Key Takeaways

  • Sex can be an important part of our overall health and well-being both as individuals and as intimate partners.
  • Sex therapy is a form of clinical mental health treatment designed to help people overcome sexual challenges and deepen their connections in a supportive environment.
  • This form of talk therapy may include exercises to strengthen the mind/body connection, reframe unhelpful thoughts and feelings about sexuality, and enhance sexual satisfaction.

The topic of human sexuality is nuanced, complex, and often misunderstood. Your sexual well-being can be an important part of your overall health. And the way you express yourself sexually can impact some of your most important relationships. But for a large part of history, the topic of sex has been considered taboo or off-limits, even within medical and psychiatric communities. 

Thankfully, the stigma around talking about sex is finally starting to fade. And with the advent of sex therapy, people can overcome sexual challenges, explore their sexual identities, and deepen their connections in a safe, supportive environment. 

What is sex therapy?

Research shows that sexual dysfunction — like chronically low libido, trouble with arousal, premature ejaculation, pain during sex, or inability to orgasm — affects up to a third of the population. 

These challenges can take a toll on your relationships and your mental health. Sometimes, there are underlying medical reasons for these symptoms. For example, certain health conditions, like diabetes or high blood pressure, and some antidepressant medications can impact libido. But other times, the challenge is more mental or emotional in nature. In these instances, sex therapy with a certified sex therapist can help you discover and process whatever psychological or relational factors may be contributing to your sexual dissatisfaction.

One important thing to note is that it’s okay to talk to your “regular” therapist about sex. In fact, it will probably come up during your sessions at some point if it’s an important part of your identity. Sex therapists differ in that they receive additional training to treat sexual challenges. Much like a heart surgeon would be more equipped to advise you on your cardiovascular health than your primary care provider, a sex therapist is a specialist who offers targeted support for sexual issues.

Therapeutic approaches 

When compared to other types of mental health treatment, sex therapy is relatively new. But researchers have discovered several therapeutic approaches that are especially helpful for treating sexual concerns, including:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT explores how our thoughts and behaviors influence our emotions. This approach can help you replace anxious feelings around sexuality with feelings of sexual comfort and can include exercises to help you feel more positive about sex in general.
  • Sensate focus exercises: This intervention focuses on helping sexual partners improve their intimacy and communication. It involves consensual, non-sexual touch of oneself and each others to promote connection.
  • Mindfulness and relaxation techniques: Recent research shows that mindfulness is especially effective for reducing the stress that can sometimes lead to or exacerbate sexual problems. 
  • Communication training: It can be difficult to address sensitive topics like intimacy without good communication skills. So in this approach, a sex therapist will help partners learn to communicate and listen more effectively.
  • Narrative therapy: In the context of sex therapy, this modality helps people examine the stories they tell themselves about their sexual identity and preferences. It provides an opportunity to “rewrite” unhelpful scripts and release shame.

Common issues addressed in sex therapy

If you’re thinking of seeing a sex therapist, you might be wondering what they can help with. A qualified sex therapist can support you and your partner(s) with any challenges you may have around:

  • Low libido or mismatched sex drives
  • Relationship and intimacy problems
  • Performance anxiety
  • Fetish and kinks
  • Sexual compulsions and addictions
  • Erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation
  • Pain during sex
  • Sexual trauma and abuse
  • Infidelity, jealousy, and trust issues

Addressing gender identity and sexual orientation concerns is not a primary goal of sex therapy. However, because it can influence your sex life, these topics may be something you discuss as part of your work with a sex therapist.

What can you expect from sex therapy?

Like other forms of therapy, sex therapy starts with an initial conversation to help you and your therapist get acquainted. They’ll ask you about what you hope to achieve from attending sex therapy. This is a great time to ask questions and express any concerns you may have. 

Sex therapy does not involve any sexual activity or nudity whatsoever. While you can expect to discuss intimate topics in sex therapy, you will do so at your own pace. And you can always let your therapist know if there’s something you’re not comfortable exploring. 

During your first few sessions, your therapist will ask you about your history, your symptoms, and any other relevant details that could impact your work together. Remember that while you might be there to discuss sex, you can share whatever you’re ready to disclose. It may take some time for you and your sex therapist to create a connection of trust so that you feel comfortable sharing personal, and sometimes difficult, details about your sexuality. So try to have patience and be kind to yourself during this process.

Who can benefit from sex therapy?

You can attend sex therapy on your own or with a partner(s). It may be helpful if you’re struggling with sexual desire or function in ways that are negatively impacting your life or your intimate relationships. 

During your sessions, you’ll focus on things like goal setting (both short- and long-term), understanding the mind-body connection, communication, and trust building. Between sessions, your therapist may ask you to participate in homework assignments to help you integrate some of the skills and concepts you’re working on into your everyday life. Over time, these exercises can help support:

  • Communication and intimacy
  • Sexual satisfaction and confidence
  • Resolution of specific sexual issues
  • Enhanced overall mental health

Find the right therapist with Rula

Your sexuality can be an important part of who you are. And when you need support for your sexual well-being, Rula will be there to help you find the right provider for your unique needs. 

No matter your relationship structure, our expansive, inclusive network makes it easy to connect with a certified sex therapist who takes your insurance. Whether you’re looking to attend sex therapy solo or with your partner(s), Rula can help you make your first appointment in as little as three minutes.

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