What's A Sex Therapist?
There are many reasons an individual or a couple might seek out a "certified sex therapist near me". Sex can be a significant part of people's lives, and challenges or sexual issues like sexual dysfunction, pain, traumatic experiences, or other sexual concerns can be difficult to manage independently. Some people also visit a sex therapist for sexual education, tips to improve intercourse or intimacy exercises they can learn with their partner. What does a sex therapist do? Note that sex therapy does not involve any sexual activity with the therapist. Instead, it is a talk therapy that allows clients to discuss their concerns and develop a treatment plan.
For many, sexual problems or challenges like sexual shame are related to mental health. Physical sex difficulties, such as pain during intimate sex, may also have mental and emotional aspects that can be alleviated through sex therapy.
If you are experiencing sexual challenges, support is available, and you're not alone.
A qualified sex therapist is a licensed mental health professional certified through the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT). Certified sex therapists may be psychologists, social workers, or counselors with specialized training in treating individuals and couples coming to them for support. They are sexual educators and mental health professionals with a license in their state to practice therapy and help people through sexual difficulties or sexual function issues. A sex therapist can also often offer other types of counseling, as they have the same education as other licensed mental health providers at their level.
How do you become a sex therapist?
To become a sex therapist, one must comply to the requirements outlined by AASECT. Expectations to become a sex therapist include earning at least a master's degree in mental health with training in psychotherapy and holding licensure as a counselor, clinical social worker, or marriage and family therapist. Requirements for education involve extensive coursework in human sexuality, sexual health, sexual functioning, and sexual orientation. In many states, a sex therapist must also obtain marriage and family therapist licenses.
Talking about sex may feel awkward and uncomfortable at first for many clients. However, sessions with a sex therapist can ease these feelings of discomfort for many. Sex therapists are trained in various areas and often have extensive experience in treating concerns such as the following:
A lack of sexual desire
Anxiety about sexual contact
A traumatic sexual history or abuse*
Difficulty finding healthy relationships
A lack of intimacy in a relationship
Difficulty communicating about sex with partners
Body image concerns
Mismatching sexual fantasies or desires in a relationship
Mismatching libido in a relationship
Confusion about sexuality or gender identity
Pain during sex
Difficulty having an orgasm
If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for support. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788. You can also use the online chat.
Sex therapists often work to help clients have a healthy sex life, regardless of their goals. However, some clients may also work with a therapist to have self-confidence, feel comfortable in their bodies, or understand their sexual needs and identity more profoundly. Sex therapy may not only be focused on sexual activity. For many, identity and self-esteem are tied to these topics.
Common Topics Sex Therapists Offer Support With
Below is further clarification on the topics that a sex therapist might offer support with. However, the list is not comprehensive. You can contact one of these professionals anytime if you feel their services could support you.
Sexual arousal challenges
Sexual arousal challenges like erectile dysfunction, vaginal dryness, or difficulty feeling sexual attraction can be addressed in sex therapy. Sexual arousal challenges are not limited to gender, and sex therapists may use various techniques to address them, such as conversational activities, discussion of past events, and communication lessons, depending on whether the therapy is individual or for a couple.
Sexual performance challenges can be addressed in sex therapy. 43% of women and 31% of men report sexual dysfunction in their relationships. Challenges like struggling to pleasure a partner or find pleasure during sex can cause frustration and other unwanted emotions. Physical issues like pain or difficulty getting an erection can also cause challenges with performance.
A sex therapist can help individuals or couples understand any potential underlying causes of their sexual challenges. If the individuals are a couple, they can learn exercises to try at home to increase arousal, comfort, and intimacy in their interactions. Removing pressure from sex may help many individuals feel safer exploring their bodies.
Intimacy issues might make it difficult for individuals to feel close to one another. Intimacy can be sexual, emotional, or physical. At times, people may struggle to have healthy sexual lives because they feel their emotional intimacy or love is lacking. Without love, sexual intimacy may not be possible for some partners. A sex therapist can help these individuals or couples increase love and emotional connection in their lives.
For some individuals, intimacy may be scary and cause feelings of anxiety. They might feel so nervous about sex that they avoid sexual encounters or have panic attacks or pain during intercourse. A sex therapist can help them understand the root of their sexual fears and feel safer setting boundaries and saying "no" when they don't want to have sex. Consent can be crucial to a healthy encounter, and many people may struggle with having sex when they do not want to.
Many intimacy concerns may be related to body image. For some, that might be gender dysphoria. For others, it could be low self-esteem or insecurity about a part of their body. People are not always comfortable with being naked in front of others. Couples may face conflict if one partner wants to see more of their partner's body, but the individual isn't comfortable. In these cases, the therapist can help the couple understand consent, discuss body image, and partake in safe exercises and activities for both people. Body image issues may be overcome with time, but the pressure to be naked before one is ready may cause a worsening feeling of shame or guilt. In these cases, a therapist can help the individual work up to what they're comfortable with.
Many challenges with sexual intimacy may arise from couples struggling to connect, communicate, and understand each other's needs. Couples sex therapy aims to assist in overcoming barriers like anxiety, past adverse experiences, or body image issues may add emotional blockages to sexual intercourse, adding a layer of shame or guilt to communication that makes it difficult to tell your partner what you need. Many couples benefit from putting sex on the back burner while working with a therapist to discuss these concerns in more detail.
Two people may love each other very much but still experience sexual challenges. Having these challenges does not mean either partner is "wrong" or "bad." A sexual therapist can lead these individuals through exercises like the following.
In sensate-focused therapy, both partners learn to touch non-sexual areas of the body, such as the arm, to know what it's like to give and receive consensual touch in a safe environment with communication.
Partners may learn to hug each other, cuddle, and lay in silence without sexual intercourse to increase intimacy.
