What Does A Sex Therapist Do?

By: Joanna Smykowski

Updated March 25, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Melinda Santa


It is a three-letter word that holds a lot of taboo, in varying degrees, in many different countries. In the western world, sex has become more openly discussed and a recognized regular act. Women's sexuality became more vocal and popularized almost a century ago, and more recently, homosexual marriage became legal on a country-wide level less than a decade ago in countries such as the United States.

While there are still places where it is not discussed, and there is a long way to go before it is a fully open topic, sex rules a lot of things around us. For advertisers, they might say sex sells. It is an everyday aspect of many of our lives.

If you are in a relationship and you find that you are having problems connecting on a physical level, you may find yourselves thinking about and looking into a sex therapist. In the alternative, if you are an individual that feels like you are having sexual difficulties, you also may find yourself contemplating and taking steps towards sex therapy. Whether alone or with a partner, for some couples or singles, it is a good option. Sex therapy can help you improve your current or future relationships, overcome your sexual and physical difficulties, and help you gain a better understanding of yourself and your sexuality so that it can be a more enjoyable experience.

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What Is Sex Therapy?

While going to therapy is becoming much more widely accepted, and society is putting an increasing awareness and weight on mental health and mental health professionals, sex therapists, are a smaller sect within the therapy universe. Many may not even realize that sex therapy is an option or that sex therapists exist as a career path or an option for help.

Sex therapy is a form of counseling that is for couples 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 is there any sex being had during the sessions; while this may seem like a no-brainer, there are some that may easily believe otherwise based on the name.

How Do You Become A Sex Therapist?

Sex therapists can be 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), 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 specially trained in sex therapy methods beyond the minimal foundational training.

Some graduate schools have specific sex therapy programs within their mental health 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. You will also need to log in a certain number of hours in human sexuality education, clinical, and supervised experience. The specifics depend on the state you are living in and their requirements to go into sex therapy. Regardless, a sex therapist has advanced training in issues related to sexual and relationship help. In the United States, the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists exists as a credentialing body.

What Does A Sex Therapist Do?

A sex therapist does not help you have sex in the literal sense. Rather, sex therapists take the tools of therapy-namely, addressing your concerns, thoughts, and feelings, and why it is inhibiting your sexuality-and giving you tools to complete the goal of resolving the issue. Sex therapists listen to your concerns within the realm of sex, such as:

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

The list does not end here. Many do not realize that whatever sexual issues they have are normal. Couples going into new changes-such as having a baby, moving in together, making a major purchase, getting married, or going through menopause-can hit bumps in their sexual road that a sex therapist can help you through. They then figure out ways with you as a client to work towards a goal.

What Happens When You Go To Sex Therapy?

The first thing to note is what will not happen-any forms of sex.

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

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Sex therapy sessions will many times begin with the patient describing their sexual concerns or issues. This gives the therapist a well-rounded and holistic view of the problem. Your therapist will need to determine everything involved, and do an assessment of your background and how it integrates with your current concerns, much as 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.

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 couples talk about sex with each other so that they feel understood and supported.

Sex therapy can help you express your sexual 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 Sex 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, the same way another therapist would be in a non-sex mental health situation.

Sex therapy can also lead to help within other realms of mental or physical health. If the sexual problems arise from something physical-such as the side effect to a medication-you can get referred to a doctor to fix that problem. 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 there as well, which in turn will affect your sex life. A holistic evaluation of all mental and physical issues that can alter your sex life helps determine proper and effective treatment.

Sex is an important aspect of life, especially if you are in a relationship. It also works to keep an active, healthy sex life, the same way it is work to keep an active, healthy relationship and regular life.

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 at having resolved 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 sex 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.

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As a patient, you need to do 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. BetterHelp.com can help match you up with a sex therapist to suit your needs. Online therapy is effective as well as in-person therapy, and you can go to www.betterhelp.com/online-therapy to see if any licensed mental health professionals can help.

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