Mode of Therapy – Sex Therapy

Almost everyone has heard of Sigmund Freud and his theories about sexuality. Often called the “founder of psychoanalysis,” Freud thought that personality derives from an individual’s Oedipal complexes and stifled sexual urges, which dominate the id, ego, and superego. However, mental health counseling treatment is not typically concerned with sexual interest or desires. Even so, intimacy is an essential part of life — especially sexual intimacy. When sexual interest and arousal pose problems in relationships or identity, then meeting with a sex therapist may prove helpful. A sex therapist can help clients gain insight into their fundamental drives and passions and feel comfortable with their sexual nature.

Sex therapy is much like other forms of mental health counseling in that it’s a form of talk therapy. A type of mental health counseling, it utilizes many of the same methodologies as cognitive behavioral therapy. Working with a sex therapist can help individuals overcome concerns about arousal and sexual performance, which can improve sexual relationships with both their present partner or potential partners.

What Is Sex Therapy?

Often used in conjunction with traditional mental health counseling, sex therapy is also applied as a follow-up form of therapy. Issues with sexual interest, arousal, or performance sometimes lead to more serious mental health concerns, such as anxiety or depression. A mental health counselor may recommend sex therapy during the course of treatment when it becomes apparent that addressing sexual concerns may provide peace of mind and benefit a couple’s relationship.

Using targeted discussion techniques, sex therapy sessions address the underlying emotional issues that may be impacting an individual’s approach to and feelings about sex. For effective treatment, an honesty and open relationship between both client and therapist are essential requirements. While sex therapy is sometimes offered as a form of couples counseling, it’s typically offered to individuals as a tool to help them overcome inhibitions associated with their sex life.

What Does a Sex Therapist Do?

Sex therapy is a form of discussion therapy. While some sex therapists encourage the use of surrogates for sexual encounters, surrogate partner therapy is not usually recommended. When considering sex therapy, the patients should not expect or anticipate it. Any licensed, practicing therapist can offer sex therapy, including psychologists, licensed mental health counselors, psychiatrists, and even clinical social workers. Sex therapists work with their clients to improve their sexual well-being, addressing a broad spectrum of personal concerns, including issues ranging from asexuality to hyperarousal.

Sex therapy addresses personal concerns, such as:

  • Sexual identity
  • Deviant sexual behavior
  • Problems with intimacy
  • Sexual fears
  • Painful intercourse
  • Difficulty achieving orgasm
  • Sex addiction
  • Paraphilia

In addition to these personal concerns, sex therapy can be used to address relationship issues, including:

  • Lack of sexual desire by one or both partners
  • Intimacy following infidelity or after having children
  • Mismatched sex drives

Many people find discussing their sexuality both stressful and uncomfortable. The therapist’s goal is to provide a healing environment in which the client can talk about his or her problems in an open, candid manner. In this type of scenario, the therapist can address sexual concerns in a non-threatening manner. Doing so gives patients the opportunity to formulate their sexual identity, achieve personal growth, and feel more comfortable with their sexual natures. Issues addressed during therapy include attachment issues, fears of intimacy, and sexual anxieties.

Sexual concerns are one of the leading causes of relationship problems, often leading to alienation and tension in personal relationships. These problems sometimes lead individuals to withdraw or remain isolated as a means of alleviating sexual discomfort. Working with a sex therapist helps the patient move past personal issues with sexuality by becoming more aware of personal issues, anxieties, and even fears in connection with their sexual identity and the formation of relationships.

Learn more about sex therapy careers.

Guiding Principles of Sex Therapy

Sex therapy is like any other form of discussion therapy in that its guiding principle is confidentiality. The goal of the therapy session is to offer an empathetic perspective on the individual’s problems, creating a patient-centered environment that emphasizes unconditional positive regard, acceptance, and personal guidance to help the individual overcome concerns associated with sex and intimate relationships.

During the sex therapy session, the therapist may use a combination of therapeutic tools to address individual concerns. These tools include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Empathy
  • Exposure
  • Role play

The therapist adjusts the strategies utilized during sex therapy based upon the unique needs of the individual. For example, a cognitive behavioral therapy strategy may be counterproductive in addressing sexual concerns. What may prove helpful for one patient may not another. The most-effective methods sex therapy methods depend on the needs and preferences of each individual.

Recommendations and Limitations of Sex Therapy

Sex often is a taboo subject, especially in households that are highly conservative or religious. This sometimes can lead to an unhealthy relationship with sex, creating tension and anxiety in association with the subject of sexuality. Oftentimes, this anxiety can inhibit an individual’s ability to form a healthy sexual relationship, which may have a lasting impact on quality of life and long-term relationships. Therefore, sex therapy can benefit almost everyone, regardless of background. The ability to form healthy sexual relationships is fundamental to experiencing intimacy, and sex therapy can help clients overcome obstacles that may be preventing them from forming those types of relationships.

Sex therapy is recommended for anyone who has experienced reduced quality of life because of problems with sexual desire or function. This form of counseling is ideal for anyone who has encountered difficulty in relationships caused by sex, regardless of age, gender, or personal background.

Sex therapy most frequently takes place on a short-term basis, often in conjunction with or following more general talk therapy. While sex therapy is a useful tool for addressing issues with sexuality, it is not intended as a sole form of treatment for discussing other problems that may be impacting personal wellness, such as stress, anxiety, or depression, or other concerns commonly addressed in general therapy.

While sex therapy may be recommended for couples who are attempting to overcome issues with sexual intimacy, sex therapy should not be viewed as an alternative to traditional couples counseling. While improving sexual intimacy often proves helpful in creating healthier relationships, more traditional forms of counseling are important when working through issues with communication and personal priorities, as well as with other personal concerns, such as stress, anger, or generalized fears.