What Exactly Does A Sex Therapist Do?It is always interesting to see how people react when they ask me what I do for a living. When I tell them I’m a sex therapist, most of the responses I get are quite funny; a look of disbelief, a nervous laugh or a giggle usually ensue. They often don’t know how to respond. The question that usually follows is: what does a sex therapist do?
Sex therapists are qualified counsellors or other healthcare professionals who have had special training in issues related to sex and relationships. They use their specialised clinical skills and theoretical knowledge to help you resolve various sexual issues, from concerns about sexual function or feeling to the way you relate to your partner.
Through sex therapy, couples can focus on concerns such as lack of sexual desire or knowledge, intimacy issues, mismatched libidos and relationship problems.
Concerns for males include erectile dysfunction or impotence, premature or delayed ejaculation, performance anxiety and sexual problems after illness. For females, painful intercourse, vaginismus, difficulties experiencing orgasm, loss of desire for sex and reaching menopause can be issues. Other concerns include gender identity issues, confusion about sexual orientation, disability and sexuality, compulsive sexual behaviour and past sexual trauma.
In my practice I’ve noticed that often couples don’t always realise that sexual issues are the main cause of their unhappiness. We are all taught reading, writing and maths at school but very few people have received relationship advice or proper sex education. Thus, it often takes people a very long time to decide to get help dealing with the sexual issues that are affecting their relationships.
Talking about sex and intimacy may initially feel awkward, but sex therapists are trained to put you at ease and are skilled at identifying and exploring your concerns. Through sex therapy you can learn to express your concerns clearly and be taught how to understand your partner’s and your own sexual needs better.
Sexual confidence can be difficult to achieve with so many unrealistic expectations of what normal sexual behaviour should be. This is complicated by the lack of discussion about sexual problems. While women may sometimes talk to their girlfriends, men are far less likely to do the same with their mates.
Unlike women, men have to perform. If they start to worry about their performance, they can acquire erectile problems as a result of this performance anxiety. When men can’t or won’t talk about an issue with their partners, they might start avoiding sex all together, which can lead to relationship problems or even break down. Some couples suffer for years before they seek help, and by then it is often too late.
I’ve received calls from women who book in an appointment for their partners, insisting he has the problem and he needs to be fixed. They don’t realise that the issue has become a couple problem. Nothing is more confronting or demoralising for a man than to be told that he is a ‘dud’ in the bedroom. It’s just as confrontational for women who are regularly asked by their partners: “Why haven’t you had an orgasm yet? What is wrong with you?”
That’s why it is so important to have the right information. Talking to a sex therapist could save your relationship. Your therapist will take a detailed history by asking questions about your issues in order to help you to get a better understanding of them, and they will help to develop the right strategies to overcome these issues.
Make sure you find a sex therapist that is accredited. You can find them on the website of the Australian Society of Sex Educators, Researchers and Therapists (ASSERT NSW) at www.assernsw.org.au.