What Does A Sex Therapist Do?

By Joanna Smykowski|Updated August 3, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Melinda Santa, LCSW

Sex.

What does the word sex mean to each of us? It is a three-letter word that does, in some circles, hold a lot of taboo. If you are in a relationship and you find that the people involved are having problems connecting in the physical aspect, you may find yourselves considering a sex therapist. If you think your struggles are individual to you, you also may want to see a sex therapist. Whether alone or with a partner, couples or singles, seeing a sex therapist is a good option. A sex therapist can help you improve your current or future relationships, overcome complications, and help you gain a better understanding of yourself and your sexuality so that the act of sex can be a more enjoyable experience. So what is sex psychology, what is sexuality, what is a sex therapist, what does a sex therapist do, and where can you find one? As for where you can find one, online therapy is a great place to look for a sex therapist that can help you. 

In some areas of the world, intimacy has become more openly discussed not just by physicians and a recognized regular act. Women's sexual expression became more accepted and popularized almost a century ago, and more recently, same sex marriage became legal on a country-wide level less than a decade ago in countries such as the United States.

what is sex therapy? what is this therapy?

Are You Looking To Resolve Something In Your Sex Life?

What Is A Sex Therapist?

So what is a sex therapist and sex therapy? What on earth does a sex therapist or sex therapists do? How can I find a sexual therapist near me? While going to therapy is becoming much more widely accepted, and society is putting an increasing awareness on mental health, sex therapists are mental health professionals in a smaller sect within the therapy universe. Many may not even realize sex therapists are an option for help for their issues, problems, or concerns, but they are just as effective as any other mental health professional.

Sex therapy is a form of counseling for couples in a relationship as well as individuals to resolve sexual difficulties, such as performance anxieties or relationship problems. It is a specialized type of psychotherapy, which means that you are treating a mental health issue by going to a mental health professional. At no point will your therapist ask you to undress or do anything physical during the sessions; that is not what the treatment is like.

How Do You Become A Sex Therapist?

Sex therapists are a range of mental health professionals. They can be a psychiatrist (doctor with a medical degree), a marriage and family therapist (noted by the letters MFT or AMFT designated at the end of their names), a psychologist (can be noted by designations such as LPC in psychology), or a clinical social worker (often designated by LCSW after their name). For each of the licenses above, there is a minimal amount of training about sexuality that is required across the board. Sex therapists differ, however, in that they have trained specifically in sex therapy methods beyond the minimal foundational training.

Generally, to become a sex therapist, you need to obtain a sex therapy certification. For that to occur, you have to have at minimum your Master's degree in a related field (such as psychology) and certification in that field. Some graduate schools have specific sex therapy programs within the mental health training curriculum. You will also need to complete a certain number of hours in human sexuality education, clinical, and supervised experience. The specifics depend on the where you live and the requirements there to go into sex therapy. Regardless, a sex therapist has advanced training in issues related to intercourse and relationship help. In the United States, the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists is the credentialing body for the work of sex therapists and you can access their site for more resources on how they work. 

What Does A Sex Therapist Do?

A licensed sex therapist does not help you have sex in the literal sense. Rather, a sex therapist takes the tools of talk therapy and psychology — namely, addressing your concerns, thoughts, and feelings, and why it is inhibiting your sexuality-and provide you with detailed information on the tools to complete the goal of resolving your sexual concerns. A sex therapist will listen to your concerns within the realm of sex, such as:

  1. Concerns over intimacy
  2. Concerns about sexual desire or arousal
  3. Intimacy anxieties
  4. Intimacy interests
  5. Intimacy orientation
  6. Impulsive or compulsive sexual behavior
  7. Sexual functioning difficulties, such as early ejaculation, trouble reaching orgasm, or painful intercourse
  8. Concerns over past unwanted or traumatic sexual experiences

The list of what most sex therapists can help with does not end here. Many do not realize that the sex issues they have are normal in all couples or individuals. Couples experiencing life changes that affect them in a psychological or stress inducing way-such as having a baby, moving in together, making a major purchase, getting married, or experiencing menopause-can hit bumps that a sex therapist can help you with by talking through them and working on a treatment plan. They then figure out ways to support you work towards a goal. Sex therapists also lead support groups for individuals looking to find a community with similar issues. These support groups are a great way to get the help you are looking for at a lower price if money is a concern. 

What Happens During Sex Therapy?

The first thing to note is what will not happen-any forms of sex or sexual contact. Think less sex and more talking about sex and intimacy. 

Even if you are in a relationship, you can still choose to see a sex therapist alone versus as a couple for a session. As a patient, you need to asses the best option for you so that you are comfortable with the therapy.

