Psychotherapy Tips

What is a sexual health therapist

A sex therapist helps people with sexual problems.

Sex therapists are qualified counsellors, doctors or healthcare professionals who have done extra training in helping people with problems relating to sex.

Why do people have sex therapy?

Lots of people have a problem with sex at some point in their life. Some people can help themselves. For others, sexual problems can cause a lot of distress and unhappiness.

A sex therapist can help people with various sexual problems, including:

  • lack of desire
  • difficulty having an orgasm
  • pain during sex or inability to have penetrative sex
  • difficulty getting or keeping an erection (erectile dysfunction)
  • premature ejaculation or other ejaculation problems

What happens in a sex therapy session?

A sex therapist will listen to you describe your problems and assess whether the cause is likely to be psychological, physical or a combination of the two.

Each therapy session is confidential. You can see a sex therapist by yourself, but if your problem affects your partner as well, it may be better for you both to attend.

Talking about and exploring your experiences will help you get a better understanding of what is happening and the reasons. The therapist may also give you exercises and tasks to do with your partner in your own time.

Sessions usually last for 30 to 50 minutes. The therapist may advise you to have weekly sessions or to see them less frequently, such as once a month.

How can I find a sex therapist?

If you have a sexual problem, it’s a good idea to see a GP first as they can check for any physical causes. The GP can refer you to a sex therapist if they think it will help you. However, sex therapy is not available on the NHS in all areas, and an NHS clinic may only offer a limited number of therapy sessions.

You can also find a sex therapist privately, which you’ll need to pay for. It’s important to see a qualified registered therapist. Look for one who is a member of the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists (COSRT) or the Institute of Psychosexual Medicine.

Organisations such as Relate also offer sex therapy for a fee.

Read the answers to more questions about sexual health.

Page last reviewed: 9 December 2019
Next review due: 9 December 2022

Talking about sex can be difficult for many people, and talking about sexual health problems can be even harder. Bedroom issues like sexual performance and low libido may go beyond the scope of what you would normally discuss with your primary care physician, ob-gyn, or usual therapist.

This is where sex therapists enter the picture — trained professionals who focus specifically on human sexuality and healthy sexual behavior, and who can offer compassionate, research-backed help while addressing the full range of pertinent psychological, physiological, and cultural factors in play. Think sex therapy could be helpful for you and your partner? Learn more about what sex therapists do and what a typical session may look like.

RELATED: 5 Tips for Choosing the Best Sex Therapist for You and Your Partner

What Is Sex Therapy and What Do Sex Therapists Do?

“A sex therapist is a licensed mental health professional who has extensive education and training in sex therapy in addition to mental health,” says Neil Cannon, PhD, a Colorado-based sex therapist who serves as bylaws chair for the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT).

There are many different paths people can take to becoming a sex therapist. A sex therapist might be a psychologist or psychiatrist, a clinical social worker, a family therapist, or maybe a doctor or nurse who has psychotherapy training and who has gone on to get specialized training in sexuality and sexual functioning, intimacy, and relationships.

Those are big, broad buckets, of course. But a qualified sex therapist should be adept at addressing a wide range of concerns including (but by no means limited to): issues about sexual desire, ejaculation-related problems, trouble orgasming, painful sex, and more.

RELATED: Better Sex: How to Enhance Intimate Sexual Experiences

What a Session With a Sex Therapist May Look Like

Sex therapy varies significantly depending on what is being addressed and who the therapist and patient — or patients — are. So there is no standard answer for what a particular therapy session might entail or how often you will go. One thing that will not be a part of any sessions is sexual contact. Sex therapy is talk therapy.

Most sex therapists will start by getting a thorough picture of your sexual history, whether they ask for that information before you attend a session, in person, or both.

“You’re really getting a sense of what, historically, has shaped a [patient’s] sexual map or preferences,” explains Megan Fleming, PhD, a clinical psychologist and sex therapist in New York City. “And then, most importantly, what is their presenting challenge or complaint that they want to be working on.”

A sex therapist will consider what Dr. Fleming calls the “bio-psycho-social” determinants contributing to a client’s concern — meaning any potential biological, psychological, and social factors — and will work with you to create a specific treatment plan. Sex therapists may see individuals, couples, or both. Some may be comfortable starting with an individual who eventually brings in his or her partner, though Fleming says that whether a therapist does this will depend on the specific circumstances.

