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What is a sexual therapist

A sex therapist helps people with sexual problems.

Sex therapists are qualified counsellors, doctors or healthcare professionals who have done extra training in helping people with problems relating to sex.

Why do people have sex therapy?

Lots of people have a problem with sex at some point in their life. Some people can help themselves. For others, sexual problems can cause a lot of distress and unhappiness.

A sex therapist can help people with various sexual problems, including:

  • lack of desire
  • difficulty having an orgasm
  • pain during sex or inability to have penetrative sex
  • difficulty getting or keeping an erection (erectile dysfunction)
  • premature ejaculation or other ejaculation problems

What happens in a sex therapy session?

A sex therapist will listen to you describe your problems and assess whether the cause is likely to be psychological, physical or a combination of the two.

Each therapy session is confidential. You can see a sex therapist by yourself, but if your problem affects your partner as well, it may be better for you both to attend.

Talking about and exploring your experiences will help you get a better understanding of what is happening and the reasons. The therapist may also give you exercises and tasks to do with your partner in your own time.

Sessions usually last for 30 to 50 minutes. The therapist may advise you to have weekly sessions or to see them less frequently, such as once a month.

How can I find a sex therapist?

If you have a sexual problem, it’s a good idea to see a GP first as they can check for any physical causes. The GP can refer you to a sex therapist if they think it will help you. However, sex therapy is not available on the NHS in all areas, and an NHS clinic may only offer a limited number of therapy sessions.

You can also find a sex therapist privately, which you’ll need to pay for. It’s important to see a qualified registered therapist. Look for one who is a member of the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists (COSRT) or the Institute of Psychosexual Medicine.

Organisations such as Relate also offer sex therapy for a fee.

Read the answers to more questions about sexual health.

Page last reviewed: 9 December 2019
Next review due: 9 December 2022

What Is a Sex Therapist?

Sex Therapist

A sex therapist is a certified professional who assists people with sexual difficulties. When you have a sexual concern that’s not caused by a physical problem or an underlying medical condition, trying to find help for it might seem daunting. In many of these cases, a sex therapist can help.

Sex therapists are typically healthcare professionals and have to be licensed to qualify as a sex therapist. A sex therapist might be a social worker, physician, or psychologist. They must have, however, be specialized in sexual health and sexual problems. 

A sex therapist aims to address any emotional or mental issues you might be experiencing that are causing a sexual problem in your life. They are trained to help you deal with issues ranging from low sexual desire to erectile dysfunction.

Sex therapy equips you with the tools and techniques to overcome any emotional and mental issues that might disrupt your sex life and your sexual satisfaction. 

Who Might Need to See a Sex Therapist 

There’s no specific type of person that needs to see a sex therapist. Anybody can see a sex therapist for any sexual difficulties they might be experiencing.

There are no small or big sexual problems or dysfunctions. If you feel like you need to speak to a sex therapist about a sexual problem you think you might have, it could never hurt to go ahead and do so.

People of any age or gender could seek the help of a sex therapist. There are, however, some common sexual problems people typically see sex therapists for. Some of them include:

  • Experiencing anxiety in relation to sex or any kind of sexual activity
  • Being unable to orgasm during sex or get aroused
  • Fear of sex
  • Mismatched sex drives in couples
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Pain during sex (e.g., vaginismus)
  • Sexual trauma
  • Issues related to gender and/or sexual identity
  • Worries about penis size
  • Sex education
  • Healing from sexual shame
  • Improving communication about sex and intimacy
  • Intimacy issues
  • Emotional and relationship issues stemming from sexual difficulties
  • Coping with an STI
  • Infidelity

What to Expect in a Sex Therapy Session 

If you’ve just signed up for your first therapy session, it’s perfectly normal to feel a little nervous about it. Sharing details of your sex life with a stranger might seem uncomfortable, but with time, you’ll ease into the routine and hopefully end up with a resolution for your sexual problem.

You could either go for a sex therapy session alone or with your partner. Each session will vary as you progress on your journey with your sex therapist.

So you don’t feel blindsided, here are some of the things that may happen in a sex therapy session: 

  • You may learn to be very open about your sexual life. To determine the underlying cause of your problem, you might be required to be explicit about your sexual life. This may not happen immediately, and a skilled sex therapist will ease you into sharing with each session. 
  • You might be asked/required to do some tests. A sex therapist is typically more equipped to help you with a psychological problem. However, in some instances, your situation might be physical. If your therapist suspects that you have a physical problem, they might order for specific medical tests to be done.
  • You might be given practical exercises to try at home. A sex therapy session will often not end in the therapy room. You might be given exercises to try at home by yourself or with a partner. For instance, if you struggle with orgasming during sex, a therapist might give you tips to try the next time you are having sex with your partner. 
  • You may be referred to surrogate partner therapy. Your therapist may offer a referral or recommendation to a sex surrogate, also known as a surrogate partner, to support you in your treatment if and as appropriate.

As an important note, there is no part of sexual therapy involves any form of physical contact with your sex therapist. If your therapist makes you feel uncomfortable in any way, you can file a complaint.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Sex Therapist 

When picking a sex therapist, there are a couple of things you might consider. Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing a sex therapist: 

  • Who are you most comfortable with? During a sex therapy session, you might be required to reveal explicit details about your sexual history. Many people are more comfortable doing so with someone of the same gender as them. 
  • Where are they located? Finding a sex therapist close to where you live or work is vital for your convenience. If you opt for online sex therapy sessions, then you don’t have to worry about this.
  • Will your insurance cover it? Not all insurance providers will cover your sex therapy sessions. It’s essential to find this out before going in, in case you need to pay out of pocket. 

How to Find a Sex Therapist 

If you want to speak to a sex therapist, doing a simple online search can help you in your selection process. During your search, be sure to read about each therapist to see if they might be a good fit for you. Considering sex is so personal, finding a therapist you can actually connect with and open up to is vital.

Also, you can always ask your primary care physician for any possible recommendations.

You could also opt for online sex therapy sessions on platforms like Talkspace and BetterHelp. The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) is an organization that trains and certifies sex therapists. They are a great resource to find great sex therapists that have experience.

How Effective are Sex Therapy Sessions 

Overall, it has been found that sex therapy can help to address sexual issues and concerns. Sex therapy can be very effective in addressing sexual concerns that are not caused by a physical condition. However, in certain cases, you might need more than a sex therapist to resolve your concerns.

The efficacy of sex therapy can be dependent on how willing you are to open yourself to the things you learn in a therapy session. It’s important to take the practical exercises seriously and listen to any other tips and tricks your sex therapist might recommend.

The effectiveness of sex therapy also depends on the therapist you are seeing. The more experienced a therapist is, the better equipped they’ll be at helping with a range of sexual issues.