Sex therapists are psychiatrists, psychologists, marriage and family therapists, or clinical social workers who have received special training in handling sex and intimacy issues. They do not perform sex or have any sort of physical contact with their clients.
They may give you homework where you apply certain techniques at home with your partner. However, any kind of touch or sexual behavior is strictly forbidden in the presence of the sex therapist.
What do sex therapists do?
Sex therapists typically listen to problems and provide counseling and education. They assess if a problem is psychological, physical, or both. They also work with other medical and surgical specialists to address the medical causes of sexual issues.
Sex therapists have a particularly good awareness of human sexuality, medicine, and human anatomy that are scientific and without prejudices. They typically use methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), emotion-based therapy, and couple communication techniques to analyze and manage sexual problems.
How does sex therapy work?
Each therapy session may last 30-60 minutes, and frequency depends on the issue being treated. Your sex therapist may advise certain exercises and tasks for you and your partner to do at home, including:
- Experimentation. Couples who feel their sex life lacks passion or has become boring may be encouraged to try different activities, such as role-playing, using sex toys, or trying new positions if their health allows it.
- Sensate focus. Designed to reduce anxiety, this method encourages couples to build trust and intimacy by beginning intercouse with nonsexual touching, then progressing to genital touching and ending with penetration.
- Education. For some people, part of the problem with their sex life stems from lack of adequate sex education while growing up. Therapists may recommend educational books or authorized web content to read or videos to watch.
- Communication strategies. People are encouraged to ask for what they want or need sexually or emotionally in a relationship.
Who can benefit from sex therapy?
Sex therapy can benefit the following people:
- Trauma and sexual abuse survivors
- Adults with little or no sexual experience
- Men with conditions such as erectile dysfunction or early ejaculation
- Women with conditions such as vaginismus or pelvic floor dysfunction
- People with body dysmorphia, anxiety, or fears related to sex and intimacy
- People with physical disabilities
What is surrogate partner therapy?
Some sex therapists may refer their patients to surrogate partners (people who help patients with intimacy issues using a hands-on approach). However, this is a highly controversial practice, and is not preferred by most sex therapists.
Surrogate partners work with their patients and help them develop communication skills and self-confidence to accept their bodies. The goal is to make their client more comfortable with intimacy, sensuality, sex, and sexuality, especially when they don’t have a partner to turn to.
Sessions with a surrogate partner are supposedly less anxiety-provoking for patients than real-world sexual encounters. Sessions typically last 3-6 months, during which the surrogate coaches the person on cues, such as eye contact and handholding. Intercourse happens much later during therapy.
This practice comes with many issues regarding legality and morality, although there are no laws specifically prohibiting surrogate partners according to the IPSA. Most insurance policies do not cover sex therapy or surrogate partner therapy.
It is important to note a the sex therapist would never be involved with what’s happening between the partner surrogate and the client; hence, confidentiality and privacy are maintained. Most sex therapists do not recommend this type of therapy, as there are risks involved. One is that a client can get too attached to their surrogate partner, which can be even more detrimental to their mental health.
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Weir K. Sex Therapy for the 21st Century: Five Emerging Directions. Monitor on Psychology. 2019; 50(2): 30. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/02/cover-ce-corner
Good Therapy. Sex Therapy. https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/modes/sex-therapy