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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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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