What does a Sex Therapist do, anyway?

Editor's Note: This article was originally written by Sally Valentine, PhD.

I'm a certified sex therapist and people often want to know what I do. Or don't do I get funny reactions from some, while I'm out of the office just running my errands or going to a social function or traveling....some people say, "you're just what I need", or "that's the last thing that I need" or they go into their personal histories or begin asking me questions I'm sure their partners would cringe about (if they knew).   Not that it was a bad thing...but on a plane or standing in line at the book store, is not the ideal place to be talking about one's sex life!   On the other hand, some people just walk away, like it might be contagious. You know, too much information about sex can make you go blind or go limp or go dry or your hands fall off or any other body parts could fall off. (You can fill in the blanks)!

The best response that I have gotten in a long time was at a recent family gathering. It came from my young nephew who said he knew exactly what I did for a living. I have to admit I was curious how he knew exactly what I did for work. He responded, "Aunt Sally does sex magic"!

Well, that is a stretch, but, when couples come in for sex therapy and resolve their sexual issues and begin to have loving, passionate sex, they may feel like is was sex magic! (And actually, there is such a thing as "sex magic"; I'll save that for another blog).

So what is sex therapy? Sex therapy is a specialized type of therapy that focuses on addressing the sexual concerns, sexual function, and sexual expression of men and women. Problems that people might seek sex therapy for are concerns around sexual desire or frequency discrepancies, arousal or inability to reach orgasm, or sexual anxieties and inhibitions or sexual compulsive behavior. They also may be experiencing painful intercourse (both women and men) or have problems with rapid ejaculation or erection problems.

Some sexual problems may be affected by a medical condition or medication. These are situations where it is best to be evaluated by a medical doctor or, in many cases, a sex therapist and medical doctor may coordinate treatment so that the client gets the best possible outcome.

There are issues that arise around sexual orientation or sexual identity. Sex therapy may help assist in a client exploring, evaluating, accepting and embracing one's sexual orientation or sexual identity and learning where to turn for additional support.

Unusual sexual desires or behaviors or issues related to sexual expression or function are also issues that may be addressed in sex therapy.

There are many other areas, such as life's events that may effect sexual functioning, like infertility, surgery, menopause, long term partnerships that have lost their sexual excitement for each other, death in the family, loss of a job, or children who have left the home, just to name a few.

As a certified sex therapist, I work with clients in a private and confidential setting to clarify their issues. I often provide education about pertinent sexual issues, including anatomy, physical response, and healthy sexual behavior. I refer clients to other sexuality resources like American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT), aasect.org, and informational web sites like this one, sexualhealth connection.com.

What a sex therapist doesn't do...we do not get involved in any form of sexual or other inappropriate physical contact between therapist and client, nor perform   any sexual activity as part of therapy session.

I hope that helps clarify what sex therapists do or don't do and shed light on how sex therapy can help address sexual issues and concerns.