What does a Sex Therapist do?
A sex therapist is a trained professional who specializes in helping individuals, couples, or groups address and overcome sexual concerns and improve their sexual well-being. They provide therapy and counseling services that focus on sexual issues, relational concerns, and sexual dysfunctions.
Sex therapists use a combination of talk therapy techniques, somatic methods, psychoeducation about sex and anatomy, and specialized sex therapy interventions to address a range of sexual concerns including sexual trauma recovery, mix-matched libidos, erection and ejaculation difficulties, painful sex, inability to orgasm, out of control sexual behaviors, lack of desire, and more. Some may think that this type of work includes physical contact, but it does not. We may, at times, prescribe some type of physical homework, but there is generally no physical contact in sessions.
What does the sex therapy process look like?
The first thing a sex therapist does is provide an assessment. Sex therapists conduct thorough assessments to understand the client's sexual history, physical history, mental health history, concerns, and goals. They create a safe and nonjudgmental environment for clients to discuss intimate and personal matters. Throughout treatment, sex therapists provide education and information about human sexuality, sexual anatomy and physiology, sexual response cycles, and common sexual concerns. This helps clients understand and normalize their experiences, especially because we receive so little information in sex education. Sex therapists then use various therapeutic approaches to address sexual concerns and improve sexual well-being. They may use talk therapy, cognitive-behavioral techniques, mindfulness, and other evidence-based interventions to explore and resolve emotional, psychological, and relational issues related to sex. Sex therapists often work with couples or partners to address sexual difficulties that may stem from relationship dynamics, communication issues, or conflicts. They help improve communication, intimacy, and emotional connection within the relationship. Sex therapists help individuals and couples dealing with sexual dysfunctions such as erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, anorgasmia, low libido, or painful intercourse. They develop treatment plans tailored to the specific needs of their clients, which may involve behavioral exercises, sensate focus techniques, or referrals to other types of providers, such as physicians, psychiatrists, endocrinologists, and physical therapists (to name a few), if necessary.
It's important to note that sex therapy is a specialized field, and sex therapists typically receive specific training and certifications beyond their general therapy qualifications. They adhere to professional ethics and maintain confidentiality to create a safe and supportive environment for clients to discuss intimate matters.
How to know if sex therapy is the right choice for you
Deciding if sex therapy is the right choice for you as a client is a personal decision. Here are some considerations to help you determine if sex therapy might be beneficial for you:
Identify specific concerns: Reflect on the specific sexual concerns or issues you are experiencing. These could include difficulties with sexual desire, arousal, orgasm, pain during sex, or challenges within your relationship related to sex. If these concerns are causing distress or impacting your overall well-being, sex therapy may be worth considering.
Previously attempted approaches: If you have already tried self-help strategies or interventions to address your sexual concerns without significant improvement, seeking the guidance of a sex therapist could be beneficial. If you have already worked with a traditional therapist and have found that they do not have enough comfort or expertise to discuss your sexual concerns, sex therapy may be for you. A sex therapist can offer professional expertise and evidence-based techniques tailored to your specific needs.
Openness to therapy: Consider your willingness to engage in therapy and discuss intimate details about your sexual health and experiences. Sex therapy requires open and honest communication with the therapist, as well as a willingness to explore and address underlying emotional, psychological, or relational factors contributing to the concerns.
Impact on daily life and relationships: Assess how your sexual concerns are affecting your daily life, relationships, and overall well-being. If they are causing distress, affecting your self-esteem, creating tension within your relationship, or leading to avoidance of sexual activities, seeking the help of a sex therapist can be beneficial in addressing these issues.
Desire for professional guidance: If you feel overwhelmed, confused, or lacking in knowledge about sexual matters, a sex therapist can provide valuable guidance and education. They can help you understand your sexual concerns, normalize your experiences, and provide evidence-based strategies to enhance sexual well-being.
Ultimately, the decision to pursue sex therapy is a personal one. If you're uncertain, you can also schedule an initial consultation or phone call with a sex therapist to discuss your concerns and see if their approach aligns with your needs and goals.
How to find a qualified sex therapist
If you are in search of a certified sex therapist, you can check the listing at the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) online directory. I encourage folx to do their research to find the best fit for them. Research the availability of qualified sex therapists in your area or consider online therapy platforms that offer sex therapy services. Consider the financial commitment required for therapy sessions and whether it aligns with your resources and budget.
If you are interested in working with a sex therapist, I encourage you to ask about their area of focus and their background or credentials. Consider asking questions like have they worked with your specific concern before? And how they might approach working with the specific problem. That way, you can make the most informed decision about who to trust with your sexual health. It's important to feel comfortable and trust the therapist you choose, that way, you can truly be open and make change. Look for a sex therapist who creates a safe and nonjudgmental environment, demonstrates cultural competence, and is knowledgeable about the specific concerns or identities relevant to you (e.g., LGBTQ+-affirming, kink-affirming, and/or neuro-divergent affirming therapists).
It's important to note that despite my referral to AASECT for a certified sex therapist, there may be capable and experienced sex therapists and sex coaches who aren’t members or accredited with that specific association. Each country should also have their own specific associations, so keep an eye out for them! At the end of the day, it all comes down to doing your own research in order to get the best possible support. Remember, it's ok to shop around to find the best fit for you!
About the author
Holly Wood is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (LMFT), an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist, and Certified Sexologist with the American Board of Sexology (ABS). This unique combination of credentials enables her to focus on clients’ sex lives as well as their overall mental health and trauma recovery.
Holly works with individuals and couples who have been looking forward to meeting their own sexual desires both individually and in relationships. She works from a trauma-informed, sex-positive, and holistic approach to help clients to get past their past and develop the necessary skills to achieve lifelong change and improve their quality of life.
When she is not counseling clients, she is holding seminars and workshops, conducting sex research or, or utilizing social media to disseminate accurate, up-to-date information to a wide range of audiences hoping to improve their sexual wellness. Holly's mission is to spread education, empowerment, and self-love. She is committed to helping people heal themselves and live a life full of pleasure and connection.
Visit www.thehollywoodsexologist.com to learn more and request a consultation.