What is sex therapy?

Q:

What is sex therapy?

A:

Sex therapy is the clinical treatment of sexual dysfunction and sexuality-related concerns. Sex therapy occurs in outpatient psychotherapy with a unique focus on sexuality-related topics.Certified Sex Therapists have completed extensive training in human sexuality and sex therapy and supervision, which allows them to competently treat sexual concerns . Clients who are interested in pursuing sex therapy can decide to work with a clinician who has extensive training in the field of sexology and/or certified sex therapy practitioners. The American Association for Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) website offers a directory for people who would like to connect with a certified professional in their area.

One of the common misnomers about sex therapy is that some people think sex therapy involves clients being sexual with their therapist in session. No sexual contact between therapist and clients is permissible in sex therapy. Rather, sex therapy is talk therapy with an emphasis on treating sexual concerns.

There are many reasons why clients may seek the guidance of a sex therapist, including:

  • Differing sexual styles
  • Performance anxiety
  • Difficulties reaching orgasm
  • Communication about sex
  • Infidelity and sexual relationships
  • Body image concerns
  • Embracing one's sexuality and sexual expression
  • Changes in sexual desire
  • Erectile functioning

These are all concerns that can be addressed in sex therapy. The most common reason clients seek sex therapy is relational conflict related to sexual desire discrepancy. Sexual desire discrepancy refers to differences between each partner's experience of sexual desire, which is a completely normal part of any relationship.

One way to think about desire discrepancy is to think about any difference partners experience relationally. For example, how often someone wants to eat pasta for dinner. In a relationship, one partner may way to have pasta once a week and another partner may want to have pasta once per month. Now, if conversations about their desire for pasta were to escalate and create distance in the relationship, leaving partners feeling depressed or anxious, one could understand how people find themselves feeling stuck.

As it relates to sexual desire, sometimes people find themselves in conflict with their partners when one partner wants sex more or less frequently than another and that conflict creates relational distress. When sex is a source of distress relationally, it is responsible for 50% to 75% of relationship satisfaction or lack thereof. Sex therapists can help clients address sexual desire discrepancies by introducing cognitive and behavioral strategies and providing psycho-education on desire to help clients identify contexts that support their sexual desire and learn ways to reconnect that feel pleasurable to each person involved.

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Jennifer Litner, LMFT, CST is a licensed psychotherapist and sexuality educator who is passionate about helping people navigate sexuality-related concerns. Jennifer specializes in sex therapy and relationship therapy and helping people work through life transitions and anxiety. Jennifer is the founder and director of Embrace Sexual Wellness, a sexual wellness center providing sex therapy and sexuality education programming in Chicago, Illinois. As a sexuality educator, Jennifer offers training on various sexuality-related topics, including Parenting and Sexuality, Keeping the Flame Alive in Long-Term Relationships, Millennial Romance, as well as Safer Sex and Hookup Culture. Jennifer empowers individuals to make healthy choices about sexuality by providing them with accurate sexual health information.

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