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Everything you need to know about going to sex therapy

Everything you need to know about going to sex therapy

So, you’re thinking about booking a session with a sex therapist but are not sure what it’s all about, who to see, and what to expect?

What is sex therapy and what kind of professional should I work with?

Sex therapy, like other types of therapy, is hands-off talk therapy. It’s a safe, inclusive, non-judgemental space to explore your sexual experiences, sexuality, relationships, hopes, challenges, feelings, beliefs, and behaviours.

Sex therapy is facilitated by a sexologist, counsellor, or psychologist who has specialised training and knowledge about sex. While sexologists, psychologists, and counsellors may all provide sex therapy, they differ in their training and approaches.

A psychologist typically works to diagnose and treat mental illness under a medical framework. Most psychology courses don’t cover sex and sexuality, so psychologists need to do additional learning to ethically and accurately offer sexual support.

A counsellor also needs further training in sexual support and tends to approach sessions that are person-centred, focusing on achieving goals with action-oriented strategies, skills, and tools.

A sexologist, on the other hand, is trained in the study of human sexuality, sexual behaviour, and pleasure practices. Like counsellors, they tend to work from a person-centred approach rather than a medical or treatment framework. They’re also much more likely to be sex-positive and hold accurate sexual and pleasure knowledge because their training revolves around identifying their hidden biases, unlearning oppressive beliefs, and sex-negative stereotypes.

Being person-centred means that people who seek support are valued as the experts in their own lives. This approach is often non-pathologizing and rejects the medical framework of treatment; people seeking support are not ‘broken’ or in need of fixing. It’s not an individual’s fault for having a challenging relationship with sex and pleasure. Most of the sexual challenges folks face are outcomes of living in oppressive social and cultural systems and structures that contribute to our ideas of what’s normal and what’s not.

How to find someone?

Knowing where to start is often the hardest part. Start with Google and search for ‘sexologists near me’, ‘online sex therapy’, or ‘sex therapy in Melbourne (or your state)’.

Search for sex therapists on Instagram and Facebook, or follow sex-positive brands and profiles, as these are often linked to sexologists in the field. Ask your doctor, physiotherapist, or other health specialist, as they often work closely with sex therapists to support their patients.

What to expect in a session?

A sex therapy session is a safer space to take a deep dive into your experiences. It’s a place to explore and reflect on your feelings and beliefs about sex, pleasure, and relationships. It’s also an opportunity to learn accurate sexual education, tools, skills, and strategies to better support and understand yourself with compassion.

Sex therapy sessions tend to be less clinical and more relaxed than a psychology or other specialist appointment. The first few sessions often include a history-taking where your therapist will ask you a range of questions to learn about you, understand why you’re seeking support, figure out your goals and hopes, and learn about other experiences you’ve had.

Sessions are often collaborative; this means your therapist will spend time learning about what matters to you, your goals, your preferences, and your insights as these will all inform the approaches that you choose together.

Some sex therapists will work with you to create a structured action plan, and together you’ll decide how to address the things going on in your life. Other times, you may prefer sessions to be an open space to reflect and explore whatever is coming up for you.

What can you talk about in a session?

Anything and everything is welcomed in sessions. However, each sex therapist will have different specialty areas they prefer to work with. Figuring out what those areas of support are before you start working together increases your chances of a better fit.

You might seek support for challenges related to pleasure, lower or higher desire, sexual anxiety or fear, pain, unwanted thoughts, sexual shame, navigating sex in a relationship, navigating sex and pleasure as a disabled person or with a chronic illness, support around communication during sex and relationships, sexual preferences, understanding your sexuality, intimacy needs, and so on.

While sex therapy prioritises talking about sex, sex doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You can expect that sessions will probably focus on your relationships, other types of intimacy beyond sex, stress, coping strategies, your family life, work, social norms and expectations, and oppression.

Sex therapy is also not only for people that are struggling. Sex therapy is great for increasing education, enhancing skills and understanding, or as a great space to take preventative action and invest in your relationships and pleasure.

How to know if you’ve found the one?

Finding the right sex therapist and knowing it’s a good fit can be a challenging process of trial and error. It can take time to determine if you’re a good match, if you actually like them, feel comfortable with them, and if you align with the way they work.

The most significant factor that predicts positive session outcomes is the relationship between you and your therapist, known as the therapeutic alliance. If you don’t like them, don’t feel safe, or don’t trust them, it doesn’t matter how effective their approaches are.

If you’re unsure, it’s always worth discussing this with your sex therapist; let them know your feedback or concerns and see if you can address them together.

What to watch out for?

A therapist who invalidates, blames, or shames you is a huge red flag. Therapists who give unsolicited advice or suggest you should do certain things, such as ending your relationship or simply ‘stop worrying and relax,’ are also causes for concern. It’s never a sex therapist’s job to give unsolicited advice. Instead, they should offer suggestions, insights, or feedback on patterns of behaviour they recognise might play a role. Ultimately, they should always encourage you to reflect on what you think is best for you.

Finding the right sex therapist can take time, but it’s essential to ensure you feel safe, respected, and understood. Trust your instincts and communicate openly with your therapist. Remember, the goal is to find someone who supports you in exploring and enhancing your sexual well-being and relationships.

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