- Marlene Dietrich
What is sex therapy?
interested in improving their relationship to sexuality are often left scratching their heads trying to understand what sex
therapy is and what a sex therapist does. This lack of understanding is compounded by our cultures uneasy relationship with
sexuality and pleasure. One of the many unfortunate results of this discomfort is the overlooked recognition that sexuality
is a pathway to greater self-understanding and empathy for others (Aanstoos,
What is a sex therapist?
Sex therapists are trained psychotherapists. This means that most
sex therapists also treat individuals, families, and couples dealing confronting issues such as depression, anxiety, past
traumatic events, substance abuse issues, and general life transitions. Sex therapists, in addition to their formal graduate
education, are trained mental health professionals that work to remove the blocks that inhibit people from fully integrating
sex, sexuality and eroticism into their lives and relationships. These blocks may stem from past traumatic events, health
issues, relational problems, psychological or social struggles, or some combination of these issues (Tiefer, 2012). In short,
sex therapists are trained to listen to the sexual stories of their clients (Risen, 2010) and assist in creating tools and
strategies to understand and resolve these problems.
What should I ask a potential sex therapist?
There are no licensing bodies that regulate the tittle of sex therapist or the practice of sex therapy.
While there are many well-meaning psychotherapists that list sex therapy as an area of treatment, they often have little to
no formal education or supervision in how to assess work toward the resolution of difficulties in sexual functioning. It’s
not uncommon to hear clinician report that ‘if the relationship gets better the sex will follow’. Unfortunately,
this is frequently not the case. There are several indicators that a clinician has had specialized education, training, and
supervision in understanding and treating sexual concerns. The first is certification as a sex therapist through The American
Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT). Secondly, membership in The Society for Sex Therapy
and Research (SSTAR), is also an indicator that a therapist has demonstrated, through a peer reviewed admission process,
that they have significant practice and training in the practice of sex therapy.
Some clinicians practicing sex therapy have had excellent education, training and supervision
in sex therapy but have chosen not to pursue certification. If a clinician cannot describe different approaches to the treatment
of sexual difficulty, provide a succinct description between healthy and problematic sexual behavior, you may want to continue
searching for a sex therapist.
What Can I Expect to Happen in Sex Therapy?
When people enter sex therapy they can expect the following, a welcoming and respectful
environment in which the therapist begins; a) assessment of the presenting issues, b) developing an understanding
of the couples, or individuals, style of relationship, c) information and sexuality education as needed, and d)
directed therapeutic interventions.
questions related to sex therapy.
Does a sex therapist have sex with their clients?
NO! This is illegal and unethical. A sex therapist will not touch you or expect you to be sexual with them in any way. Sex
therapists are licensed mental health professionals and are legally and ethically bound by law from engaging in sexual behavior
with their clients. If a licensed mental health professional is asking you to be sexual with them in any way they are violating
the therapeutic relationship, your trust, and breaking the law.
Sex therapy includes frank discussions about sexual concerns. The interventions offered to address and improve these
concerns may, at times, include homework assignments and practices that are sexual in nature. These interventions are to be
explored and practiced in the privacy of your home with yourself and or your partner or partners.
Q. What are the requirements for becoming a certified sex therapist?
After completing graduate school the clinician is required to
complete a period of post graduate training and supervision leading to independent licensure. After becoming independently
licensed, the therapist then begins the process of working towards specialized training, supervision, and practice as a sexuality
The requirements to become
a certified sex therapist are demanding. AASECT certified sex therapists are required to complete the 90 hours of basic human
sexuality education in sexual anatomy and physiology, human sexuality through-out the lifespan, variance in human sexuality,
consent and coercion in sexual dynamics, gender identity issues, relational dynamics, substance use in sexual functioning,
forensic issues, and research methods common in sexology.
Certified sex therapists are also required to complete 60 hours of training in sex therapy specific techniques in
treating sexual dysfunction. In addition, sex therapists must also complete a Sexual Attitude Reassessment, or SAR. The SAR
is an educational experience in which participants are required to identity their attitudes, feelings, values and reactions
to various forms of sexuality and erotic expression. The intent of this experience is to explore their how their biases may
impact their clinical work as sex therapists.
sex therapists are required to complete a minimum of 50 hours of clinical supervision with a certified supervisor and provide
a minimum of 300 hours of sex therapy providing treatment to individuals and couples presenting with arousal, desire, orgasm,
and sexual pain issues.
sex therapist also have specific training and supervision in various forms of couples’ therapy. After completing these requirements, the therapist is required
to write a position statement clarifying their philosophy and perspectives on sex therapy and submit their application for
certification to AASECT. The AASECT Certifying Committee reviews the applicant’s education, training, and position
statement and if the supervisor, and the candidate’s recommendations are supportive, the candidate is granted certification
as a sex therapist.
Q. How long does
sex therapy last?
the length of sex therapy, as with any form of psychotherapy, is difficult. Some issues may be resolved relatively quickly,
while others may take longer to resolve.
Do sex therapists only work with sexuality issues?
A. Generally, no. Sex therapists, as stated earlier, are mental health professionals and often treat a broad range
of clients and issues. Most sex therapists have extensive experience treating clients struggling substance abuse, depression,
anxiety, sexual abuse and assault, domestic violence, and various other psychological and social concerns.
Q. If I have a medical concern that is impacting my sexuality,
can a sex therapist help me locate a provider to address these issues?
A. Absolutely! Sometimes problems related
to sexual functioning require medical attention. Medical concerns that can impact sexuality include diabetes, hyperthyroidism,
MS, COPD, CHF, to name only a few. A medical consultation should be arranged to rule out the presence of physiological issues
that could undermine your sexual functioning.
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