What is Sex Therapy?
Sex therapy has existed for several centuries spanning many different ancient cultures. It has been developed by each society in a different way such as the Kama Sutra and tantric yoga of ancient India and aphrodisiac of the ancient Greeks. Sex was viewed as a symbolic and other-worldly connection between people which was to be encourage and fostered.
There are many misconceptions in modern-day society of therapy as whole. It is neither invasive nor is it anything to be ashamed of. Therapy is a form of counseling that addresses psychological, mental, and emotional issues or areas of concern. Sex therapy, by extension is simply an intersection between therapeutic work and sexuality. It creates an atmosphere in which you freely express yourself to a certified professional, both in and out of a sexual context, where you can be understood and begin to understand yourself on a deeper level.
Classified as a form of psychotherapy, sex therapy is used to treat a variety of mental problems that develop from sex. This includes sexual function as well as concerns about sexual intimacy. Sex therapy treats sexual barriers that you might experience, that are not caused by physical limitations – these can be resolved medically – but rather, treat the mental obstacles that restrict sexual intimacy and pleasure.
Most of the time, sex therapy is sought by individuals who are concerned about their sexual desires, compulsive behaviors, apparent impotency, inability to reach orgasm, or painful intercourse. In some cases, it is also used in conjunction with other therapeutic treatments for individuals who have suffered sexual abuse.
The Brain as a Sex Organ
A common misconception about sex is that it is a stimulation of external sexual organs, one that is purely physical. However, the brain is the largest, and most important, sexual organ. The brain is a complex network of systems that is ultimately responsible for our thoughts, emotions, and reactions. Triggered by desire, it begins a cascade of reactions throughout your body that ends in sexual and genital arousal. If a mental or emotional obstacle relating to sex exists mentally, it ceases to trigger the appropriate sexual response.
Another mental obstacle that affects sex is having unpleasant sexual associations. In many cases of sexual abuse, the brain has created negative associations with sex due to painful past experiences. Even when sexual interaction is consensual and genuinely wanted, the brain, as if by muscle memory, triggers the same reactions as with the unpleasant interactions.
Compulsive sexual behaviours are important to address using sex therapy. Left unattended, it can begin to affect not only your sexual life but your relationships, career, mental and physical health. Also called hypersexuality, compulsive sexual behaviour often means inability to find contentment sexually leading to uncontrollable or hard-to-control sexual impulses. There are a variety of possible underlying causes that may result in hypersexuality that require deep introspection and analyzation of mental and emotional wellbeing.
Orgasmic Dysfunction occurs when it is difficult for you to achieve orgasm even when ample sexual stimulation and arousal are present. This can happen to both men and women and are a sign of mental or emotional limitations. Essentially, orgasms are a release of sexual emotion and pleasure which vary in duration, frequency, and intensity from person to person. Orgasmic dysfunction or anorgasmia occur when there is sexual pleasure but no sexual release. This can cause frustration, discomfort, and increased or decreased sexual appetite.
The primary method is almost always talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy. Through this, the therapist listens and comes to understand the root of the problems that the individual is facing. This then allows the sex therapist to begin detailing potential solutions. Most of the time, medication is not prescribed, unless it is intended to address impotence or pain. In most cases though, the therapist will look more for the psychological root and may combine forces with a doctor who will determine if there is a physical cause for the issue.
As compared to other therapy situations, sex therapy is generally only a limited number of sessions rather than ongoing. These sessions may be individual, group, or joint with your partner. It is also likely to involve more “homework” requirements. These include communication exercises, changes in sexual practices, and the like. The therapist does not watch these practices. Instead, he relies on the patient to report back about the responses. If other issues start to develop that may indicate a greater psychological issue, then the therapist may change the strategies. Certified sex therapists typically have additional focuses and professional credentials to assist in other psychological issues and treatment methods. However, that will require an expansion and redefining of your visit’s purpose.
Why Sex Therapy is Important
Sex is an important part in many people’s lives, especially within a healthy relationship. It conveys love, intimacy, closeness and trust and is never to be the source of frustration, pain, or discomfort. When it does, it is important to attend to any possible issues that many be causing an obstruction to freedom of expression or enjoyment in general.
The goal of sexual therapy is to detect the underlying mental and emotional causes that result in any form of sexual dysfunction. Upon detection, these mental barriers become easier to detect and deconstruct. Through talk therapy especially, those suffering from sexual dysfunction can begin to understand their mental preconceptions and work towards rewriting or removing them.
General Causes of Sexual Dysfunction:
- Dissatisfaction within a relationship
- History of sexual abuse
- Pre-existing mental health conditions (e.g. depression)
- Recent medical procedures
- Imbalance or side effect of pharmaceutical drugs
- Guilt or embarrassment
- Insufficient amount of sexual stimulation
Sex therapy, like any other form of therapy, endeavours to make life easier by solving issues that may negatively affect you. In this case, the therapy is tailored to your sexual life. Discomfort, pain, shame, guilt and other negative emotions that you may feel in relation to sex can limit your emotional connection with people and not only sexually. From common concerns to specific issues, sexual therapy allows you to explore your underlying preconceptions to sex, emotion, and more.
