Sex Therapy: What Can It Do For Your Marriage?

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Photo by Hendo Wang on Unsplash

Sex is one of those things you simply can’t take away from the equation of a successful marriage. Or a long-term relationship. Try and take it away and you’re left with what? Friendship? Business partners? Family members? 

Nobody likes to be stuck in a sexless marriage, although a lot of people involuntarily are. Sometimes they’re afraid or ashamed to talk openly about it and the root of the problem. And sometimes their partner gradually detached over time… Truth is, whatever it is, it’s going to get more and more frustrating as time goes by. It’s going to gnaw at your relationship like a worm in the middle of the night whose bites you can persistently hear echoing through your bedroom floor. 

What Do the Numbers Tell Us? 

According to the renowned clinical psychologist and sex therapist/relationship coach Pam Costa, turns out that around 10-20% of marriages are sexless. This is no small number! Sure, there are people who’re more or less okay (for different reasons) with a marriage largely devoid of sex. But, still, the majority of them, or to be more precise, about 61% of them, simply aren’t. These people claimed that “a satisfying sexual relationship” was super-important for a successful marriage. 

There’s a Way to Deal with This Issue 

There are always ways to spice up your love life. You can do it through foreplay and role-play, for one. You can also try and make your wife feel more desirable. 

But I also wanted to capture the possible deeper realities behind couples’ issues with sex. I wanted to look at the ways they can make significant changes through by working on the things that bother them both as a couple and as individuals. Things that hinder them from having a fulfilling and healthy sex life. This is why I’ve also covered topics like rekindling desire in long-term relationships and wanted to write this article about what sex therapy can actually do for your marriage and your love life. 

Ask yourself: why end up in the above mentioned 10-20% of the marriage statistics? Why when you can avoid feeling sexually unfulfilled and frustrated in your marriage by considering seeing a sex therapist. With your partner or alone, either way.

What’s the Purpose of Sex Therapy? 

It’s actually fairly straightforward. Sex therapy is a type of psychological therapy whose purpose is to identify and specify the problems couples have with sex in their relationships. It also tries to come up with different solutions to these problems. All of this is tailored to the nature of the romantic relationship, as well as the individuals in it. 

You can talk about all kinds of issues related to sex and intimacy in sex therapy, and some of the most frequent ones include: 

  • Low libido/low sex drive;
  • Lack of/low self-confidence when it comes to sex;
  • Performance anxiety; 
  • Impotence problems and erectile dysfunction; 
  • Infertility; 
  • Sexual dissatisfaction; 
  • Communication issues regarding sex and sexual desires; 
  • Loss of intimacy;
  • Damaged sex life as a result of some sort of trauma (accident, illness, psychological issues). 

The idea of sex therapy is to try to identify these kinds of issues as the culprits behind the lack of sex life and to work on them one by one, trying to find out why they surface and how to resolve them.  

Now, it’s safe to say that every couple will respond differently to sex therapy, and, of course, each session will depend on the specific situations couples find themselves in. 

But, this shouldn’t discourage you from actually trying sex therapy, because the numbers are definitely on your side. According to British sex therapist Ammanda Major, a whopping 93% of her clients have reported improved love lives after therapy. So, if you find yourselves in a sexual rut, I definitely encourage you to try sex therapy as a way out of it, and a way to reconnect with your spouse and sexual partner. 

Some Misconceptions About Sex Therapy 

Now, I understand the skepticism some people have towards this kind of therapy. I mean sharing your most intimate, sometimes problematic, thoughts to a complete stranger, and, what’s more, in front of your spouse?! 

Some common misconceptions around sex therapy include: 

  • Feeling like you’re the only one in the world having these issues and that what you’re about to say will simply shock the therapist (hint: it won’t).
  • Feeling like you don’t know much about sex. Or, feeling that you will need to be completely open to your spouse about your sexual past.
  • Sex therapy includes nudity, exams, or some sort of touching. Uuuuuhm, NOPE. Sex therapy is a regular type of psychotherapy that relies on verbal communication. 
  • The therapist treating you will come up with some wild solution to your sex issue, like having a threesome for example or joining a swingers club. This is also a big no. The solutions to your crisis will only involve things and activities that feel comfortable for both you and your spouse. You should take into account getting out of the comfort zone as well here. 
  • That the therapist will be a weirdo. This is possible, which is why it’s adamant that you go to a certified one. If, however, you feel like your sessions are leading you nowhere, maybe it’s time to move on to another one. Maybe that one just won’t cut it for you. 

