What Is Sex Therapy Actually Like?
Despite what people may think, if you have sex, have had sex, want to have sex, or think about sex, it’s likely you could benefit from sex therapy. In other words, sex therapy isn’t “just” for those experiencing sexual dysfunction, mental blocks, or low libido issues – just like how psychotherapy isn’t only beneficial for those diagnosed with mental health issues. Maybe you have some internalised shame you’d like to address, maybe you have some kinks you want to explore, or maybe you just want a safe space to talk – and only talk, since sex therapy does not involve touching in any way. Whatever the case may be, sex therapy can offer solutions to all those reasons and more.
Sex therapy is a type of therapy that’s completely focused on sex and sexuality, says Anna Chau, LMFT, a sex therapist in San Francisco who is certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT). “Sex therapy is a safe, confidential space where folks are able to come in and really explore their own identities, sexualities, kinks, and fetishes,” she explains. It’s designed for anyone interested in a comfortable, judgment-free environment to talk and learn about all things sex. Whether you’re considering sex therapy or you’re just learning about it for the first time, here’s your primer on what sex therapy is and why you might want to try it for yourself.
What Is Sex Therapy?
Sex therapy is a type of talk-based therapy (yup, only talking, no touching) that focuses on sex, sexuality, and anything that impacts sexual satisfaction and comfort. In sex therapy, Chau explains, you’ll verbally explore your habits and preferences around sex, as well as your own sexuality and identity. That includes digging into the many factors that impact your relationship to sex, like your upbringing, culture, race, and prior education about sex. According to Chau, sex therapy will help you address questions like:
- What are your desires?
- What things have you thought about wanting to engage in or share with a partner but have felt too ashamed to try?
- What is preventing you from having great sex?
Despite how often people think about sex, Chau explains, “we don’t have a space to really talk about it in a nonjudgmental, safe way.” Many of us lack the tools to “know how to have pleasure, to feel desired, to feel good within our own bodies,” she adds. “What sex therapy is really about is providing you with the tools and the safe space to identify and figure out what works for you.”
Should I See a Sex Therapist?
Sure! There are no requirements for attending sex therapy besides having an interest in talking about and unpacking your relationship with sex. That said, there are a few common reasons why people may feel more inclined to set up an appointment. Some people, for example, seek sex therapy because they experience a specific sexual dysfunction – like issues with sexual performance or a low libido, Chau says. Other people might want to discuss and explore sexual preferences, habits, or interests that they don’t feel comfortable talking about with anyone else. People who have experienced sexual trauma or sexual assault may also seek out a sex therapist, since sex therapy provides a safe space for survivors to talk about their traumas and to “explore and process how that ties back to their current sex life,” Chau says.
For whatever reason you seek a sex therapist, Chau says that many of her patients arrive with an initial set of issues to discuss, but they quickly learn that there’s much more to their experience of sex than they first realised. Sex therapy then helps them explore the different thoughts and assumptions they have around sex with the goal of increasing sexual comfort and satisfaction. “I want to emphasise that there’s nothing wrong with seeking out a sex therapist,” Chau says. “It’s really just about finding a safe and confidential space to talk about sex.”
What Is a Sex-Therapy Session Like?
Logistically, you can do sex therapy as an individual, a couple, or as a group in polyamorous or open relationship. “It all depends on what you’re seeking at that time,” Chau explains. The length and frequency of sessions can vary, but once-a-week, 50-minute sessions are common.
As for what specifically happens in the sex-therapy session, it depends on the preferences of the patient and therapist. Many therapists, for example, will let the patient decide the structure and topics discussed in each session. With her clients, Chau says, “I’m really here to help you navigate the path that you are choosing. You get to determine what works for you and what doesn’t.”
“It’s really just about finding a safe and confidential space to talk about sex.”
You might choose to talk about your current sex life, as well as how past experiences may have shaped it, Chau says. You’ll likely dig into some of the taboos and shames you carry while exploring how those taboos impact your current relationships.
Sex therapists may also give their patients some “homework,” or things the patient can do in between sessions to build upon their work in therapy. Examples of possible assignments might involve masturbation, exploring how various parts of your body respond to touch or experience pleasure, or even standing in front of the mirror and “looking at your body when you’re completely undressed,” Chau says.
As you start making progress in sex therapy, you’ll likely start feeling like you understand your body, your desires, and your pleasures more fully. “It’s really just trusting that [patients] have the resources now to have better sex, or they have better understanding of their own bodies and what feels good,” Chau says.
How to Find a Sex Therapist
Interested in trying out sex therapy? Before you start googling “sex therapists near me,” there are a few things to know. First, you should always look for a sex therapist who’s AASECT certified. AASECT requires sex therapists to hold an advanced degree that includes psychotherapy training and clinical experience, as well as separate sexuality education and sex-therapy training. AASECT’s online directory is a good place to start searching for a sex therapist.
You’ll also want to make sure you feel safe and comfortable with a sex therapist before scheduling any sessions. If you can, set up introductory calls with potential sex therapists to get an idea of their therapy style and whether you’re a good fit for each other. This might include looking for a sex therapist with a similar background as you or who is of the same race. “The taboos and the shame and the stigma we carry [around sex] vary from culture to culture,” Chau explains. When you meet with a sex therapist who identifies or is familiar with your culture, “they can begin unpacking and asking the right questions, so you as a client can dig deeper and better understand how culture, how religion, or how your upbringing has played a role in your own sex identity or sexuality,” she says.
Here are some important questions you may want to ask potential sex therapists:
- What is your style of therapy? Do you ask a lot of questions, or will I be doing most of the talking?
- What type of issues or topics do you have experience talking about with clients?
- What is the cost of a session? Do you accept insurance?
If you feel comfortable doing so, you can also explain the reasons you’re seeking sex therapy and ask how they would approach them.
At the end of the day, you want to find a sex therapist who helps you feel safe enough to truly open up. You’ll likely get vulnerable and discuss topics that might feel difficult or taboo, so it’s crucial that your sex therapist helps you feel comfortable and secure – never judged. “Sex therapy should not feel shameful,” Chau emphasises. “It is really just a safe space for you to talk about your needs, wants, desires, kinks, fetishes, and pleasures.”