img_1549Being able to experience pleasure and fulfillment through sexual expression lies at the heart of our human identity. As a result, difficulties in sexual functioning and expression often go right to the core of an individual’s relationship to him or herself. Sex therapists help individuals and couples enhance their sexual functioning through the expansion of sexual knowledge, emotional and relational awareness, and comfort and confidence in their own relationship to their sexuality.

Sex therapy is a specialized area of couples therapy that requires specific training, education and practice in treating sexuality issues. The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) ensures through it’s certification process that a therapist has specific documented coursework and extensive clinical experience in the provision of sex therapy.

When people see ASSECT Certified Sex Therapists they they can expect to receive accurate and up-to-date information about the nature of their difficulties, sexuality education and specific therapeutic interventions delivered in an empathic, non-judgmental, and culturally competent manor.

Assessment may include identifying health issues that impact a client’s current and past sexual functioning, understanding sexual attitudes and experiences, evaluating how the past may contribute to present issues, discussing what one has learned about the role of sex and intimacy, assessing if body image is impacting one’s expression of sexuality, exploring the sexual styles that each individual brings to a relationship, and understanding the role of trust in emotional and sexual relationships. Sexuality education may include discussing the anatomy and physiology of sex and sexuality and suggesting relevant reading materials. Possible therapeutic interventions may be structured homework assignments, identifying and challenging negative patterns of communication, developing tools to enhance sexual expression and intimacy, and referrals for medical evaluations. While sex therapy often includes the discussion of sexual material, and the interventions offered to address the presenting issues are sometimes sexual in nature, to be explored in the privacy of one’s home, there will never be any form of sexual interaction with the therapist. Clients can expect to attend weekly sessions. Sometimes, problems are treated and improved within 10 sessions, other times they may take six months to a year or more to address.

Video Credit: How Cast with Dr. Megan Fleming

Possible sexuality issues that a sex therapist can help you with are . . .

Desire discrepancies, low sexual desire, orgasm difficulties or a wish to learn new ways to explore pleasure, painful sex, infidelity, sex after parenthood, sex after menopause, relational resentments that shut down sex, out-of-control sexual behavior, sex/porn addiction, discovering new aspects of one’s sexuality and eroticism, inhibitions, suspected addictions and fetishes, erectile disorders, delayed/premature ejaculation, interest in an erotic fantasy or activity which may not have been discussed with a partner, desire to open up a relationship to include non-monogamy, adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, recovering from sexual violence.

Sex therapy helps individuals and couples talk about sex. Most people have trouble bringing up anything related to sex. Sex therapists are aware of how anxious clients might feel talking about an intimate subject. They will help set their clients at ease and guide them into talking about sex. Nothing is off-limits and nothing is taboo to talk about. Having a conversation about our ‘sexual fingerprint’, the unique way we express ourselves sexually, is challenging. We have received little to no education except what we’ve seen in films or books. Sex therapy gets to the problem. Individuals and 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. 

Some common questions that come up in sex therapy are . . .

What is the best way to maintain attraction in a long-term relationship?

There is no easy answer and it is reassuring to know that all couples in a monogamous, long-term relationship struggle to keep flirtation, seduction, novelty and surprise going especially when transitioning to parenthood. It’s a complex issue. Esther Perel, a sex therapist and public speaker, addresses the topic in a Ted talk: The secret to desire in a long-term relationship.

Video Credit: Ted Talks

A sex therapist can provide a comprehensive assessment and targeted interventions to help each unique couple find passion and intimacy again.

Does lack of sex typically precede other problems, or do couples typically have other problems that lead to a lack of sex?

The answer is both. There are couples who have negative communication patterns that lead one or both partners to avoid sex. If two people in a relationship are unable to express their needs and concerns adequately, they grow resentments and loose their emotional connection. Dr. John Gottman, the famous researcher who scientifically studied couples for more than thirty years, says that every positive thing you do in your relationship is foreplay. Positive communication is definitely a very important prerequisite for good sex. Another equally important aspect of a healthy and satisfying sex life is the level of comfort and maturity we reach as sexual beings and how open we can talk about our sexuality with a partner.  A sex therapist will be able to identify the root of the problem and help individuals to be in harmony with his or her own sexuality and couples to experience sexual connection.

To speak to an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist contact Angela Voegele, LCSW-C, our Senior Sex and Couples Therapist at Kentlands Psychotherapy at 240-252-3349 ext. 808.