At times, the manifestation of a problem sexually, may have nothing to do with sex at all. This makes it doubly important to seek professional help, in order to determine the real source of your sexual concerns.
Reasons for Hiring a Sex Therapist
Individuals hire sex therapists for a number of reasons, typically relating to issues regarding sexual performance, inability to enjoy sex, or overcoming sexual abuse. It is also common for individuals trying to overcome compulsive sexual behavior. Most of the time, aid is sought when the situation becomes chronic or interferes with a beneficial and active sex life.
A sex therapist has the ability to resolve issues that directly or indirectly affect your sex life. They tackle the complex psychology of human sexuality and often work in collaboration with physicians to address a wide array of sexual concerns. The goal of a sex therapist to help their patients regain or establish an active sex life that is devoid of sexual complications. More importantly, sex therapists are required for situations with psychological rather than medical causes.
When deciding to see a sex therapist, it is important to note that sex therapy is much like other forms of counseling and therapy. Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing strange about seeking help regarding issues of a sexual nature. More importantly, sex therapy is engaging. More often than not, your therapist requires you to complete ‘homework’ – exercises that you can implement with your partner. These are designed to help not only you but your partner as well by increasing connectivity and awareness. At times, it may be more beneficial to include your partner in your sessions. Not all sexual issues are individual, they often lie in a lack of either verbal or emotional communication between partners. This way, sex therapy becomes largely about counseling.
The key to resolving a sexual issue however, is knowing when to involve a sex therapist:
- When issues of a sexual nature become more than a one-time occurrence and begin to develop particularly negative patterns, it’s time to see a therapist. Such issues can grow and begin to affect other areas of your life and can worsen if not addressed.
- If you’ve tried severally to correct the issues yourself but don’t seem to be making any progress, it can inspire frustration, or even a loss of hope, especially when the cause of the issue is unclear. Sex therapists are specifically trained to identify and resolve such issues.
- If your sexual thoughts or acts are a source of discomfort, it may be hard to find someone to talk to about them. A therapist provides an open, non-judgemental, and encouraging environment to help nurture discussion.
- Age is also an important factor that plays a role in sexual dysfunctions. As you age, several areas of your body undergo changes that you may not fully understand which affect your life in several ways. From circulatory and neurological problems to more commonly, erectile dysfunction, a sex therapist can help you understand and embrace such changes.
- Some clients may not necessarily have issues or discomforts surrounding their sex lives. A sex therapist can also help with understanding your sexuality or sexual tendencies, allowing for more satisfying sexual experiences.
What to Look for in a Sex Therapist
In addressing issues regarding sex, it’s best to work with a certified sex therapist. Sex therapists are licensed therapists who have completed additional training and certification to give them a better basis for appropriate treatment. The ideal sex therapist is one who will put you at ease and help you to understand yourself better. It may help to see a therapist who has a practicing medical background if you are concerned that the cause is related to some physical aspect, but it is not necessary. Your comfort level is essential in this matter, as an inability to share honestly what you are struggling with or how you feel can result in inadequate sessions.
More than anything, you need a therapist who is open, understanding, and is willing to take your therapy at your own pace. Therapy is a particularly individual and unique experience that requires your complete comfort and trust in your therapist. There’s no shame in needing to see a few therapists before finding one you feel comfortable with. If you have any problems being open or confiding in your therapist, feel free to share that with them. It creates an awareness of your needs and only serves to help them better understand you.
Feeling embarrassed? Your therapist is not there to judge or pressure you in any way and they want you to know that. If you are not completely comfortable talking about certain things, simply express that and you can move on to a more comfortable topic. At all times, your emotional safety takes priority. It is also important to remember that therapy is a journey not a one-step solution. As you attend more sessions, you’ll find yourself slowly opening up and making progress. Each person is different so don’t expect to keep pace with your partner or other people.
Evolution and growth are a key part of human development which involve creating new experiences and establishing emotional bonds with others. Don’t be afraid to share your ideas with your partner either.
Remember though that a number of scams operate false sex therapy sessions. You should not visit a sex therapist who offers to perform sex with you or to help you overcome it through sex exercises involving other people. The Mayo Clinic makes it very clear that sex therapists are not to have any sexual contact with clients either in the office or anywhere else. Make sure that your therapist is credentialed by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists and/or a related graduate therapy degree. Additionally, unless your sex issue is related only to the emotional aspect of sex, most sex therapists will recommend that you have a complete physical conducted to ensure that there are no medical issues causing the problems.