Sex Therapy Careers
Therapy is a type of counseling designed to help people relieve mental or psychological disorders and resolve problematic issues, feelings, and behaviors. Therapists provide a safe, confidential place for their clients to share details about their life that may be painful, confusing, or otherwise embarrassing to speak about to others. Assisting individuals overcome issues that present as sexual dysfunction requires a professional who is caring, discreet, and experienced in human sexuality and clinical psychology. A sex therapist fulfills this role by helping people find greater emotional and physical fulfillment, remove obstructions in their relationships, and form healthier viewpoints on sex.
What Is Sex Therapy?
Sex therapy is an area of specialization with roots in clinical counseling, that is designed to provide compassionate assistance to couples and individuals experiencing sexual difficulties. Sex therapy utilizes treatment methods that are common to the practice of counseling, psychotherapy, and talk therapy which means that some treatment options and counseling techniques may overlap with other specialized disciplines. Commonly treated issues include sex and disability, sex and chronic illness, abuse and neglect, cultural differences, reproductive anatomy, sex education, transgender and LGBTQ education, faith-based sex, and more.
At its most basic level, the objective of sex therapy is to help people make better sense of their lives as sexual beings, to improve communication about issues related to sex with their spouse or partner, to address disorders originating with sexual abuse or trauma, find solutions to behavioral problems, and to help people develop healthy, trusting sexual relationships.
What Does a Sex Therapist Do?
Many people have a false view of sex therapy, believing that a therapist is a coach the helps a couple toward “the finish line”, but that is a misconception. Problems with intimacy and sexual difficulties often begin with underlying issues that originate outside the bedroom, so it is a sex therapist’s job to identify the root causes that affect sexual dysfunction.
Specializing in sex therapy requires knowledge of a wide range of issues for which individuals seek treatment. A few specialization topics include the following:
- Low sexual desire
- Recovery from sexual abuse
- Anatomical issues
- Sexuality across the lifespan
- Treatment of sex offenders
- Sexuality and culture
- Gender based sexual issues
- Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender concerns
- Sexual compulsivity
- Hormonal disorders
To overcome such issues, sex therapists may use a variety of techniques crafted for individuals and for couples. Frequently, sex therapists will combine couples therapy with individual talk therapy, so that each person can share sensitive information or feelings in a safe environment without fear of judgement from their partner or spouse. If a person, for example, has experienced a traumatic event (rape, abuse, etc.) or otherwise learned to fear or avoid sex, they may feel safer working in a one-on-one environment, where they can be sure that their thoughts and feelings will remain private, before they are ready to incorporate their partner into the discussion. Common methods of overcoming sexual problems, or improving a person’s view of sex and sexual relationships include:
- Discussing and developing healthy goals
- Exploring sexual fantasies in a safe environment
- Identifying sexual triggers, both good and bad
- Rehearsing sexual scripts to learn to associate sex positively and engage in sexual activity with partners in a healthy manner
- Cuing exercises to help encourage a patient to feel sexy and ready to engage
- Sensory activities, where intimacy is practiced both outside and within the bedroom
- Mindfulness practice to help people stay in the sexual moment
- Exploring different forms of sexual expression
- Dealing with obsession, love addiction and sexual compulsion
- Talking about fetishes, and separating healthy from unhealthy sexual approaches
- Addressing boredom in longtime couples
- Assisting people to overcome medical issues that may affect sex
- Dealing with a lack (or alternatively, an overabundance) of desire
What Happens in Sex Therapy?
So, what happens during a session of sex therapy? Good question. Many people harbor the false impression that sex therapists act as sexual surrogates or “surrogate partners”. A sexual surrogate is typically used in the controversial practice of Surrogate Partner Therapy, where a surrogate is hired to provide direct sexual contact with the client to improve the quality of the client’s sexual experiences. This is not the role of a sex therapist. Sex therapy is more easily recognized by its close relation to traditional forms of psychotherapy and counseling, which utilize talk therapy to address behavioral and mental health issues, and psychological treatment for mental disorders, rather than medical means.
Typical Work Environment & Occupational Challenges
According to occupational data collected about the profession, most sex therapists work in private practice. In private practice, therapists may offer specialized services or choose to offer a range of services covering many mental health issues. Sex therapists may work in corporate settings as well. They often provide workshops about healthy sexual interaction and expression, educate people on sexual harassment, and offer counseling services to employees. Additionally, they may work in educational settings, helping students deal with sexual issues, providing sex education services, and developing curriculums for both educational and workplace institutions.
