What is a sex therapist?
Your sexual wellbeing is an essential part of wellness overall.
It’s hard to overstate the outsize influence that sex has on interpersonal relationships, mental wellbeing, and, to put it bluntly, the overall outcome of human history. So of course it has its complexities and its challenges—all of which might lead you to seek help or guidance from a sex therapist at some point or another.
What is a sex therapist?
Now, you might ask: What is a sex therapist? Basically, they’re a licensed mental health professional (like a psychotherapist, social worker, or psychiatrist) trained to help you navigate the tricky waters of intimacy: by yourself or with a partner. That means they’re educated in the topics of mental health, sexuality, sexual health, and relationships. Sex therapy does not involve getting intimate while your therapist is in the room. It does involve talking through your feelings around sex and any challenges you may be facing in the bedroom. Think of it as talk therapy, but with a specialized focus on your relationship with sex and intimacy.
Why do people see sex therapists?
There are lots of reasons why a person might seek out a sex therapist. If you’re dealing with low sex drive and you’ve ruled out any potential medical causes, then a sex therapist might be able to help you work out what might be the problem. If you think you may have a fear of intimacy, they can help you break through what might be the root of that fear. If you need help communicating with a partner or feel like things just aren’t clicking in the bedroom anymore, they can also serve as a mediator during a couples counseling session. While many people tend to see sex therapists with a specific “problem” in mind—like inability to orgasm, lack of desire, or relationship issues—Ian Kerner, a sex therapist based in New York City told the New York Times, that doesn’t mean that seeing a sex therapist is a negative thing (just like talking to a traditional therapist is completely normal and beneficial for all kinds of situations). In fact, you might want to see a sex therapist for the purpose of exploring your sexuality and uncovering new ways to foster intimacy in your life. There’s no one “right” driving factor.
As the Times reports, sex therapy isn’t necessarily a long-term investment: You might find a few sessions (or even just one) are just what you need to get over whatever hurdle you feel you might be facing. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and each person has their own mental and medical histories that contribute to their unique relationship with their sex lives.
What happens in sex therapy?
When you see a sex therapist for the first time, they’ll ask you about your history with intimacy, as well as any specific concerns you’re hoping to address through sex therapy. Think of it as a getting-to-know-you activity—and don’t feel like anything is too taboo to not bring up to your therapist (sessions are, after all, confidential). As you progress in therapy, your therapist will likely assign you “homework” to complete at home, which may even be pretty PG, according to the International Society for Sexual Medicine. You might be told to read books or watch videos that can teach you more about sex education or communication strategies, practice expressing your feelings with your partner, or (of course) try new things in the bedroom. After completing your homework, you’ll chat with your sex therapist about your key takeaways and how you might best proceed next.
If you’re not used to being open about your sex life, talking about it with a sex therapist can feel scary—but ultimately, your therapist’s office (or privacy-protected Zoom room) is a safe, judgment-free space. No one should deal with sexual dysfunction and difficulties in silence, because your sexual wellbeing is an essential part of your overall wellbeing. It’s time to talk about it.