What Does A Session Look Like?

Sessions with a sex therapist will many times begin with the patient describing their intimacy concerns or issues. This gives the therapist a well-rounded and holistic view of the problem so they can provide tailored help and mental health treatment plan. Your therapist will need to determine everything involved, and do an assessment of your background and how it integrates with your current concerns during sessions, much as professionals would in a non-sex therapy session. It is as that point that they can diagnose and identify the problem, as well as discuss ways with you as the patient to resolve the concerns and improve your intimacy and sex life.

What Typically Happens Between Sessions?

A sex therapist will likely give you and your partner exercises to work on in-between sessions. These exercises can be something like communicating, reading about sexual health, changing your interactions with your partner, or taking note about aspects of your sexual health and how to improve it. An important aspect of sex therapy is helping the couple talk about sex with each other so that they feel understood and supported. These activities might be intimidating, but should be something easy to do.

Sex therapy can help you express your intercourse concerns. It can also help you better understand not only your own sexual needs but your partner's sexual needs as well if you have one.

Is Discussing Intimacy Weird?

No. The thought of speaking with a stranger about something as intimate as being physical and sex for many seems incredibly uncomfortable and can be nerve-wracking. It is important to remember. However, that sex therapists are licensed professionals, and they want to help you.

Sex therapy can also lead to help within other realms of mental or physical health. If the problems arise from something physical — such as the side effect to a medication — you can be referred to a doctor to adjust the medication. Also, if the sexual problems are present because of a different mental health issue, such as anxiety or depression, you can also begin to heal these, which will ultimately support your sex life. A holistic evaluation of all mental and physical issues that can alter your sex life helps determine proper and effective treatment.

Does Sex Therapy Last Long?

Each case is different, and it depends on the root of the problem. If the problem is something physical, such as premature ejaculation or questions about genitalia, it can be resolved in fewer sessions. Couples issues may take more time, and any kind of trauma is a more in-depth issue to solve. Your sex therapist will make sure to work with you until you are comfortable with the growth you've made in resolving your goal.

Should I See A Sex Therapist?

It is always important to ask yourself what is going on within your sex life and if there seems to be a problem that needs resolving. If any of the issues mentioned above seem to be present in your life, or even if you just need someone to be open with about intercourse and speak with, then a sex therapist may be right for you. The biggest part to remember is that your mental health is important, and if you need therapy, it is even more important to seek professional help for health problems.

Are You Looking To Resolve Something In Your Sex Life?

As a patient, you need to practice what is most comfortable for you. For some, that may be going to a sex therapist's office. For others, it may be speaking to a sex therapist virtually to avoid any awkwardness and uncomfortableness that in-person conversation can lead to. The site BetterHelp.com can help match you up with a sex therapist to suit your needs, ending a seemingly long search. Online therapy is effective as well as in-person therapy, and you can access the site www.betterhelp.com/online-therapy to see if any licensed mental health professionals can help. 

FAQs About Sex Therapy

What is a sex therapist good for?

This type of therapy can help both individuals and couples work through challenges relating to sexual experiences. Examples can include performance anxiety or communication strategies around sex. They will explore intimacy as it relates to a person's overall well being and unpack how sexual issues can affect a person's whole-person healthcare, whether in a relationship currently or not. They can also provide sex education, explore the value of sex toys for a couple, and explain how communication skills play a large role in the sexual experience of humans. 

What happens with sex therapy?

It's worth noting what will not happen: any forms of sex.

Sessions will oftentimes begin with a person providing an overview of their sex concerns or issues. This will aid the therapist in having a better understanding of the challenge on the whole. After the assessment period, the therapist may have greater clarity to provide medical advice diagnosis or treatment, as well as providing ideas or methods for the patient to resolve the challenges and improve intimacy on the whole. Healthcare professionals, like a primary care physician, can also be an outlet to discuss challenges relating to intimacy or sexual dysfunction.

A sex therapist is likely to provide exercises for you and your partner to accomplish in-between sessions. Examples could include: communicating, changing interactions with your partner, reading about sexual health, or looking closely at health problems that may be affecting your sexual health. They can answer common questions about sexually transmitted diseases or erectile dysfunction as well, or direct you to web content resources to learn more about your sexual health.

What kind of therapist do I need for sex?

A certified sex therapist is the best professional for challenges or issues related to intimacy. They can often provide a treatment plan tailored to you as an individual or a couple. 

How much do sexologists make?

The average salary for a sexologist in the United States is around $57,000, with a salary range typically falling between $53,000 and $63,000. You can access the site salary.com for more information. 

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