Relationships

Demystifying Sex Therapy: How It Can Transform Your Life

Exploring sex therapy can feel daunting amidst stereotypes and misinformation, yet addressing sexual health is fundamental to overall well-being. Let’s delve into what sex therapy entails, who it serves, and how to find the right therapist to enhance your sexual well-being.

isbell oliva garcia grow therapy By Isbell Oliva-Garcia, LMHC

Updated on Jun 10, 2024

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Preconceived notions abound around sex therapy, yet sexual health is simply another aspect of overall health and well-being. Television series and movies often depict sex therapists or those seeking sex therapy with an air of humor. But in reality, 43% of women and 31% of men experience sexual dysfunction and may avoid sex to rid themselves of their feelings of shame or humiliation.

Sexual dysfunction is only one aspect of intimacy concerns that sex therapists treat. Learning more about sex therapists and their treatment methods will give you a better idea of how this type of therapist can improve your well-being.

Who Goes to a Sex Therapist?

Humans are sexual beings, and your sexual health and well-being influence and affect other parts of your life. At the same time, life experiences, trauma, or disorders that affect your sexuality and sexual health can contribute to psychological concerns. Consequently, anyone who is dissatisfied sexually may benefit from working with a sex therapist.

Sex therapists work with a range of people, including those who are married, single, and in committed relationships. A licensed sex therapist doesn’t apply a one-size-fits-all treatment to each person. Instead, they assess each client individually and adjust treatment based on the person’s goals, needs, and circumstances. Assessments allow the therapist to identify potential causes of the client’s issues, which could result from a blend of physical, psychological, or emotional factors.

Some people seek a sex therapist because they want to work with their partner to overcome sexual challenges. Others may seek a sex therapist because they have sexual issues that prevent them from entering into romantic relationships. The reasons vary widely and could also include:

Some people may not even realize they have sexual dysfunction or the extent to which their sexual dysfunction affects their health. Sexual dysfunction alone includes many issues, such as:

Sex therapy is a safe place for couples to address underlying issues that hold one or both back from a happy, fulfilling sexual relationship. Individuals, too, can work with a sex therapist to address the problems that prevent them from entering and maintaining healthy sexual relationships. In short, if your sexual health affects your quality of life, you could probably benefit from working with a sex therapist.

What Is a Sex Therapist?

It’s essential to understand and remember that sex therapy is a form of psychotherapy that relies specifically on talk therapy. A sex therapist has a master’s degree in psychology or a mental health-related field. They may be qualified as any of the following:

However, to use the title sex therapist, they must have additional training in human sexuality and/or sexual education as well as a considerable amount of clinical hours. One of the premier certifications comes from the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT), which offers certification for sexual health practitioners in:

Other types of therapists, such as couples or family therapists, may also offer sexual counseling services. In this case, the therapist often has additional training but not a certification in sex therapy education or human sexuality.

What to Expect in a Sex Therapy Session

Tami Zak, LMFT, a couples therapist with Grow Therapy, says, “The therapist is going to explore and assess where you’re at and where you’re getting hung up because there’s a lot of elements to sexual health.” Therapists often start with questionnaires and assessments to help them better understand why a person seeks help.

Some assessments may help them quantify the person’s current state so they can measure progress. From there, the therapist develops a treatment plan with you. Treatment plans are personalized, so sessions may look different for different people depending on individual needs.

After the assessment, the initial sessions may cover what exactly sexual health is and why you have a right to it. The World Health Organization includes physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being as they relate to sexuality as part of your sexual health. That definition also specifies that sexual health goes beyond being free of sexual disease, dysfunction, or infirmity. It requires positive sexuality, respect for self and others, and safe, pleasurable sexual experiences.

Additionally, sexual health is a complex subject because it’s affected by many parts of your well-being. Zak says, “There’s the physical, like ‘When was the last time you went to the doctor?’ and medications that you might be taking.” Some medications have sexual side effects, such as reduced libido or erectile dysfunction.

“Then there’s the logistics of sex,” says Zak. “Can you talk about what you want? What feels good to you? Many people feel uncomfortable talking about sex. Discomfort can come from many places, such as a conservative upbringing where sex wasn’t talked about or a history of sexual abuse or trauma, which adds complicated layers to sexuality.”

Zak continues, “They [the sex therapist] may ask questions like ‘What are your beliefs?’ ‘What were you taught about sex?’ ‘How was sex discussed or not discussed growing up?’” Sexual health is layered under your sexual history and beliefs.