So, instead of being afraid of sex therapists, harboring all kinds of scary scenarios in your head, try something else. Actually visit one. After you start seeing a sex therapist, you’ll be surprised by how much time it took you to open up, communicate your issues, and get the help you need. Because some things can only be treated by a professional. 

What to Expect When Seeing a Sex Therapist

Seeing a sex therapist is pretty much like seeing a regular therapist. You’ll most likely meet at their office, and you can attend the sessions either alone or with your spouse/partner. The usual length of the session depends on the therapist’s own routine, but it can also depend on clients’ demands and types of issues they’re trying to bring to the table.  

Now, you should definitely not be afraid of your feelings and your emotions the first time you walk into the office of a sex therapist; this is all perfectly normal since it’s so new to you. As I mentioned earlier, talking to a stranger about sex can be extremely uncomfortable for you at first, but it’s something that gets easier with time. 

In any event, sex therapists are very versed in these first-time encounters and they know how nervous you are, which is why they’ll try to make you feel as comfortable as possible. 

In the beginning, you can expect questions surrounding your: 

  • Opinions and beliefs about sex;
  • Sexual background/past and your health; 
  • Sexual education;
  • The particular sexual concerns you’re having at the moment. 

If you feel somehow uncomfortable from the whole encounter, you should definitely voice that and communicate it with your therapist. If this continues, and you’re noticing that your complaints are not really being addressed, then I’d advise you to change the therapist. 

Stuff That You Can Do at Home (After the Therapy Sessions) 

Now, every learning experience and issue-resolving process of communication requires some work from home. And sex therapy (hint: having sex is only one of them) definitely requires some home effort from you and your spouse. 

So, according to the International Society for Sexual Medicine, you might be expected to try out these kinds of practical activities at home:  

Experimentation 

Experimentation is an activity that’s an old friend to any attempt towards re-discovering sexual novelty. One of the first things that sex therapists are going to suggest is to try various activities in the bedroom, even stuff that you haven’t tried before (not necessarily a threesome or a swinger’s club though) or something that you’ve forsaken long ago. They might encourage you to use sex toys or use the power of fantasy and role-playing as fuels for desire. Or, if one of you has a health condition, for example, they might suggest you accommodate your lovemaking accordingly. 

Sensate focus 

A bit of a weird name, it actually has to do with the senses and developing, re-discovering couples’ relationship with touch and what it means to touch one another. It’s aimed towards couples that suffer from touch anxiety or have intimacy and trust issues. It usually involves three stages: 

  • Nonsexual touching;
  • Genital touching; 
  • Penetration (not always the case, but most of the time). 

Education 

This is basically a replacement or an upgrade of a missing (or forgotten) sex education. Lot’s of people haven’t had the chance to receive sex education or have limited knowledge of it, of their own anatomies and pleasure centers, as well as what goes on during sex in our bodies. Well, sex therapists are definitely going to address that and make you go through the basics. This might include books, sharing websites on the matter, but also video materials. Some therapists will also encourage their clients to look at their own genitals with a mirror, if they haven’t done that before, and thus learn more about their bodies. 

Communication strategies 

Encouraging more open and honest communication is one of the most important parts of sex therapy, and, of course, one of the key tenets of a successful and loving romantic and sexual relationship. So, the therapist might make you and your partner practice asking each other just what it is that you need from one another, both in the domain of sex and emotions. 

What I’d advise you, if you want all of this to actually work, is to fully commit to the process of sex therapy. While you might enter half-heartedly, try to work towards full-heartedness as time goes by because that’s the only way sex therapy can work. This goes for both you and your partner. 

Is a Couples Therapist the Same as a Sex Therapist?

The short answer is: nope. They’re definitely not the same, although sometimes certain topics may conflate at individual sessions. 

Couples therapy is oriented towards resolving a wider area of relationship conflicts and dissatisfaction. It can focus on helping couples communicate better with one another and engage with issues such as infidelity, addiction as well as pre-marital counseling. 

Sex therapy, as you might’ve guessed by now, focuses more on the experience of sex in a relationship. While a couple’s therapy may also be oriented, in part, towards sex, it still might not deal directly with a couple’s sex life. 

So, if you feel that the central issue in your marriage is precisely sex and sexual intimacy, then I suggest you see a sex therapist. But if you feel you have a wider variety of relationship issues, or one specific that might or might not affect your sex life as well, then maybe it’s a good idea to start with a couple’s therapist first or seeing both at the same time, alternating between the two. 

In any event, not all sex therapists have special licenses that make them qualified in what they do. There is, however, a certain “gold standard” which is the certificate from the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT). Therapists qualify for this certificate by being licensed mental health professionals. They also qualify by attending classes and training for sex therapy to become knowledgable about human sexuality and the human mind. 

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