What is sex therapy?

12/5/20232 min read

The reactions from people when told you’re a sex therapist vary (from appreciation, curiosity, surprise to negative judgement, and more.) Frequently I get a reaction that implies imagining me as some sultry teacher in an office adorned with whips and feathered handcuffs. I've even gotten the “oh really, that must make your partner very happy” and one “men feel intimidated by that” (in a way that suggests I should be concerned lol).

Thankfully, as the sex positive movement grows in a social climate with some reduced stigma around mental health, sex therapy is being sought out more. Practitioners pursue training in this area because of its centrality in the human experience. It is an area of our patients’ lives that when effectively explored, enriches the therapeutic process and personal growth as part of achieving fulfilling experiences and relationships.

What is (and isn't) it?

Sex therapists facilitate a non shaming, safe therapeutic process involving healing, learning, exploration, and growth. Sex therapists are not coaches or trainers in sexual activity. It is never a sexual encounter between the clinical provider and clients. Sex therapy is a space for clients to address individual, interpersonal, psychological, and physiological experiences, thoughts and feelings regarding sex. It is appropriately sought out for many things from uncertainty, concern to curiosity. For clients, It can be to address reported distress or dysfunction or an opportunity to explore past trauma. It can also be in the interest of increasing sexual connection to a partner(s) or personal pleasure.

What does it look like?

On any given day, in sex therapy, I educate clients on the anatomy of the clitoris and on the utility of self exploration in a calm, regulated stated. I normalize insecurities about the appearance of body parts or, feelings of being “broken” because of changes in sexual desire. I provide clients with language and effective communication skills to address sexual matters with their partner(s). I provide referrals for medical providers specializing in sexual functioning. I educate couples on changes in sexual functioning and provide them tools for navigating sexual connection with each other. I actively care and contain the process of visiting traumas and how they may influence a client’s sexual identity and experiences. I join clients in exploring the messages they absorbed about sex that influence their beliefs about sex and their sexual functioning and identity. I support my clients in shaping their own narratives of sex and connecting to their own eroticism.

What to look for?

As with any therapy, feeling of a good fit is important. Pertaining to sex therapy, approaches can vary from diagnostically oriented (address dysfunction or treat addiction) to more person oriented. This is something that may become more evident once you’ve met with the therapist so don’t worry if it isn’t apparent when searching. While many aren’t, there are Some sex therapies have religious leanings while others don’t. As with most things one size doesn’t fit all. The same goes with therapy - what works for one may be wrong for another. That’s not to say one way is better. It’s more a matter of what best suits the client. The AACAST positions itself as a dynamic approach to intimacy and sexuality with less basis in pathology. Sex therapists of any orientation have interest in increasing a client’s satisfaction with their own sexuality and sexual experiences.