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What is Sex Therapy?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Sex therapy is psychological therapy focused on sexual problems. A couple might undertake it where one or both members have sexual challenges. Alternately, an individual could seek sex therapy to overcome one or more difficulties that are focused on sex like porn addiction, inability to achieve erection, or recovery from sexual trauma. Mostly, people who are licensed counselors, but who have also specialized in sexual difficulties, offer this therapy. Many regular therapists and counselors work with people on sexual issues, too, especially in the context of working on a variety of emotional issues.

One thing sex therapists may do is make certain that there are no medical reasons for sexual issues. To do this, they may consult with expert physicians in these areas and recommend these physicians to their clients. Ruling out potential medical causes of sexual challenges can be of great use. Not all problems arise out of psychic dysfunction and some might be addressed medically.

Yet for much of sex therapy as it exists today, people talk about their problems, and they might occasionally do homework assignments that could involve sexual engagement with others. The latter is particularly true for couples. It’s mistakenly believed that this form of therapy means sexual engagement or touching with the therapist. Such a belief requires a little explanation.

Most therapists are forbidden from having any type of sexual engagement with a client. Some sex therapists do work with what are called sexual surrogates. Surrogacy of this sort may or may not be legal in particular regions. A sexual surrogate can interact sexually with clients in order to overcome certain problems. No one is under obligation to employ a surrogate and most sex therapy really doesn’t use this approach. Sexual surrogacy may be looked at as highly professional in certain circles and unnecessary in others.

Many people become worried at the thought of undertaking sex therapy because it means talking about private and difficult matters that may not even receive much discussion between couples. Nevertheless, this form of therapy can be successful and it is often of short duration. Couples or individuals present with problems, and the therapist, due to extensive training is able to point to possible solutions or ways to work around the problems. Moreover, anything that tends to increase communication about sexual issues is likely to be of use on its own in a variety of ways.

Another thing most people want to know is whether they need a sex therapist specifically. This is really up to each individual. If issues with sexuality are not the only problem and if there are many other issues that deserve being addressed, sex therapy might not be the best way to go. Working with a therapist specializing in couples or individual counseling where sexual matters can be addressed as part of the work, could be more helpful. Should a sexual problem persist beyond such work, sex therapy might then be useful.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By bluedolphin — On May 09, 2014

@donasmrs-- Some sex therapists have the option of couples therapy, which might be a good idea for your sister.

I think that for women, sexual issues usually stem from other issues. Of course there are times when it's just a physical problem. But if a relationship is in trouble, this usually affects a woman's relationship with sex. Of course, seeing a sex therapist alone is an option too, or both couples therapy and individual therapy could be tried.

By literally45 — On May 08, 2014

@donasmrs-- I'm not a doctor or expert but I think that that's definitely a case where sex therapy would be beneficial.

There could be different reasons for why your sister is feeling this way. Traumas and wrong impressions about sex are possible reasons. For example, many women in conservative societies feel this way because they are taught from a young age that sex is wrong and forbidden. These thoughts affect the subconscious and might prevent a woman from enjoying sex when she is older.

The least that sex therapy can do for your sister is help her discover why she is feeling this way. Sometimes discovering the cause can alone make a significant difference. You should encourage her to speak to a doctor.

By donasmrs — On May 08, 2014

My sister recently confided in me that she is unable to have sex due to emotional reasons. She says that she finds sex disgusting and undesirable. Oddly, she is in a serious relationship and wants to get married. But she does realize that her attitude towards sex will cause issues in her relationship. Can she benefit from sex therapy?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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