Partners can learn to find intimate feelings by looking into each other's eyes and connecting emotionally before sex.
In consent exercises, the partners take turns asking for non-sexual touches, such as "can you touch my arm?" In the first round, partners say "no" to every request. In the second round, they practice saying "yes" to every request. In the third round, they only say "yes" to what they want. Doing so can help them understand what it feels like to say "yes" or "no" when you don't want to. Understanding this technique can allow them to further understand consent and accept a "no."
Experimental sexual touching
With experimental touching, couples can go home and practice consent with sexual touch. Instead of having sex as usual, they might play the consent game again with sexual touches. However, in this exercise, they respond honestly or practice saying "no." For example, they could ask, "can I kiss you there?" The partner then responds with "yes" or "no," and they continue the exercise. Sexual exercises are not performed in session with a therapist but at home or in a safe, non-public location outside of sessions.
A sex therapist may also help couples understand any barriers to healthy sexual intercourse. For example, if they struggle to communicate or one partner has a lower sex drive, these causes can be discussed. The therapist may also help the couple understand that how often they have sex doesn't necessarily define how healthy or "favorable" their sex life is. Some couples may feel best with a lower frequency of sex, and as long as both partners are consenting and happy, it can be healthy.
Many clients may come to sex therapy to learn how past experiences may impact sexual desire or performance. As studies show that the body can remember the trauma and cause physical pain and other distressing symptoms, sex can be challenging, shameful, or painful for someone with sexual trauma. Trusting an intimate partner can require vulnerability that may be challenging for a survivor.
The statistics show that one in six American women have experienced an assault or attempted assault in their lifetime. For many, talking about these experiences can be vital to a healthy sex life. Sex that is not comfortable to these individuals may be challenging to cope with and could cause flashbacks during sex, which can lead to panic or distress with a partner. Sex therapists can help these individuals address trauma and feel safe.
Talking about these challenges and learning to feel comfortable again can take time. A compassionate psychologist can be an ally to survivors of sexual abuse and open the conversation to whatever they need to discuss.
Sex addiction is a psychological dependency on sexual behavior that a sex therapist may treat. Compulsive sexual behavior can cause distress, emotional consequences, and difficulty with intimacy. It may also accompany compulsive porn watching or masturbation, which can be distressing for those who experience it. For some, sex addiction accompanies infidelity or unsafe sexual risks.
Sex can be a healthy activity for many, but it may be unhealthy when it comes with distressing psychological compulsions and behaviors. A sex therapist can help these individuals understand the motives behind their behavior, make changes in their relationships, and feel healthy. Support groups may also be available in your area.
Talking about sex with an in-person therapist can feel overwhelming and embarrassing for many. In these cases, online therapy can be a more comfortable alternative. Both couples and individuals can talk to a sex therapist online over the phone, via video, or through live chat sessions. In addition, you can get a nickname when signing up for some platforms, allowing you to remain discreet as you receive support.
In addition, studies have found that online sex therapy has the potential to benefit clients in similar ways to in-person therapy. One study researching sexual function after a medical diagnosis found that individuals could increase sexual activity, improve sexual function, feel comfortable using sexual aids, and engage actively in treatment.
If you're interested in meeting with a sex therapist, consider signing up for a platform like BetterHelp for individuals or Regain for couples. Both platforms offer thousands of therapists, and you can note your intentions for therapy as soon as you sign up.
Sex can involve many emotions, sensations, and connections. Sex therapy with a licensed sex therapist takes a healthy, integrative approach to dealing with any challenges that might arise throughout these vulnerabilities. If you're interested in trying sex therapy, consider contacting a licensed professional to learn more about this type of treatment.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Below are several frequently asked questions on the topic of sex therapy.
Do sex therapists provide sex?
No, sex therapists do not provide or perform sexual activities, flirtation, or other sexual behaviors as part of treatment. Certified sex therapists can be licensed psychologists, psychiatrists, family therapists, clinical social workers, and professional counselors with expert training and education about human sexuality, sexual health, psychology, sexual dysfunction, and relationship difficulties.
Sex therapy involves meeting with a licensed sex therapist at their office or online to discuss issues about your sex life that may be affecting your psychological well-being and interpersonal relationships. In most cases, these visits do not involve sex or any kind of physical touch. However, some sex therapists may offer a type of therapy called surrogate partner therapy.
In surrogate partner therapy, a third-party individual, not the therapist, offers sexual, emotional, and intimate activity and coaching to clients approved for the treatment. The therapist is not involved in these acts and does not witness them. They often provide talk therapy outside the client's surrogate sessions to discuss how they went and what they've learned from the process.
What's the difference between a therapist and a sex therapist?
A sex therapist is a licensed psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, or counselor that has complied to the practical educational requirements to provide sex therapy. The main difference between a therapist and a sex therapist is the additional knowledge they receive in human sexual health. Sex therapy sessions may involve sex education, advice, diagnosis, and support for sexual concerns and conditions, such as sexual dysfunction or sexuality issues. Certified sex therapists can help clients work through sexual problems individually or with their partner/s. However, these professionals cannot offer medical advice for sexual issues regarding health. In these cases, a doctor can support you with these issues and offer medically reviewed resources for support.
How many times a day is sex healthy?
There is no healthy or unhealthy amount of sex. Some studies show that once a week can be enough for sexual happiness. However, different people have different needs and expectations regarding sex. The healthiest frequency of sex is the one that works for you and your sexual partner.
Is daily sex good for health?
Consensual sex, regardless of how often you practice it, can have several health benefits, including:
Improved bladder control in women
Lowered blood pressure
Lower levels of stress
Less menstrual cramps
Reduced risk of heart disease
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