When Should I Search For A Sex Therapist

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated May 10, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article on sex therapy might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

As therapy becomes more available through options like online therapy, many people have begun seeking specialized mental health professionals or counselors to address concerns in their lives. These issues may be individual mental health concerns or emotional issues they hope to confront. One specialty that many search for is sex therapy, which can be provided in individual or couple formats. 

According to marriage and family therapy expert Tasha Seiter, “A relationship between two mindful partners is one where both partners feel cared for, fully seen, and heard. This [dynamic] creates a positive giving feedback loop in the relationship, wherein both partners derive satisfaction from what they bring to the table instead of what their partner does for them.” Sex therapy can be a practical step in becoming a mindful partner and creating a healthy relationship bond. 

Some clients may feel intimated, embarrassed, or ashamed about asking for help. If you’re unsure whether to search for a qualified sex therapist, reading about the process may provide peace of mind as you consider your decision.  

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Are you facing issues in your intimate relationship?

What is a sex therapist?

There are several differences between a general therapist and a sex therapist. What does a sex therapist do? While both are mental health professionals, a standard therapist often provides counseling for various emotional and mental health issues. A sex therapist offers many of the same services as traditional therapists but might focus specifically on concerns related to human sexuality. For example, they could help clients cope with intimate dysfunction or anxiety during intercourse. A good therapist can also work with couples on relationship dynamics, intimacy, or communication difficulties.  

The primary difference between traditional counselors and sex counselors is their area of specialization. Sex counselors are trained to address intimacy issues which means that they often have a unique understanding of how relationship dynamics, health, and intimacy can impact individuals and couples. General therapists might not have that kind of specialized training in these areas but could still address them as part of a client’s treatment. 

Individuals and couples that are new to navigating sex counseling may benefit from noting the following:

  • A sex therapist is trained to address intimacy issues within a relationship.
  • Searching for a therapist in this area is not shameful or wrong. 
  • Sex counseling can help couples improve their physical connection, address intimacy issues, and provide valuable resources.
  • Sex counselors do not partake in sexual activity or intimacy with clients. This relationship is strictly professional and platonic, as therapists must follow ethical guidelines outlined by the American Psychological Association (APA). 

When should I see a sex therapist to address concerns?

Physical intimacy and compatibility are significant aspects of many couples’ relationships and can play a prominent role in overall relationship satisfaction. Couples and individuals may experience difficulties in their lives, ranging from communication issues to painful intercourse or challenges with arousal, but couples sex therapy may be the most effective approach to overcome these obstacles and live a happy life.

For many couples, challenges may arise when there are emotional concerns. According to a sex therapist of over 30 years, “If two people aren’t getting along, there’s a chance that they aren’t going to be engaging in sex, at least not as often or joyously as they once did. So, a drastic drop in the frequency of sex that a couple has may appear to be purely related to their sex life, but the actual culprit is an underlying relationship issue.” According to Dr. Ruth, certified sex counselors can treat intimacy and marital concerns on top of sexual concerns, as the issues may be intertwined. 

Choosing counseling is a personal decision, and it is up to you if you think it would benefit you. However, if you are experiencing persistent concerns that negatively impact any area of your life, you might find this type of treatment beneficial. Common reasons that others might seek a sex therapist could include the following:

  • Feeling dependent on or “addicted” to sexual activities, masturbation, or intimacy 
  • Mismatching desires with a partner 
  • Polyamory vs. monogamy 
  • Physical pain during intercourse not caused by a physical illness
  • An adverse past experience
  • Difficulty experiencing fulfillment
  • Not feeling emotionally connected or loved
  • Long periods without intimacy
  • Mismatching libidos with a partner
  • Concerns about asexuality
  • Concerns about hypersexuality
  • Challenges meeting a partner, dating, or finding connections
  • Loss of attraction in a long-term relationship 

If you’re still unsure if your concerns like sexual shame would benefit from sex counseling, consider contacting prospective counselors to ask questions and set up a consultation.

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What can clients gain? 

Sex counselors can provide numerous benefits and may support clients with the following benefits and solutions. 

