing an issue is acceptable.
Your emotional safety should be a priority. Because therapy is a marathon and not a sprint, give yourself time to get accustomed to it and get results. If you attend sessions with your partner, do not compare your progress to theirs. Everyone is different, so give yourself time to open up and make progress.
Sex therapy must add new skills, help in sharing your desires, and increase your pleasure. It is important to understand that it is purely talk therapy; the profession’s ethical guidelines do not allow any physical contact. If your therapist offers to touch you or conduct nude sessions, beware.
Always ensure that the sex therapist you consult has a therapy degree, AASECT certification, and a license to conduct sex therapy. Also, you may have to get a physical exam before your session just to rule out medical issues that may contribute to your sexual frustration. To identify a suitable sex therapist near you, search our online directory.