Sex therapy

Published by Sarah Horrocks
Published on 3 March 2008

Many problems such as decreased libido, lack of pleasure, premature ejaculation and vaginismus, lead couples to consult a therapist. How do you choose your therapist? What happens during a consultation? Here is an overview of sex therapy.

What is sex therapy?
Sexual health is an important part of physical and mental well-being, so it’s essential to question sexual problems to enable your relationship to grow and flourish. This is the goal of sex therapy, which is officially recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO.) Created by two sexologists, William Masters and Virginia Johnson, sex therapy seeks to restore sexual contact between the couple in question. The idea is to combine talking about problems at the therapist's office with practical exercises at home. Bear in mind that it does not treat sexual disorders with medication or surgery, only through psychology. If there are medical problems as well, then a sexologist can work in collaboration with a doctor.

Sex therapists

In general, sex therapists are trained counsellors or medical professionals (psychiatrists, psychologists, GPs or gynaecologists) who have taken additional training in the physical and psychological issues associated with sexual functioning. Relate sex therapists are usually trained in relationship counselling and then undertake further training in sex therapy. The British Association for Sexual and Relationship Therapy (Basrt) helps to maintain professional standards and ethics.

What happens during a session?

It is important to leave your shyness at the door and speak candidly about your sex life. It is difficult to walk in the door with only a referral letter from your GP, but only a sexologist can help you overcome sexual problems and it has helped many patients (re)discover great sex. Consultations are divided into two parts: interviews and practical exercises.

Interviews

Interviews help to establish a dialogue between the patient(s) and the therapist in order to answer questions such as: how sexual relations are experienced, what are the obstacles, what must be done to resolve the issues. The sexologist will work with you to find the answers. If you are in a relationship then it’s better to go together so that you both understand the situation and overcome difficulties together, unless you think your partner will really not like/benefit from it. Remember that it's not a medical exam, so you get to keep your clothes on. However, if the therapist has doubts then he or she will suggest a medical check-up.

Exercises

Exercises at home aim to put into practice what has been said in the interviews and to recreate an exciting and erotic atmosphere to help sexual exchange. The therapist, having identified the problem, suggests exercises specifically tailored to the needs of the couple. Gradually, with perserverance, these are successful in about 70% of cases.

Strengths and limitations

This approach to sexuality is designed for sexual problems that have a psychological origin, such as poor communication between the couple and a lack of knowledge about the body. However, if the cause is deeper, you should consider an alternative type of therapy (psychotherapy, psychoanalysis or relationship therapy.) In some cases, the sexologist can prescribe medication (if he/she is a GP) like treatment for erection problems, antidepressants or recommend surgery for malformations.

Practical information
Sex therapy sessions vary in price depending on where you live and on your budget. If you can afford it, you could see a private therapist who will charge around £40 per session. Relate charge a fee to cover the sessions but do not make a profit from their services. If you want to take the NHS route, talk to your GP who can tell you where your nearest NHS service is available. The duration of sex therapy depends on the difficulties that need to be resolved, as well as the frequency of the sessions.

To find a sexologist:

The best place to find a reputable sex therapist is through the British Association for Sexual and Relationship Therapy www.basrt.org.uk or Relate www.relate.org.uk