Communication Skills

Communication can impact all relationship aspects, including sex and physical intimacy. Sex counseling may help clients improve communication skills, understand consent, and discuss desires and limits.  

An understanding of dysfunction, like painful intercourse

Sex therapists can provide guidance and education to approach physical concerns like premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, or difficulty reaching orgasm that may affect a couple’s intimate connection. At times, these issues may arise due to psychological causes. With support, a sex therapist may help clients feel comfortable during sex. If a physical illness or concern has been diagnosed, the therapist can address any emotional distress the client or clients feel due to it. 

An exploration of orientation and gender identity

Individuals questioning their sexual orientation or identity may benefit from seeking sex counseling. Counseling can provide a non-judgmental space to work through their feelings and develop solutions to move forward. 

Improvements in intimacy 

Many individuals struggle with intimacy, whether it is emotional or physical. A sex therapist can help couples address these topics and offer ways to improve intimacy between partners, such as date ideas, discussion of fantasies, or suggestions for practicing each other’s love languages. 

Healing from past trauma 

Sexual trauma or abuse may cause various concerns for clients in relationships or those hoping to make sexual or romantic connections after a traumatic event. For some individuals, a trauma history may cause pain during sex. For those with a mental illness like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sex may trigger flashbacks or distressing memories. A sex therapist can discuss topics like this in detail and help clients develop a unique treatment plan. 

Solutions to mismatching sexual desires or libido

Mismatched libido or desires can be a concern for some clients. Sex counseling can help these individuals identify any underlying concerns contributing to low sexual desire or strategies for both partners to have their needs met without harming the boundaries of the other. 

Improved overall satisfaction 

Counseling can allow couples and individuals to learn more about their needs. Learning more could improve sexual satisfaction and a deeper understanding of their desires.

Education 

Sex counseling can also be beneficial for those seeking general education. Forbes references a survey conducted on high-earning women and found that only 3% of participants felt they had learned about sex at school or from their families as children. 34% learned from peers, and 28% from magazines or books. In addition, 77% of women did not learn that sex should be pleasurable, and 70% were not taught about consent. Finally, 62% felt shame or embarrassment about sex and sexuality due to their lack of education. With a sex therapist, you can learn more about how pleasure, consent, and connection can be achieved through sex and how to communicate your boundaries and needs during an interaction. Counselors can also teach about safe sex and preventative care. 

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Are you facing issues in your intimate relationship?

Counseling options

There are many counseling options for individuals seeking support with sex-related concerns. However, due to stigmas, many may feel ashamed or embarrassed about seeking help in person. In these cases, internet-based therapy can be more discreet. 

Online counseling often provides more comfort than a traditional in-office session, as clients can partake at home. In addition, clients can sign up for many online platforms using a nickname, allowing them to receive support without using their real name. If they live in a rural area or struggle to find an in-person sex therapist, an online platform can connect them with multiple therapists that they might not be able to find in their city, state, or even country. 

If you’re unsure about the effectiveness of this type of counseling, studies have indicated that it can be as effective as in-person options. One study focused on client satisfaction with relational teletherapy. A participant from the study stated, “My partner and I love being in our own environment because it feels safe, and [sessions] quickly became a very natural feeling and an even more positive experience than in person.”

There was a general sense from participants that while both in‐person therapy and teletherapy were beneficial for meeting the emotional needs of couples and families in distress, teletherapy was credited for providing clients with their own emotionally safe space to engage in therapy with a partner.

Takeaway

Sex therapy can benefit couples interested in understanding and addressing sexual concerns within their relationship. Seeking professional help is not shameful or wrong. Speaking to a therapist could be viewed as a healthy and proactive choice that shows commitment to improving mental health and sexual wellness. 

If a couple is experiencing persistent sexual issues, a sex therapist can be an effective and compassionate resource for guidance, support, and education. By speaking with a sex therapist, couples can work together on improving their sexual, emotional, and mental well-being. 

If you’re interested in meeting with a licensed mental health professional online, consider signing up through a platform like BetterHelp for individuals or Regain for couples to take the first steps. 

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