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Breaking Stigmas Around Sex Therapy Is Important To Further Mental Health Discussions

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For most of us, the mention of a sex therapist probably evokes the image of a sensual, amorous and bold woman advocating sex positivity and counselling on sexual drive, much like Dr Jean Milburn from the popular Netflix series Sex Education. However, sex therapy deals not only with the problems you face in the sheets but with everything that leads up to that moment in the sheets.

Still from the Netflix series Sex Education.

Sexual health is a crucial part of one’s physical and emotional well-being and sex therapy is built to get to the bottom of such issues and reverse them. The WHO defines sexual health as “A state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being concerning sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity.”

Sex therapists are mental health professionals who look at emotional and relationship issues in the same way that other therapists do. Still, they use their special training to offer a more targeted approach that emphasises learning to talk about sexual feelings openly. Even though sex therapy is quite evidently not very different from psychological therapy, it is still very often surrounded by an air of taboo and discomfort.

Safe to say, contrary to popular belief, no strange, deviant or kinky activities go on behind the doors of a sex therapist’s office.

Taking a closer look at a sex therapy Session

A session with a sex therapist mostly involves open conversations addressing the issues one is facing. More often than not, clients feel anxious, initially opening up to a stranger about their lives’ intimate details. However, most therapists are aware of this and try to make their clients feel comfortable.

Sex therapists traverse along the paths of emotional issues, relationship issues and other physical illnesses behind sexual problems. It is important to know that such sessions do not involve physical contact or sexual activity between the therapist and the patient.

Sex therapists usually work collaboratively with physicians or medical specialists to better address the causes of sexual concerns. However, they tend to have more knowledge about the physiological processes that contribute to one’s sexual health. They also usually assign homework to their clients, which they are expected to carry out in their homes’ privacy.

The “homework” can be anything ranging from experimentation with sex tactics and activities, practising and strategising communication, or educating oneself about various topics.

Sex therapy and sexual Health

Sex therapy, like any other form of therapy, is most effective when both the parties can have open and honest conversations.

Comprehensive sex therapy can do wonders to a person or couple’s psychological and sexual health therapy. There are several reasons why an individual/couple might choose to go through sex therapy. However, it is recommended for anyone whose quality of life is being adversely affected by their sexual health issues.

Sex therapy addresses various concerns, including one’s lack of sexual desire, sex addictions, painful intercourse, performance anxiety, incompatible sex drive between couples, paraphilia, difficulty coping with one’s sexuality, sexual problems related to infidelity and so on.

Sex therapy, like any other form of therapy, is most effective when both the parties can have open and honest conversations and put in a collaborative effort to work through the issues raised in the course of the therapy sessions. As long as the clients are willing to put in the required time and effort, they will reach their sexual goals.

Sex therapy as individuals vs Couples

Sex therapy can be taken alone or with one’s partner. Usually, when someone experiences individual sexual issues, they are recommended to undertake the therapy sessions by themselves. However, they may choose to include their partners in the sessions at a later stage, enabling the therapist to see and understand the issue from more than one perspective.

While sexual health is usually always discussed from an individualistic point of view, it is no secret that one’s issues related to sexual health can also adversely affect one partner in terms of sexual functioning and satisfaction. Sex therapy can positively impact a relationship by helping the couple enhance their emotional and sexual communication or eliminate sexual boredom.


Couple at home
One has to keep in mind sex can still be a controversial and very private topic for many.

While any conversation around sex is still culturally bound to be an uneasy one, we as a society have come a long way in talking about sex. On top of that, pop culture representation of sex has created an unhealthy and toxic environment around discussions about sex, making one shy away from discussing their sexual problems.

The increasing amount of digital intervention aiming to bridge this gap also nudges us towards a brighter and more sex-positive future. More psychologists also seem to specialise in sex therapy, thus, increasing our options for seeking guidance and support in matters of sexual health.

However, one has to keep in mind sex can still be a controversial and very private topic for many, which makes it crucial to select the right sex therapist because the effectiveness of sex therapy ultimately depends on the quality of the therapeutic relationship.

It’s time we start talking about sex therapy as a means of dealing with sexual health issues.

By Manjir Das

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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