What is sex therapy and what can it help with?
Sex therapy is a form of counselling which explores mental and emotional issues that may be causing sexual challenges. Sex therapy may help if you have concerns about sex, sexuality, sexual performance or relationships.
Qualified sex therapists are professionals who have been trained in areas related to sex, sexuality, gender, pleasure and reproduction and are comfortable talking about sex.
Sex therapists know about the many factors that intersect in a person’s life that impact on sex. They will look at all the factors to find out what is happening in your life to try to help identify and resolve your concerns.
“While you might see a doctor about erectile dysfunction, a sex therapist will look at the potential psychological factors behind it,” psychosexual therapist Christopher Brett-Renes says.
How can a sex therapist help you?
A sex therapist may be able to help you work through any psychological concerns related to:
- Sexual performance, such as erectile dysfunction, delayed or premature ejaculation
- Relationships, including opposing sex drives (libidos) and open and closed relationships
- ‘Coming out’
- Transitioning for transgender people
- Sexual trauma
- Sexually transmitted infections, including newly diagnosed HIV
- Reproductive health, including pregnancy, abortion, miscarriage, infertility and IVF
- Low sex drive (low libido)
- Kinks and fetishes
Sex therapists often specialise in one or more of the above. They may refer you to another therapist who has more experience in supporting people with your particular concern.
You should also talk to your GP about your physical health to find out if there are any medically treatable reasons for your condition.
What does sex therapy involve?
A sex therapy session is just like a counselling session. Your sex therapist will talk with you about your main concerns and ask questions about other areas of your life, such as your home life, family and work.
Brett-Renes says some concerns may only need six-to-eight sessions to be resolved, but for more complex presenting issues, sessions may continue for more than a year.
“Building trust with your sex therapist can take time, because we’re talking about sex and admitting that you've got fault in the bedroom can take a bit to get comfortable with,” Brett-Renes says.
Do you have sex in sex therapy?
No. It’s important to know there is no physical contact during a sex therapy session. You should not be asked to touch or show any part of your body, or asked to demonstrate any issues you are having, such as erectile disfunction.
Should your partner attend your sex therapy sessions with you?
Maybe. It might be beneficial for your partner to attend your sex therapy sessions with you. Having your partner involved in the process may help reduce their stress and any feelings they have about being the cause of your issues.
Your partner will also be able to listen to recommendations from your sex therapist and work with you on these, which may help progress your therapy faster.
You should ask your sex therapist about whether your partner should attend with you.
How to find a sex therapist
You can search the Society of Australian Sexologists online member database for accredited sex therapists in some states.
Your local sexual health clinic may also have a sex therapist you can see or be able to direct you to local practitioners.
When looking for a sex therapist, it may be important to ask:
- Whether they are accredited or have tertiary qualifications in sexual health or similar fields
- If they specialise or have experience with your specific concern
- Whether they have experience with people from diverse backgrounds
You don’t need a referral from your GP to see a sex therapist.
Are sex therapists accredited?
Not always. A sex therapist should be accredited with an appropriate counselling, psychology or social work professional body. But sex therapy is currently a self-regulated support service in Australia. That means practitioners do not need to be accredited to call themselves a sex therapist.
There is a movement to have the industry accredited, to provide clients with a level of assurance that the person they are seeing for therapy has met a minimum standard of training in the field.
Practitioners can undergo postgraduate study and professional training and apply to become accredited with the Society of Australian Sexologists, the peak body for sex therapists and sexual educators in Australia.
Do sex therapists offer telehealth sessions?
Yes. Just like other health professionals, many sex therapists will be able to consult with you through telehealth via a phone or video call.
Telehealth might be a good option for you if you can’t find a sex therapist near to you or visit a clinic.