What's Sex Therapy Really Like?

We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions remain anonymous. Now, onto today’s topic: what sex therapy is really like.

Q: I read in your bio that you’re a sex therapist. I’ve never heard of sex therapy before, and I’m curious about it. I have a complicated sexual history, but I’ve never felt like I could talk about it with anyone. What is sex therapy like? How do I know if I really need it or not?

A: Thank you so much for your question! I’m thrilled to be able to answer this one. Most people have never even heard of sex therapy before, so the whole concept can seem bizarre. In reality, sex therapy is a lot more normal than you might think. Here are seven things to know about sex therapy.

1. Sex Therapy Helps You Have A Better Relationship With Sex

The most basic goal of sex therapy is to help you have a healthier and happier sex life. Let’s face it: there’s not a single person out there who doesn’t have at least some hang-ups about their sex life. So many of us don’t even know what it means to have a healthy relationship with sexuality. Sex therapy helps you identify the sex life that you want to have, and helps you get there.

Sex therapy can address a wide array of concerns, including improving your relationship with your body, learning to experience more pleasure, getting new ideas to shake things up in the bedroom, decreasing performance anxiety, learning to be in the moment, developing better communication, improving your romantic relationships, learning how to orgasm, processing negative sexual experiences, understanding your fantasies, and decreasing shame.

2. Sex Therapy Is Professional

A lot of people tend to assume that sex therapy is sleazy, or that sex itself is involved in the therapy. (Songs like Robin Thicke’s “Sex Therapy” don’t exactly help matters.) These myths are understandable; if you’ve never even heard of sex therapy before, you might be inclined to think the sexiest.

But sex therapy is none of those things. You’re there to talk about sex — and only talk. A professional sex therapist will never touch you or will never ask you to touch them. You will never be asked to take off your clothes. Nothing sexual will ever happen in the room. Sex therapy is really not all that different than psychotherapy. During a sex therapy session, you sit in your chair, your therapist sits in their chair, and you have a conversation.

3. Sex Therapy Is About Education

Our society does not set us up to have healthy and happy relationships with sex. Our media is completely sex-saturated, but it’s also full of misinformation and unrealistic expectations, and our sex education is horrific. We’re never given the opportunity to learn about our bodies in an accurate, straight-forward, shame-free way. So it’s not surprising that so many people out there are struggling with their sex lives.

The first step in making any sort of change is having the correct information. One of my primary goals as a sex therapist is to disseminate comprehensive and more realistic information about sex. You’re not going to feel comfortable with your body if you think that vaginal discharge is abnormal. You’re not going to learn how to orgasm if you think that penetration alone is supposed to get you off, or if you think you’re supposed to orgasm within a minute or two. Sex therapy makes sure you have the facts you need to make the changes you want.

4. Sex Therapy Is Active

In my (obviously biased) opinion, one of the coolest things about sex therapy is that it’s active. Like many other sex therapists, I like to provide my clients with specific exercises for them to do in the privacy of their own homes (remember, there’s no sexual contact during the session).

Based on my client’s goals, I might give them exercises for different masturbation techniques, learning how to orgasm, how to talk about sex, or how to experiment in the bedroom. The idea behind these exercises is that sex is a skill that requires practice. Just as you can’t learn to play baseball by reading about it, you can’t learn how to have great sex unless you try things out and have new experiences. Fortunately, sex is a really fun skill to develop!

5. Good Sex Therapy Is Never Shaming

I’m obviously gung-ho about talking about sex, but I also understand that this is a difficult topic for most people to talk about. When I meet with a new client for the first time, I acknowledge right off the bat that sex can feel embarrassing and that they’re brave for signing up for a session. A good sex therapist knows how to guide the conversation slowly and carefully so it never feels overwhelming.

We sex therapists have heard it all, so there’s really no need to feel ashamed or uncomfortable sharing your story. Trust me, you won’t be able to make a sex therapist blush.

6. It’s Important To Pick Your Therapist Carefully

Sex therapy is still a relatively new field, and there aren’t a ton of us sex therapists out there. Still, it’s important for you to be picky when you’re choosing a sex therapist.

You want to find someone with whom you feel comfortable right off the bat. Check out potential therapists’ websites to get a sense of their approach and attitudes towards sex. A sex therapist can come from a variety of backgrounds and training. You can find sex therapists who are licensed psychotherapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors, nurses, or educators. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about their training and methods, like, "what's your background?" or "what's your typical approach for concerns like mine?"

7. Sex Therapy Is For Everyone

One of the biggest myths about sex therapy is that you only need to go if you have some serious problems to fix. Of course, sex therapy can help resolve your issues around sex, but it can also help take your sex life from good to great. I have lots of clients who are happy with their sex lives, but want things to be even better. They want new ideas, new techniques, and new ways to shake things up in the bedroom. Other people seek out sex therapy as a preventative measure, by doing premarital counseling or coming in to resolve an issue before getting into their next relationship.

And finally, some clients come in just because it’s fun to talk about sex! I’ve had clients even sign up for a session as an anniversary, birthday, or bachelor/bachelorette present. The bottom line is that sex therapy can be beneficial at any stage in your life or relationships.

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