Sex Therapy: What You Should Know

Sex therapy is a type of psychotherapy (talk therapy) designed to help couples and/or individuals identify and navigate issues they may be experiencing with their sexual health, such as sexuality, gender identity, relationships, intimacy, sexual function, pleasure, and more.

Sexual dysfunction is an umbrella term referring to any problem that arises during sexual activity, which can include struggles with arousal, erection, the ability to reach orgasm, or enjoying the act of sex itself. Sexual dysfunction is very common and has a number of physical and psychological causes. Sex therapy is one of the main forms of treatment for sexual dysfunction.

Read on to learn more about sex therapy, including what issues sex therapy may help with, what to expect during a session, how to choose a sex therapist, and more.

couples therapy
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Understanding Sex Therapy

Sex therapy is a type of talk therapy where couples or individuals can discuss their concerns related to their sexual health with a mental health professional such as a sex therapist, marriage and family counselor, social worker, psychologist, or healthcare provider.

Sex therapy practitioners aim to help their clients identify and treat issues they are facing related to their sexual health and dysfunction. There are several directions that contemporary sex therapy tends to emphasize:

  • Mindfulness (being aware of your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and emotions)
  • Psychotherapy (using talk therapy not just medication)
  • Inclusivity (adapting sex therapy to be more inclusive of different sexualities)
  • Couple-focused (looking at the role of partners, not just the individual)
  • Attitude-shifting (changing an individual's perception of sex)

When Is Sex Therapy Recommended?

Sex therapy is recommended for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Relationship communication issues
  • Sexual performance anxiety
  • Erectile dysfunction (ED)
  • Shame and anxiety
  • Sexual expression
  • Difficulties experiencing pleasure
  • Painful sex
  • Sexual trauma
  • Low libido (sex drive)
  • Negative body image
  • Trusting after infidelity

Is Sex Therapy Effective?

Sex therapy can be an incredibly effective means to help resolve sexual health problems. That said, in order for sex therapy to be effective, you need to be willing to be open and honest with your therapist about what is going on.

This may be uncomfortable for a variety of emotional, societal, religious, or cultural reasons. Pushing yourself through that awkwardness and being clear with your therapist about what you're struggling with sexually will ensure you get the most out of your sex therapy sessions.

If you have trouble working with your sex therapist or feel uncomfortable in spite of your efforts to discuss this discomfort with them, you and that particular sex therapist may not be compatible.

Since research has shown that the therapist-patient relationship is vital to a therapy's effectiveness, don't be afraid to branch out to other healthcare providers until you find the best fit for you.

Selecting a Sex Therapist

Given that sex therapy is intimate and personal, finding the right therapist is an integral part of it being effective. You may have to "shop around" until you can find one you feel safe enough to share openly with.

Tips for selecting the right sex therapist for you include:

  • Review their credentials
  • Visit their website and social media accounts
  • Ensure they have the right background (i.e, gender-affirming)
  • Confirm the therapist takes your insurance

What to Expect During a Sex Therapy Session

Because everyone attends sex therapy for different reasons, each sex therapy session won't look the same. That said, there are some basics to be expected:

  • A general assessment of what's going on sexually
  • Goal-setting for what you want to accomplish from attending sex therapy
  • Discussions about your sexual experiences, beliefs, etc.

Summary

Sex therapy is an evidence-based therapeutic intervention for those struggling with sexual dysfunction. It is an option for couples as well as individuals. It is important to be open and honest during sex therapy in order to get the most effective outcome from the sessions.

A Word From Verywell

Your sexual health is vital for your mental and physical wellbeing. In fact, there are many documented benefits of sex, such as better sleep, a healthier heart, a stronger immune system, and more.

Having a healthy sex live involves your feelings and beliefs about sex, too. Sex is a very human need but it still can carry taboos individually and in society. This can lead to sexual shame and anxiety, which can keep people from enjoying sex or avoiding it altogether.

Sex therapy can help you and/or your partner work through whatever you may be struggling with so you're able to have the sex life and relationships you want. Most importantly, know that many people struggle with sexual dysfunction of varying degrees. You're not alone, and there is help.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is sex therapy covered by insurance?

    Some health insurance plans will cover sex therapy, but not all, and sex therapists may not accept all forms of health insurance. Always contact your insurance provider and the sex therapist prior to setting up an appointment to confirm coverage. If you are not covered, ask the sex therapist if they have a sliding scale, which can help reduce the cost.

  • Will sex therapy help improve my connection with my partner?

    One of the goals you can set with your sex therapist is to improve you and your partner's connection and ability to be intimate. That said, sex therapy's effectiveness is dependent on your willingness to be open and honest. If you or your partner do not feel comfortable with your sex therapist, this may be a sign it is time to try and find a different one.

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  1. American Psychological Association. Sex therapy for the 21st century: five emerging directions.