Sex Therapy addresses two major components of healthy sexual functioning- sexuality and disorders.
Sexuality A client's sexuality is a key component in many relational and individual issues. No matter how you identify, your sexuality and your sense of your sexual self are major factors in determining your preferences and sexual behaviors. Sexuality is about your sexual identity, about the gender roles you carry with you, and the "scripts" you learned from family, religion, society and significant others. All of these factors have contributed to your understanding of sexual expression. Sometimes, these interconnecting parts do not fit well together and can cause distress in your life. A sex therapist may be able to help you find out how to integrate pieces of your sexual identity, your social conditioning and your sexual preferences so that you can feel whole and content in your experience of your sexuality.
Sexual Disorders While labeling someone as having a "disorder" sounds scary and judgmental, it helps professionals in medicine, mental health and other disciplines find the right treatment for your presenting problem. Medical providers, therapists and even insurance companies can all communicate in a common language when discussing a sexual disorder if it has been properly identified and a treatment plan has been agreed upon by you and your professional team. The definition of disorder has changed over time, but most disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th edition (DSM-5) can be classified under these major areas: Disorders of
arousal - physical indications of one's willingness for sexual activity
orgasm - the occurrence of muscle spasms/ release of tension
pain - often internally located and not having a physical etiology
People's sexual preferences can also be classified as a disorder under DSM-5 if one's sexual interests are a source of conflict in relationships, work or family life or if interests have legal ramifications. There are two kinds of interest-related disorders:
paraphilias - recurrent, intense sexual fantasies, urges or behaviors involving non-human objects, suffering or humiliation of self or partners, or children/ non-consenting persons.
fetishes - are similar to paraphilias, but are considered lifelong and are required for the person to engage in sexual activity.
In sex therapy, sessions are strictly verbal and suggestions of a physical nature are completed outside of session.
Who are Sex Therapists?
Sex therapists are trained to help people establish, regain and enhance their enjoyment of sex and sexuality. They come from many disciplines including medicine, psychiatry, marriage and family therapy, social work and counseling, among others.
In choosing the right therapist, it is important to ask about the clinician's scope of practice and clinical training in human sexuality. Certification and licensure has not yet been standardized for sex therapists and it is important for clients to ask potential therapists about their background and comfort level in addressing sexual concerns.
I am a professional member of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT). I am currently working to further my knowledge of and training around issues in sex therapy under Karlaina Brooke, PsyD (OR License #: 1623). My major coursework and training already includes, human sexuality and anatomy, advanced sex therapy and clinical issues in practice.
How Can Sex Therapy Help Me?
If you, like many people, struggle finding a safe place to talk about your sexual concerns or interests, you could benefit from seeing a professional qualified to provide therapy for sexual dysfunction and issues of sexuality. From relational issues to individual concerns, a sex therapist can help you in finding your sexual identity and work through issues that may be hindering the enjoyment of your sexual experiences.