When you think of sex therapy, are images of Barbara Streisand from Meet the Fockers flashing through your mind?
As entertaining as that may be, sex therapy is actually just where we talk about intimacy and relationship issues.
Sex therapy views sexual issues as being resolved by specifically addressing them, rather than assuming that when an individual works out relationship issues, the sex will just fall into place.
As sexuality is often wrapped up in past generational messages, politics, and religion – sex therapy can encourage and support you to tease apart the messages received and work towards having the sex you want. This can include topics such as improving intimacy, strengthening interrelationship skills, and communicating your desires. Being able to express your desires while also understanding your partner’s sexuality and wishes can be absolutely transcendent.
To kick things off, let’s explore an informal history of sex therapy to start understanding how we got here…
“Sex therapy can encourage and support you to tease apart the messages received and work towards having the sex you want.”
A brief history
Nobody really knows where sex therapy began. In Albert Ellis’s “Informal History of Sex Therapy” (1975), he explains that sometimes people mistakenly owe the origins of sex therapy to William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson. However Ellis explains that all throughout history, we can find cultural references to people learning how to navigate their sexual lives. This even dates as far back as the ancient Greeks, who waxed poetically about the joys of both heterosexual and homosexual sex, to the infamous Chinese “pillow books” that housed detailed illustrations about what to do in bed. So, it’s safe to say that we have always been participating in forms of sex counseling.
Over time, sex therapy fell within more modern and scientific times. At the start of the 19th century, major contributors began modern day studies in human sexuality. These contributors and sexologists consisted of brilliant minds such as: Havelock Ellis. Though Ellis may have been driven to the field by his own hangups, including fast ejaculation and an obsessive interest in women urinating, he became the world’s leading authority on the subject. His famous 1935 book, Studies in the Psychology of Sex, became the most-quoted book of its time.
Alfred Kinsey even took the modernization of sex research a step further and started the Kinsey Institute in the 1950’s, where students could involve themselves in clinical positions studying orgasms, intercourse, and masturbation.
The pioneers of sex therapy
Which brings us back to Masters and Johnson. When Masters and Johnson began their sex research in the 1960’s, and began combining this knowledge with psychotherapy, the technical concept of sex therapy was born.
Many of the concepts they worked on with their clients are still relevant today. For example, they emphasized the following concepts as common, and normal, within sexual relationships:
- “Failing at intercourse frequently occurs and hardly proves fatal.”
- “Many kinds of non-coital acts, such as oral relations, appear entirely normal and healthy and we do not have to make ourselves in the slightest way ashamed or guilty for engaging in such acts.”
- “Communication between two partners greatly helps sex-love participation and enhances the probability of their succeeding and remaining successful.”
Sex therapy today
So what does sex therapy look like in today’s world? Sexuality is seen as a part of general mental health and there is greater acceptance of the belief that all psychologists should be able to provide their clients some guidance about human sexuality. To continue building a strong future for the field of sex therapy, current practitioners are becoming more creative to engage in healthy and flourishing treatment with their clients. This includes incorporating practices such as: mindfulness based interventions, using psychotherapy before medication, and expanding exclusivity.
The true modernization of sex therapy has been reflective of today’s digital society. There are not only in-state options; there is also access to see the therapist of our choice online via a virtual session. You can see sex therapists all over your state online, or even all over the country, depending on your state’s regulations.
The best part about having online therapy an option in addition to in-person therapy, is that you can have a session with your sex therapist from the comfort and privacy of your home. Not only that, but this will cut down time spent in traffic, and allows you to be in your comfy pajamas, holding your pet, and sitting in bed while you discuss vulnerable issues with your therapist.
So, is sex therapy right for you?
Now the important question… how do you know when it is the right timing to seek out a sex therapist to support your unique situation(s)?
An opportune time to consider seeing a sex therapist is when you’re feeling lost with either yourself or within your partnered relationship. This can look like being unable to healthily resolve conflict or dealing with feelings & emotions that you are unable to identify. Oftentimes, in these types of situations, it can be beneficial to source unbiased, professional help.
Here are some common situations that people have experienced, and sought out sex therapy to help remedy:
- general mental health issues
- intimacy issues
- relationship building
- performance anxiety
- sexual dysfunction
- out-of -control sexual behavior
- increasing communication in & out of the bedroom
- guilt, depression, and/or anxiety (with masturbation, sex, orgasm, etc.)
- sexual orientation
- gender identity
- transgender awareness
- polyamory + open relationships,
- information on kink and BDSM
- desire discrepancy
- trauma past or present
- …. and more!
*Please note that the above concepts are common emotions, situations, physical issues, etc. that are experienced by more people than you would think!*
What to Look For in a Sex Therapist
Of course, it’s one thing knowing if you should seek out sex therapy but quite another to find a therapist who fits your distinct situation, personality, and communication needs.
If you browse Psychology Today, you will find that many therapists label themselves as being competent in sex therapy and sexual health issues. However, this is extremely problematic as most therapists do not receive any training in sexuality or sex therapy in the graduate level programs. Many sex therapists are not certified and do not have extensive training.
When looking for the right sex therapist for YOU, we recommend the following…
Find someone you vibe with
Yes, we’re serious! This is the same concept as identifying that friend who you know you can talk about anything with. Discussing your sexuality issues can be an extremely vulnerable experience, and it’s important that you find a professional who embraces their authenticity with you while in session. For example, do you prefer to welcome humor? Find a sex therapist that brings in humor each time you meet!
Ensure common values
We also recommend finding a sex therapist who shares your values. Sexuality is broad and diverse, so there are a variety of therapists trained in different niches and topics. You want to ensure that your therapist is competent in the issues you want to work on. For example, if you’re coming to therapy about your sexuality, but you also happen to be involved in the Kink/BDSM community, you will want to find a sex therapist who is open (and knowledgeable) in talking about kink in case you want to bring it up in session.
The right certifications
As important as it is to seek a therapist who you feel comfortable opening up to, it’s just as vital to land one who has the proper credentials. You can use this list as a guide when you are doing your research for the right sex therapist for you.
While there’s greater openness in talking about sex since Lucy and Ricky slept in separate beds on “I Love Lucy”, many people still have anxiety talking about sex – even with their close friends. A sex therapist is a great resource for anyone feeling that they need a professional outlet from which to draw advice, reflection, feedback, and more.
P.s. if you’re curious to get started on your sex therapy journey – at Respark Therapy, we commit to a judgment-free, compassionate and authentic relationship with you through every twist and turn of your journey. Contact us to schedule an appointment 512-537-0922.
Meet the author...
At Respark Therapy, all of our therapists are either an AASECT (The American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists) Certified Sex Therapist, or they are in training to become a Sexual Health Alliance Certified Sex Therapist. This means our therapists are obtaining 200+ hours of additional training/continuing education in sex and relationship counseling, supervision and experience treating issues.