Sex therapy: Is it an option for you?

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Sex therapy: Is it an option for you?

Concerns about sex and intimacy are common. At some point, nearly a third of all men and a half of all women have a significant concern related to sexual function, sexual feelings or intimacy. Sex therapy can help. A type of talk therapy (counseling), sex therapy is done by a psychologist or a licensed counselor with special training in issues related to sex and relationships. Sex therapy is an effective tool for people of different ages, genders and sexual orientation. Sex therapy can be helpful whether you are single or in a relationship.

How is sex therapy done?

Your sex therapist will start off by talking to you about your concerns. Sexual issues can be complicated, and your therapist will want to get a clear idea of all the factors involved. Once you and your sex therapist talk about the issues you've raised, your therapist will discuss ways to resolve your concerns and help you learn skills and techniques to improve your communication and intimacy.

If you're in a relationship, it's usually most helpful to involve your partner in meetings with your sex therapist. Typically a sex therapist will have you and your partner do a series of homework exercises. These may include reading about sexual techniques, slowing down and focusing on what you're sensing during sexual encounters and changing the way you interact with your partner during sex. As sex therapy progresses, you will use your home experiences to further identify and refine what you'd like to work on.

Concerns about sex and intimacy are often linked to other underlying issues. These can include psychological issues such as stress, anxiety or depression. In some cases, sexual function is affected by chronic illness, side effects of medication or surgery. Depending on your concerns, seeing only a sex therapist may be enough. Or, your sex therapist may be part of a team that includes your doctor, psychologist or physical therapist.

What kind of concerns do sex therapists address?

Sex therapy can help resolve a wide range of concerns about sexual function, feelings that affect your sex life, or the way you relate to your partner. Examples include:

  • Concerns with sexual arousal or sexual interest
  • Compulsive sexual behavior
  • Concerns about sexual interests and sexual orientation
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Ejaculating too quickly (premature ejaculation)
  • Trouble reaching orgasm
  • Painful intercourse
  • Problems with penetration

Isn't it embarrassing to talk about sex?

Talking about sex and intimacy can feel awkward. But don't worry — sex therapists are trained to make you feel comfortable and will understand your reservations. It can also be tough to communicate clearly with your partner about sex. A sex therapist can help you learn to express yourself clearly and better understand your partner's needs.

Does sex therapy ever involve sexual contact?

Certified sex therapists sign a code of ethics that prohibits sexual contact of any sort, in the office or anywhere else. For a certified sex therapist to do so is considered unethical, and in some states it's against the law. However, some sex therapy counselors aren't bound by these rules and may engage in sexual coaching that involves contact. This is not generally considered part of mainstream sex therapy. Your sex therapist may give you homework assignments that involve sexual contact with your partner.

How long does sex therapy take?

Some concerns can be addressed quickly, in just a few visits. But to be effective, a number of counseling sessions are often required, usually weekly or once every two weeks for several months. During the first meeting, your counselor will talk with you about what to expect, how many sessions you'll need and how often you'll meet.

How much does sex therapy cost?

Counseling can cost as much as $150 or more a session, but sex therapy is covered by many health insurance policies. Check with your insurance provider ahead of time to make sure counseling is covered by your policy, or have your counselor's office check for you.

How do you find a sex therapist?

Check with local hospitals and university medical centers to see whether they have a sex therapy clinic, or ask your doctor to recommend someone. When choosing a sex therapist, check credentials. Your sex therapist should have specific experience dealing with sexual issues and should be a psychologist, psychiatrist or a licensed counselor. One way to verify credentials is to see whether the therapist is certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists. This organization verifies that sex therapists have met advanced education and experience criteria in the area of sex therapy. Effective sex therapy requires trust and good communication between you and your therapist. If you're not happy with your therapist, don't give up — a different therapist may be better for you.

Is sex therapy right for you?

You may decide to see a sex therapist for a sexual problem that you've had for a long time, or it may be something new. You may know exactly why you're having a sexual issue; or you may have no idea. Whatever the case, sex therapy could help you cope with or resolve problems linked to sex or intimacy, whether you go to sessions by yourself or with a partner. While some people have unrealistically high expectations about what to expect, sex and romance should be something enjoyable. If sex is stressful or difficult, seeing a sex therapist can help.

Last Updated: 2008-09-12
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