What is Sex Therapy ?

“What is sex therapy?” I hear you ask.

The Urban Dictionary offers this helpful definition:

A sex therapist is specially trained to help patients work through their sexual problems through sexual (oral, genital, and anal) intercourse with their patients. In this connexion they are permitted by the State to bypass the classical ethical boundaries of the therapeutic relationship.

Well, now I appreciate the Urban Dictionary for many things, but on this, there is only one thing to say – which is NO!

Indeed, just to make it quite clear – NO, NO and NO! (And NO a few more times for good measure.)

While I can’t locate this mysterious “State” which apparently allows a version of “sex therapy” in which the therapist has intercourse with the patient, let’s be quite clear. There is nowhere in Australia which endorses this, and no reputable sex therapist who does this.

So, if it’s not some sort of silver-bullet therapy-by-intercourse, then what is sex therapy?

It is a talking therapy. The actual doing is left to the patient or client, outside the room and in their “real life”. Sex is a highly personal activity. People bond, people get attached. This is exactly why therapists have “boundaries” with their clients, maintaining on both sides dignity, respect and personal space. Thus leaving the patient free to develop feelings, activities, and attachments with appropriate others and to carry these forward to advance their lives and well-being.

So, sex therapy offers safety and an opportunity for anyone concerned about their sex life, sexual health or sexual relationships to share that concern with an empathic, interested, open-minded, trained individual. The best sex therapist is non-judgemental and – as senior psychologist Dr Bruce Wilson says – is “on your side without joining the team”, which means they maintain their objectivity and impartiality while supporting you with any sexual issue, no matter how personal, painful or embarrassing.

The training is a vital component of the process, too. Unfortunately, too many counselling professionals, even psychologists, psychiatrists or GPs, offer well-meaning advice from a background of little or no specialist training. A reputable sex therapist has extensive, usually post-graduate, training in sexual health and relationships. Several Australian universities offer such degrees and I recommend you enquire  about your therapist’s qualifications. Also, they will have affiliations with relevant professional organisations, and practice insurance. One such organisation is  Asser NSW.

Sex therapy can be helpful for a wide variety of concerns, using a wide variety of methods. Therapists may suggest “homework” – practical activities for clients to complete in the privacy of their own home. These activities might include experimenting with new positions, sex toys, sensate focus, mindfulness or relaxation. Sometimes education is helpful, especially if clients have had little prior information about anatomy or how the body functions during sex. The therapist often plays a part in helping clients to identify and voice their sexual needs and the individual histories they bring to the relationship. Couples can benefit by practicing new ways of talking about sex together, with coaching from the therapist.  Understanding the perspective you bring to the experience is often central to better intimate relationships.

Well-trained sex therapists will discuss more than just the physical act of sex. Emotions, relationship with one’s gender identity, sexuality and sexual preferences, the impact of these on others including partners – these may be discussed. Variety is one person’s turn on and another person’s turn off. People have a wide diversity of sexual preferences and identities, and may want to discuss these in a confidential setting, rather than in the cauldron of social media.

While in our society sexual images and information are everywhere, sex therapists understand that clients or patients often find it embarrassing to talk about sex and/or sexuality. They will ask about the client’s specific concerns, and may also ask about client’s health and sexual background, sex education, and beliefs about sex. Good therapists take care to make the first consultation as easy and natural as possible.