Ever wondered what sex therapists do (or don’t do), what issues they can help solve, what happens inside their office—and whether it involves, um, Love Potion No. 9? We weren’t shy about asking the experts for the inside scoop on sex therapy. Here’s what we found out.
1. It Can Make You More Confident in (and out of) the Bedroom
“What people don't expect from sex therapy is how strong, confident and assertive they become in every area of their lives,” says Marne Wine, a licensed professional counselor and AASECT (American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists) certified sex therapist in Westminster, Colorado. “Sex therapy is just life playing itself out in the bedroom. Are you willing to be OK with yourself because you don't know everything or have all the answers? Are you willing to put yourself out there and risk ridicule and failure? Once you learn to do that in the bedroom—naked—you can do it anywhere.”
2. You Won’t Be Asked to Take Your Clothes Off
Wine says most people tense up when they think of sex therapy, mostly because they worry that the therapy might involve intimate situations. Fear not—standard sex therapy with a qualified sex therapist doesn’t involve nudity. “Although there are different types of people who work in the field of sex therapy, generally it is simply talk therapy,” she says.
3. You Don’t Have to Worry About Saying Anything Taboo
Whether it’s a repressed memory, a sexual hangup or an issue of abuse that frightens you to talk about, there is no subject too taboo for a sex therapist. In fact, laying it all on the table is the first step to overcoming a sexual problem. And don’t worry about what the therapist will think. “Sex therapists have heard it all,” says Wine.
4. Finding the Right Therapist Can Make (or Break) Your Experience
Whether you’re considering seeing a sex therapist alone or with your husband, be picky, says Wine. “Check out his or her background. Is the therapist licensed in some kind of professional counseling field—licensed psychologist, licensed marriage and family therapist, licensed professional counselor or licensed clinical social worker? You want that fundamental, graduate-level counseling education as a basis to him or her doing sex therapy. The sex therapy certification should be in addition to the graduate-level education.”
And if, after the first appointment, you don’t feel comfortable with the therapist, find another one—or ask for a referral. “A good therapist will keep your best interests at heart—not her ego. I always tell my new clients if they aren't comfortable with me, I will help them find another therapist. This work is too important not to have the right fit.”
5. It Can Help People Who Already Have Great Sex Lives
You and your husband have a great sex life —so what could sex therapy do for you? A lot, says Isadora Alman, a marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified sexologist in San Francisco. “Most people believe that something has to be broken, or that they do, in order to seek sex therapy. What I do is more about sexual and emotional enhancement, making things better, than it is about Slot A and Prong B. The most frequent therapeutic outcome of any sex therapy is the relief that comes with being able to talk about sexual feelings, thoughts and fantasies, just putting them out there to be examined.”
6. It Might Save Your Marriage
Sexual issues take a major toll on a relationship, says Sybil Keane, a psychologist and mental health expert for JustAnswer.com. “When a couple is having troubles with their sex life, a regular marriage counselor might say, ‘Well, make time for you two to connect’ when it’s way more than just connecting for sex. It won't help if the desire isn't there or it just feels like a fake attempt to revive the same old, same old.”
Want different advice? “Ask a sex therapist,” she says. “They can talk way beyond what a regular marriage counselor can. I believe that most people think that a sex therapist is a last-ditch solution to a marital sexual problem. If more people went to sex therapy before a problem arose, they might not have to seek divorce advice down the road. Although we all like to believe that sex is something that comes naturally, it isn't.”
7. It Can Help Solve a Range of Sexual Problems
What types of issues can sex therapy help with? According to Lynne Kolton Schneider, MA, PhD, a board-certified sex counselor in private practice, it can help with everything under the sun. “I see people who have difficulties with libido associated with cancer treatments; people who have sexual difficulties and dysfunctions associated with surgical procedures; people who have difficulties with sexual positioning due to physical disabilities; and people who have problems being intimate because they have been sexually abused or raped.”
And the list goes on: “I work with couples who haven't had sex in months, or years, virgins who want their first experiences to be positive and women who have never had an orgasm.”
8. It Can Help You Be a Better Communicator
If your daily exchanges with your husband include “Take out the trash” and “It’s your turn to change the diaper,” a sex therapist could help you communicate in a more loving way. “Sex therapy is not always about sexual functioning,” says Dr. Schneider. “It’s probably equally as often about poor communication skills. Much of what I spend my time on concerns teaching patients how to communicate with each other—including how to fight fairly and when to choose to lose a ‘battle’ to win a ‘war.’”
9. It Can Be a Little Bit Like an Anatomy Lesson
Think you know all your parts? And his parts? Most people, says Dr. Schneider, need a refresher course. “Sex therapy can involve teaching people about their own body, and about the body of their partner,” she explains. “I have taken out books to show men what the vagina looks like so they know where to insert their penis for vaginal intercourse. Women in particular often don't know where on their body they feel pleasure, what kind of touch they like, and where and how they like to be touched.”
10. It Can Help Bring Back That Loving Feeling
Remember the first time you kissed your husband or held his hand? Want to reclaim those feelings of excitement and desire? Sex therapy can help. “It can get couples to go back to the easy days of making out on the couch, holding hands, kissing hello and goodbye,” says Dr. Schneider.
And expect homework, which might include writing exercises, communication exercises, intimacy and, of course, sex.
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