In some roles, sex therapists educate the public. They may hold free seminars for social service organizations, speak at community events, visit inpatient and outpatient mental health clinics, or visit nursing homes – where sex issues are surprisingly rampant. They may also work in healthcare for hospitals or clinics that treat sexually abused or assaulted patients.
Sex Therapist Salary & Job Outlook
Occupational data is not collected about sex therapists as an independent category, rather the profession is often included in groups such as psychiatry, psychology, counseling, and social work. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says that therapists outside of traditional fields like marriage and family therapy bring home a median salary of $60,800 as of May 2022.
When deciding which route to choose, you may want to consider the job outlook for the profession. For instance, social work roles are growing at a rate of 9%, which is faster than average. Psychologist roles are growing at a rate of 6% while demand for community and social service professionals of all kinds is expected to increase by 10% through 2031. Consider these numbers as you are contemplating your career options in school – creating a plan will help you reach your goals and avoid setbacks.
Other roles that provide a foundation for sex therapy include nursing, counseling or the clergy, all of which report a different salary and employment outlook.
Sex Therapy Jobs & Job Description
Sex therapists help people work through individual issues as well as form closer relationships with their spouses or partners. To be successful in this practice, they must possess important qualities and develop advanced skills and knowledge, including:
- An understanding of the mental and physical conditions that can cause problems within people and couples
- Knowledge of physical exercises to increase sexual wellbeing (think Kegels)
- Knowledge of how disability, illness, abuse, cultural differences, differing anatomy, transgender issues, faith and upbringing impact views on sex
- Respectful and calm bedside manner
- Good organizational skills to keep track of client paperwork
- Excellent communication abilities
- Strong listening skills
- Empathy and compassion for what many patients feel is a humiliating topic
Sex Therapist Degrees & Education
Bachelor of Science in Psychology
A Bachelor of Science in Psychology prepares students for advanced degrees and growing opportunities within the fields of mental health, psychology, human services and therapy. Typical curriculum will guide a student’s knowledge of human behavior, including abnormal and experimental psychology, psychological ethics and research, cognitive development, cognitive neuroscience, and the causal determinants of human personality. Students will gain a scientific view of human behavior that aligns with the degree objective established by the American Psychological Association, and build competency in areas such as probability and statistics, research methods, scientific observation, and data collection.
Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Counseling
Students enrolled in a Behavioral Health Counseling degree program will learn about a broad range of evidence-based practices associated with counseling, assessment and treatment planning. Areas of focus will include psychiatric rehabilitation, substance abuse treatment, individual and group counseling, and child and family focused interventions. Graduates of a behavioral health counseling program will have the educational foundation to confidently pursue entry-level careers in mental health and addictions treatment, or to go on to graduate school in areas such as psychology, counseling or social work.
Master of Science in Clinical Psychology – Sex Therapy Specialization
A Master’s in Sex Therapy provides coursework rooted in clinical psychology with a focus on sex therapy. Curriculum builds on foundations of clinical counseling, including specialized coursework in wide range of areas such as sexuality counseling and therapy, intimacy and sexuality in couples relationships, criminal sexual behavior, trauma, anatomy and physiology, sexual variations and disorders, sexual addiction and compulsivity, and relationship systems. Common outcomes of a master’s program include certification as a sex therapist, or job titles such as: sexual health educator, mental health counselor, or clinical psychologist.
Sex Therapy License and Certification Requirements
Sex therapists must be certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists to practice. To earn certification, you must hold a graduate degree and accumulate post-degree experience under the supervision of a licensed clinical psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, or licensed professional counselor, depending on your field of specialization.
To practice, you must hold a license valid in your state (the regulations for which vary by state) as well as a current certificate. If you earned a degree outside the United States, you will need to prove that your credentials are equivalent to those within the country. Similarly, if you want to work outside the United States, you’ll need to meet the credentialing standards of that country. Some states, licensing bodies and employers may require continuing education hours.
2022 US Bureau of Labor Statistics job market trends and salary figures for therapists (all other), social workers, psychologists, and the social service sector are based on national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed July 2023.