If you’re like most people, you probably never imagined you’d be scheduling an appointment with a sex therapist. So, when your doctor or friend suggested it, you may have felt a little apprehensive (and maybe even surprised to learn such a specialist exists). You might be afraid that a sex therapist will make suggestions or give assignments that are outside your comfort zone or even your moral boundaries. But sex therapy is about exploring what YOU want, not imposing an ideal standard.
To make you a little more comfortable as you head into your appointment, here’s a little more about sex therapy and what you can expect to experience:
Sex therapists are trained health professionals. Sex therapists are licensed relationship counselors with additional training and certification in sexual functioning. Their specialty includes helping people feel comfortable talking about sex.
Sex therapy is talk therapy. You’ll sit in a room furnished like a living room with couches, chairs and lamps and simply talk about the problems you’ve been having in the bedroom. There are no exams, no nudity, and no sexual touching involved in sex therapy.
Relational History. In sex therapy, you’ll talk about your relationship in general – how you communicate, what frustrations and stressors exist, and your strengths and challenges. Sexual problems are often more relational than simply body parts not functioning. Sex happens within a relationship and the complexity of a couple’s issues all play a part in making sex feel either strained and boring, or meaningful and alive.
Sexual History. You’ll answer questions about childhood and what your family communicated to you about sex – both in the “birds and bees” talk and in the spoken and unspoken rules about their sexual mores. First sexual experiences often have a deep impact on our future expectations. Repetitive problems that have come up in other relationships are also important to examine. And certainly, any childhood or adult sexual trauma has to be explored. It is also important, later in therapy, to talk about the explicit details of what really happens in the sexual experience between you and your partner so your therapist can understand what might be going wrong.
Sex therapy is fair. Often, one partner in the relationship sees sex as the primary means to feel connected, while the other partner may need to feel emotionally connected first in order to have sexual intimacy. Both sides of the argument are valid, and a good sex therapist is deeply sympathetic to these differences.
Respect for your moral values and differences. Your therapist should respect the cultural and faith traditions that are important to you. Likewise, you should not feel judgment or indictment about ideas, fantasies, or actions that are different from your partner or therapist. The therapist should be strong enough to help the couple to talk through difficult impasses while supporting their values.
Growth. Changing your sex life does take some steps that might feel challenging. You will often be asked questions that force you to examine preconceived ideas about sex. While mitigated by the therapist, your sexual conflicts with your partner will have to be brought into the open. After much discussion and assessment, you might be assigned homework that is sexual in nature. It’s important to be honest about your willingness or your resistance about any assignment. Specific techniques to cure specific sexual dysfunctions will require your cooperation.
You should expect sex therapy to be similar to any counseling experience but focused on the intimate relationship between you and your partner. Talking about sex isn’t easy; it’s not something we normally discuss in social relationships. We might believe that everyone else is having more frequent and much more exciting sex than we are and so we feel reluctant to bring it up. But, in truth, everyone has sexual problems at some point, and the expertise of sex therapy can often help you develop a satisfactory relationship in the bedroom again.
You can find Laurie Watson at AwakeningsCenter.org.