What a Sex Therapist May Commonly Recommend

Again, the recommendations a sex therapist gives vary dramatically from patient to patient and the issues they are addressing.

“It depends on the therapist you’re working with as well as what it is you’re looking for,” says Fleming. Sometimes you’ll see the therapist for just a handful of sessions, maybe with a tune-up down the road; other times long-term, in-depth therapy might be called for.

Expect homework, which can be a common element of sex therapy. Your sex therapist will ask you to complete specific tasks in between sessions, and then ask you or you and your partner to report back. Those homework assignments could range from communication exercises to specific sexual experimentation activities.

RELATED: 4 Strange Sex-Related Symptoms — and How to Handle Them

What Type of Training Does a Sex Therapist Receive?

Unfortunately, no regulations govern who can call themselves a sex therapist, which is why it is important to pay close attention to credentials.

“In most states, anybody can say that they’re a sex therapist — or that they do sex therapy — and the consumer has no idea whether this person has ever taken a single class, has ever gone through any training, or has been supervised around sex therapy by qualified supervisors,” warns Dr. Cannon. “So if you don’t go to a certified sex therapist, it’s buyer beware.”

AASECT requires sex therapists to have an advanced degree that includes psychotherapy training and a certain amount of clinical experience — plus 90 hours of human sexuality education, 60 hours of sex therapy training, and then extensive supervision by a qualified supervisor.

How Can I Find a Sex Therapist Near Me?

AASECT keeps a list of licensed sex therapists on its site, which Cannon recommends as a good starting point. If you live in an area where sex therapists aren’t plentiful, he says teletherapy, or virtual therapy, may be an option.

Other healthcare providers may also be able to help, like your primary care physician or a more generalized therapist who may refer you to a sexual health specialist.

If you are in a position to, you should feel empowered to shop around for a good fit.

“This is not an easy topic for people to talk about,” says Fleming. “You need to feel that the person is open-minded, they’re not judgmental, they’re going to help you explore, and they’re really trying to help you ask the right questions — but they’re not jumping in to diagnose and pathologize.”

Remember: Your sex therapist must be a good fit for you. “Therapy is really about a relationship,” she adds. “So feeling a sense of security and safety — those are really important pieces.”

RELATED: What Do Your Sex Dreams Mean?

I am happy to announce that I have formally graduated from the University of Michigan’s Sexual Health Certificate Program as a Sexual Health Counselor. It was a challenging year of reading, writing, traveling to Ann Arbor, almost 200 hours of course work, role plays (ugh!), and developing fascinating relationships with people in this field.

But now that the coursework is done and I am practicing sexual health counseling, the question I get from most people is, “what exactly is a sexuality counselor?”.

Sexuality counselors are medical providers who assist clients to realistically resolve sexual concerns using medical, educational and psychosocial methodologies. Not all sexual health issues are caused by psychological or relationship issues. Sometimes problems arise from life changes such as aging, illness, or childbirth. The right to healthy sexuality is an inherent part of being human. However, so many people suffer from sexual dissatisfaction or dysfunction because of incomplete sexual education, lack of medical knowledge, or they feel embarrassed to bring up concerns with their health care provider.  Many sexual health problems can be remedied with short term, focused sexuality counseling. All individuals have the right to pursue and attain a healthy sexual life of their choosing as it leads to better overall health and quality of life.

Who would benefit from sexuality health counseling?  Some issues include:

·      Limited knowledge about sex or desire to learn more

·      Low or absent sexual desire

·      Difficulty having orgasms

·      Sexuality problems that arise after surgery or medical conditions

·      Desire discrepancies in couples of all orientations

·      Negative self-image/ body image that impacts sexuality

·      Sexual changes related to peri or post menopause

·      Painful sex

·      Trauma-based sexual issues when people are working with a therapist

·      Changes in sexuality after having children

·      Lifestyle issues and sexuality

I am so excited to provide sexuality counseling at Lifecycle Women’s Health. With my 30 years of experience caring for women of all ages, it is thrilling to specialize and focus on sexuality, a topic that rarely gets much attention in health care. We know that sexual satisfaction does lead to better health outcomes and better quality of life. Too often people tell me that sex is not as important as other health and social concerns, and they feel comfortable discounting this aspect of their life. But we know that is not an optimal approach. Achieving healthy sexuality can be complex, but it is attainable. And a multidisciplinary treatment approach by a sexual health counselor can be a great place to start.

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