12 Things Sex Therapists Wish You Knew

You won’t need to do the deed in front of your therapist—or with your therapist

You may have heard rumors that you’ll have to show, rather than tell, your problem in sex therapy. And if you’ve watched the series Masters of Sex, that’s definitely what happened there—along with sex surrogate therapy, in which the researchers or their staff engaged in sexual contact to help patients. But sex therapists say that they won’t be watching—or participating—in your sexual activities: They’ll just be helping you recover that loving feeling. “Professional therapy never includes sex, touching, or removal of clothing,” says Shannon Chavez, PsyD, CST, a licensed clinical psychologist and AASECT certified sex therapist in Beverly Hills, California. “It is similar to traditional therapy, other than dealing primarily with sexual health, solution-focused and short-term. I describe my therapy approach as talk therapy with an eclectic use of coaching, adult sex education, and behavioral approaches and exercises. We are learning tools for mindfulness, stress management, and self-care.”

 There may be a medical reason for sexual issues

Sex therapy will help with many sexual problems, but there could also be a health issue that requires medical intervention—such as erectile dysfunction or female sexual dysfunction. “Many couples do not know that the cause of some problems with sexual desire or arousal may be caused by a medical condition,” says therapist Pepper Schwartz, PhD, professor of sociology at the University of Washington and the author of 22 books, including American Couples: Money, Work and Sex. “If a woman’s relationship is strong, but she has been experiencing persistent sexual problems lasting six months or longer, it may be a medical issue, rather than a relationship issue. The most common female sexual dysfunction is low desire that causes distress, or hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). A therapist or health-care provider can go over a long checklist of possible reasons for the loss of sexual desire and help determine what the cause might be. The solution might not be solved in a few sessions, but the first step towards changing a sexual issue that is interfering with one’s happiness or relationship is to admit it is a problem and find out what appropriate options for treatment are available.”

Communication is the key to a healthy sex life

Talking about sex can feel awkward for a lot of couples—whether they’re having a perfectly healthy sex relationship or not. But experts say that communicating can help stave off problems. “Talking about sex is just as important as having sex,” Chavez says. “It helps you assess what you want and builds the language in which you can describe it. If you feel uncomfortable talking about sex openly and honestly with a partner then it will be difficult to share your desires or disclose when there are concerns.” Chavez advises that sex talk doesn’t just have to happen in the bedroom. “I recommend talking about sex over a morning cup of coffee or tea, while taking a nice walk, or snuggling in each other’s arms.”

It’s OK to be sexually attracted to other people

Attraction happens–even if you’re happily married—and you don’t have to feel guilty about feeling it. “Making a commitment does not suddenly rewire our physiology to no longer experience desire or notice attractiveness outside of your partner!” says Shadeen Francis, MFT, a marriage and family therapist specializing in sex therapy. “If you were attracted to people before getting into the relationship, you will very likely be attracted to people during. It doesn’t mean you want to pursue anything sexual—or physical, or emotional—with that person. The belief that all sexual stimuli must be acted on is a fear-based myth that underlies problematic sexual behaviors like assault and infidelity.” So feeling it is one thing–but acting on it is another.

You should feel like your therapist is a good fit

Just as general therapists often have different types of training and approaches, sex therapy practitioners may have different types of education and approaches. You’ll want to ensure that you feel comfortable with the treatment methods and with your therapist. “Take time in the first session to ask any questions that you might have about the therapist’s training, background, approach, or anything else that you feel would be helpful for you to know,” says Kelli Young, MEd, BScOT, a sex therapist and psychotherapist practicing in Toronto. “Think of the first session as an assessment interview for both you and the therapist. At the end of the first session you should have a good sense whether the therapist is right for you, and the plan for working on the issues that brought you to therapy.”

You shouldn’t judge your mate’s preferences

You may not always see eye to eye with your mate on what’s a turn-on—but judging your partner for feeling that way isn’t constructive to your relationship. “If your partner is into something you’re not, don’t bring shame into the discussion,” says sex therapist Carla Rosinski, MA, LMHC. “We have enough baggage about sex as it is. Just as with any communication in a relationship, you want both you and your partner to feel safe to talk about feelings and desires without judgment. If your partner brings up something you’re not into and really not willing to try out, be kind and honest about it. Or just take the risk and experiment!”

More on next page…