“Then there’s the emotional piece, which is a big category,” says Zak. “If there’s something emotionally happening that’s getting you hung up around sex, it doesn’t really matter if the physical and sexual pieces are in place. They don’t matter because emotions are behind our sexual behavior.”

The therapist will ask questions to help identify where your issues are. Is it a physical issue that may require visiting your primary care provider in addition to therapy? Or is there an underlying emotional problem that’s interfering with sexual satisfaction? Working through each of those layers may take time, but sex therapists know the types of questions to ask to peel back and address the mosaic of experiences, thoughts, and beliefs that affect sexual health.

Zak also says that sex education is a common component of sex therapy. As children and teens, many people get incorrect sexual information from friends, social media, and television shows. Sex therapists offer their clients accurate, factual information to help people understand how their own bodies and their partners’ bodies sexually function.

Sessions may include working through common relationship issues with your partner. You both may also see the therapist separately to work through individual concerns. Ultimately, sex therapists seek to improve your sexual health, and they use their knowledge and understanding to adapt sessions to meet your needs, whatever they are.

Tips for Finding the Right Sex Therapist

Before you schedule your first appointment, know what you’re looking for. Firstly, you need a therapist you can trust and with whom you feel you can form a strong therapeutic alliance. A therapeutic alliance is a feeling of trust, stability, and professionalism between therapist and client, and a positive alliance has long been associated with better therapeutic outcomes. To find that person, you’ll need to ask questions.

Zak suggests starting with certifications. Zak says someone with AASECT certifications has the “gold standard” of sex therapy certifications. As a couples therapist, Zak isn’t a sex therapist herself but has taken additional courses with a trained sex therapist to work with couples on their sexual health when needed. But if you’re specifically seeking help with sexual issues, a certified sex therapist typically has the most profound, well-rounded knowledge.

Some questions that are important to ask include:

You want to get a feel for the therapist’s approach, beliefs, and style to see if it fits your and your partner’s personalities. The goal is to find someone who makes you feel heard and understood. Zak also emphasizes that if you’re going to sex therapy with your partner, the therapist shouldn’t be prejudiced against either person. She also suggests that if you’re a member of the LGBTQ+ community, have gender issues, or are into kink or polyamory, ask about the therapist’s beliefs and experience in these areas.

Additional Resources

Information from reputable sources can help you dispel fears or hesitations about seeking help with your sexual health. Here are a few places to start:

How to Find a Sex Therapist Near You

Sexual functioning is an integral component of your overall health and wellness. Changes in your physical, mental, or emotional health can come between you and the quality of life you want, as can trauma, upbringing, and life experiences. A sex therapist can treat sexual dysfunction or help you work through thoughts and beliefs that negatively impact your sexual health.

It’s important to find the therapist that’s right for you, which is where Grow Therapy can help. Our marketplace helps you find therapists in your area who accept your insurance and specialize in your needs. From there, you can browse the list of options, read provider bios, and book an appointment usually within as few as two days.

FAQs

  • These terms might be used interchangeably, but they can mean different things. Sex therapy focuses explicitly on sexual health and is offered by a certified sex therapist. Depending on that person’s degree, the therapist may be qualified to diagnose or prescribe medication. For example, psychiatrists and, in some states, psychologists can prescribe medications. A therapist who is not certified as a sex therapist may offer sex counseling when it relates to other disorders or issues they may be treating. Typically, they’ve had additional training or mentoring by a sex therapist to give them expertise in sexual education or sexual health.

  • No, you can see a sex therapist by yourself if you are single, in a partnership, or married. If you’re part of a couple, the therapist may want to meet with your partner. Your sexuality functions within your existing relationships. However, if you don’t want your partner to be involved, you can still benefit from sex therapy in individual sessions.

  • If your or your partner’s sexual health is interfering with your quality of life and happiness, you might benefit from sex therapy. Anything from physical to emotional life changes can affect either of you in ways that interfere with your sexual health. A sex therapist can help you work through thoughts, feelings, and beliefs so you can both have a fulfilling sexual life.

About the author
isbell oliva garcia grow therapy Isbell Oliva-Garcia, LMHC

Isbell Oliva-Garcia is a licensed mental health counselor, bilingual in English and Spanish. Isbell specializes in women's issues during difficult times of transition and also works with front-line individuals struggling with PTSD or stressors created by the job.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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