Fears about sex therapy: the sex therapist will suggest a threesome to spice up our sex life, I’ll have to reveal all my past sexual escapades to my spouse, I’ll be shamed for how little I know about sex, the sex therapist will be some New Age-Barbara Streisand-in-the Fockers-flowy-flowery, weirdo.
“I can’t believe how long we waited to get help!” is the most frequent comment I hear from sex therapy graduates. Second only to the comments about my consulting room, “oh it looks just like a living room.” Third to the comment, “I didn’t know these feelings were normal.” I think people are afraid that a sex therapy room is a cross between a gynecological exam room and the Red room. Actually, there are no exams, no nudity and certainly no sexual touching. Sex therapy is a branch of traditional psychotherapy and is only “talk therapy."
You're not alone in having sexual problems. The media paints sex as easy and hot and makes it look like everyone but you is having loads of sex. Everyone has sexual problems. At some point,
couples have sexual problems that are often easily fixed. Young newlyweds have sexual adjustment problems. Couples with young children are often exhausted and have trouble keeping the bedroom a priortity leading to fights and feelings of doom. Older couples struggle with menopause, malepause and old relational resentments that shut down sex.
But what happens in sex therapy and how can simply talking bout it help your sex life? How bad should it get before we consult an expert?
1) Sex therapy helps couples talk about sex with each other. A sex therapist feels comfortable talking about sex. While nothing is off-limits and nothing is taboo to talk about, most people have trouble bringing up anything to talk about when it comes to sex. Women don’t talk to their
girlfriends about how they renew their sexual desire. Men don’t ask their guy friends how to bring a woman to orgasm. Most doctors don’t have even one day of sex therapy training in medical school, even gynecologists and urologists. They’re good with the body but limited by their own experience when it comes to solving sex problems. Sex therapists are aware of how anxious you might feel talking about this intimate subject with each other and with a near stranger. They will help set you at ease and guide you into talking about sex.
2) Sex therapy gets to the problem. Couples often can’t solve these intimate issues on their own because disappointment, hurt, anger, resentment, accusations, inhibition, and several rounds of fighting might have shut down the very discussion most needed. Most people who have easily solved problems have complicated their problems by waiting until the patterns are entrenched and more difficult. Clients often tell me they have waited a number of years, even after receiving my card from their doctor, to make an appointment. Anxiety is the number one reason people don’t pick up and call for help. Fear of confronting the problem and discovering that they are truly not compatible is so powerful that they delay and delay feeling more hopeless every day.
When a couple comes into my office the first thing I want to know is - what is hurting them. I use the forms (you can see them on my site and use them to start a discussion with each other) they fill out to compare with what they’ve told me. Sometimes I next, take separate interviews with each
partner. You’ll be asked about your sexual/relational history sometimes in the private interview as well as questions about your childhood, your parent’s marriage and what they taught you directly and indirectly about sex. I then help couple’s see the road map for how to solve the problems and we set out on the work. I may never directly suggest a particular touching assignment to be completed at home (always in the privacy of your home!). But sometimes, you will be given direct assignments for things to try, talk about, or read about.
3) Sex therapists have hope. I have rarely encountered a problem between 2 ordinary people that I didn’t feel was somehow workable and resolvable. I’ve been a sex therapist for 12 years and a marital therapist treating sexual problems for 24 years and have treated thousands of couples. Certainly there are sometimes huge differences between partners about what is wanted in their individual sex life. And sometimes, there will be compromise. But sex therapy is concerned about neither partner feeling like they have to knuckle under to the demands of the other. If we feel like we give up too much of what we want, it’s a poor solution that will invariably damage the marriage and future.
4) What kinds of problems do sex therapists treat? The top two problems in my practice: low sexual desire and frequency disagreements between partners. I’ve written a book called Wanting Sex Again to help with the first one. Women who don’t have orgasms and men who ejaculate too quickly are often the quickest problems to solve – no pun intended. Erectile dysfunction and ejaculating too slowly are other male problems my clinic works with. Breast cancer and prostate cancer survivors should receive mandatory sex therapy as part of their recovery. Technique problems, issues with oral sex, “ick” factor feelings about different sex acts, problems with porn, boring sex lives, can’t get aroused, can’t tell your partner to brush his teeth, inhibitions, suspected addictions and fetishes are common reasons to seek a sex therapist.
5) How long does sex therapy take? Three levels of problems take different lengths of treatment.
Sexually-oriented problems – For instance, a young woman doesn’t know how to have an orgasm, usually takes 2 sessions or less. Pre-mature ejaculation is easily solved before resentment sets in.. get help fast! A question you can’t ask anyone else. I’ve had single sessions that have relieved people from a lifetime of wondering and worry. Is it normal to think about x? Is it normal that my penis has a curve? , etc..
6) Is my sex therapist a Christian? Many sex therapists or other psychotherapists do not talk about their personal lives or advertise by way of faith alignment. I don’t. I only offer personal
information if I feel that the example will be relevant to the treatment. There are different ways of viewing things even within similar faith traditions that may or may not be your therapist’s brand. In my own practice, I keep in mind sensitivities to moral issues and try to first understand the more deeply held positions that are based on culture or faith. I might even point out ideas of faith or culture that don’t make sense. For instance the fundamentalist, Christian couple that assumed keeping to their faith tradition of virginity at marriage would guarantee a smooth sexual transition. They feel abandoned by God when thing are awkward, painful or flat. Sometimes questioning their assumption strengthens their faith again when I point out the illogical conclusion that two completely naïve people could have fabulous sex straight from the get-go. Most marital therapists/sex therapists are not going to recommend going outside monogamy. On that note, if your partner is having an affair or wishing for an open marriage, your therapist will probably not condemn them as “immoral” but will try to explore the driving forces within their head and within the relationship that are at play. Sex therapists are not judges and the goal of treatment is helping the couples work out seemingly disparate sexual differences in ways that both people feel keep their integrity of faith, self, and family.
7) What if I get turned on talking about sex with my sex therapist? Most sex therapists keep a balance between warmth and professionalism that makes talking about sex more comfortable than
you might have guessed. Sex therapists are aware of how intimate talk engenders sexual feelings in many if not most people. They have often (or should have had) their own therapeutic treatment so that they can more clearly see your issues and separate them from their own personal issues. A client getting turned-on or having sexual fantasy that include the therapist is common and often something that needs to be talked about so that the client can understand deeper things about themselves. It will hardly be the first time the subject comes up for the therapist. Sex therapists have firm ethical boundaries about NOT entering a sexual relationship with any client just so this issue can properly be analyzed instead of acted upon. Again, sex therapy never includes sex with the therapist.
Link for more help from Laurie Watson with SexTherapy in Raleigh, Cary, Greensboro and Chapel Hill, NC. Laurie’s book Wanting Sex Again is available on Amazon!