With talk therapy having existed for centuries, psychotherapy is by no means a new practice. It has evolved over time into many different forms, each seeking to increase well-being in the lives of individuals, couples, and families from all walks of life.  Unlike other forms of talk therapy, sex therapy has been a more recent development in the western world, not becoming common practice until around the 1950s.

Sex therapy treats various forms of sexual dysfunction (sexual issues), which may be more or less complex in nature. It has its roots in both psychotherapy and medical practices and usually requires a combined approach with influences that can help make sense of sexual issues and create positive change for those experiencing them. If you can imagine the range of sexual experiences out there, you might begin to imagine the range of issues presented in a sex therapy session. 

Sexual dysfunction can affect – or be produced – by any area of life: the mind, emotions, the body, behaviour, relationship or environment. Individuals might be struggling with intimacy (being close to or affectionate with others), physical illness, unstable moods, or relationship problems, all of which can be addressed by a trained sex therapist. Sex therapy might include aspects of talk therapy, mindfulness-based (relaxation) practices, sexual education, relational therapy, and cognitive-behavioural therapy, to name only a few (Weir, 2019). Sex therapy also often addresses sexuality-based issues from a PLISSIT Model perspective, frequently working in the giving Permission, Limited Information and Specific Suggestions areas of concern, however, trained and qualified sex therapists with a Masters or Doctoral level counselling degree may also be trained to address the Intensive Therapy aspect as well, which can cover areas related to sexuality-based trauma and abuse. 

Other concerns sex therapy commonly addresses are erectile dysfunction, orgasm-related issues, low libido (sex drive), sexual identity or gender identity concerns, sexual confidence, painful intercourse, sexual trauma, BDSM/Kink-related concerns, and beyond. A skilled sex therapist usually aims to reduce the negative ideas and feelings around the sexuality-based issues, increase self and relationship awareness, improve communication, and improve the sexual experiences of their clients. 

Treatment plans to accomplish this may involve changes in thinking, behaviour, lifestyle, and medical interventions. Sex education may be provided, personal lubricants may be offered, and medications such as Viagra may be prescribed for those experiencing erectile issues. Sex therapy may be brief (one session) or may take place over years to help support more complex issues. Just like any form of psychotherapy, sex therapy seeks to create a safe non-judgmental environment where positive change can take place within the therapeutic relationship. What sex therapy doesn’t involve, however, is touch. Sex Therapists do not touch their clients – in a sexual way or non-sexual way – as this is strictly prohibited under therapeutic ethical standards and with certifying governing bodies. 

Sex therapy is a new and emerging profession, but with a wider understanding and global reach, it is slowly becoming a highly sought-after mental health care service that has the potential to drastically help shape our future for the better.

 

References 

ALTHOF, S. E., ROSEN, R. C., ROGATIS, L. D., CORTY, E., QUIRK, F., & SYMONDS, T. (2005). Outcome measurement in female sexual dysfunction clinical trials. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 31(2), 153-166. https://doi.org/10.1080/00926230590909989 

Donahey, K. M., & Miller, S. D. (2000). Applying a common factors perspective to sex therapy. Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, 25(4), 221-230. https://doi.org/10.1080/01614576.2000.11074354 

Kleinplatz, P. J., Lackey, N. S., Dzendoletas, D., Pelletier, L., Holzapfel, S., Neeb, S., & Winterton, V. (2020). Introduction to core competencies for BESTCO certified sex therapists. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 29(2), 139-142. https://doi.org/10.3138/cjhs.2020-0015.intro 

Tabatabaie, A. (2014). “Does sex therapy work? How can we know?” measuring outcomes in sex therapy. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 29(3), 269-279. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681994.2014.915705 

Weir, K. (2019, February). Sex therapy for the 21st century: Five emerging directions. Monitor on Psychology, 50(2). http://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/02/cover-ce-corner