Curious about sex therapy? This is what it involves
If you’ve never had sex therapy, you might rely on how it’s portrayed in film and TV for some insight.
“A lot of people I’ve worked with recently said they didn’t even realise sex therapy was a thing until they saw Sex Education on Netflix,” says Melbourne sexologist Kassandra Mourikis.
The Australian Society of Sex Educators, Researchers and Therapists NSW (ASSERT NSW) defines sex therapy as a “specialised form of professional counselling that focuses on addressing the sexual concerns, sexual functioning and sexual expression of human beings”.
Removing the mystery around the process is important, because it can help with all kinds of concerns including desire, erectile dysfunction and sexual pain.
I spoke with a few sex therapists to find out what it’s really like.
How do you pick the right sex therapist?
Sex therapy is a self-regulated industry. That means untrained and inexperienced people can call themselves sex therapists.
For example, a qualified counsellor might decide to work in sexology based on books they’ve read.
Or someone with no qualifications might attend a six-week course and call themselves a sexologist.
Or, they might take an academic approach by completing a Bachelor of Psychology and a Masters of Sexology, for example.
Regulatory bodies like ASSERT NSW and the Society of Australian Sexologists Ltd (SAS) hold sex therapists to a certain standard.
SAS, for example, has developed guidelines for the accreditation of sexologists who work as psychosexual therapists, sex therapists, sexuality educators and sexologists.
SAS national chairperson Lisa Torney says you can check its list of accredited sex therapists, but there are also many capable and experienced sex therapists who aren’t accredited.
She recommends having a phone chat with a prospective therapist to find out if they are a good fit.
Ms Mourikis suggests asking about their specialty and for an overview of how they might be able to help you before committing to a session.
What do you talk about with a sex therapist?
Sex therapy can assist with sexual education, sexual trauma, intimacy issues, physical difficulties, relationships problems, lacking or high desire, sexual pain and more.
Often, a sex therapist will specialise in one or a few areas.
One area Ms Mourikis focuses on is helping clients with sexual, genital and pelvic pain.
“Then that connects with communicating with your partner and relationship conflict … and creating pain management plans,” she says.
“I also work with [people on] prioritising pleasure or working out why [they] find it really hard to make time for pleasure or experience pleasure in their body and sometimes that comes down to trauma work, unpacking cultural myths, unpacking body image and self-esteem.”
Brisbane and Gold Coast-based sexologist Dr Armin Ariana more often sees male clients, and specialises in erection difficulties, early or delayed ejaculation, and relationships.
He says while opening up about sex can be difficult, information shared with a sex therapist is confidential.
“The first lesson we learn is to not be judgemental and to treat people unconditionally,” he says.
Will a sex therapist watch me have sex?
Wasn’t sure we needed to go there, but this is something Ms Mourikis has been asked!
No, you will not have sex or be watched having sex in a therapy session.
Are there props involved?
In Sex Education, there are a few dildos laying around the office of Dr Jean Milburn, played by Gillian Anderson.
“Some sex therapists might show you sex toys or models of genitals,” Ms Mourkis says.
“They might have different kinds of lubes you can look at.
“Over video chat they do tend to show models.”
Can I only see a sex therapist in person?
While you may prefer to see a sex therapist in person, many offer phone and virtual sessions.
For Ms Mourikis, this method of therapy grew during social distancing and she says many clients enjoyed it.
“A lot of people have mentioned that is has helped them do deeper work and explore things that are a bit more difficult.”
It’s also more accessible for people with disabilities or who live in rural areas, for example.
However, Dr Ariana says some people have privacy concerns regarding virtual meetings, or find it easier to reflect with a person physically in the room.
Can more than one person attend a session?
How many people can attend a sex therapy session will be up to you and the therapist, but typically they see individuals or couples.
“I’m open to working with a polyamorous threesome,” Ms Mourikis says as an example.
How long does a session go for?
The average session is 50 minutes — which is really an hour for the therapist. They will spend 50 minutes with you and 10 minutes making notes afterwards.
Some therapy sessions may vary anywhere between 45 and 90 minutes.
How much will it cost?
Therapists commonly charge anywhere from $90 to $250 or more, depending on how long the session is, their level of expertise, where they are located (rent costs) and other factors.
“A clinical psychologist who might specialise in sexology can have a Medicare rebate,” Dr Ariana says.
Do you get homework?
Ms Mourikis might assign exercises like quizzes or reading tasks.
“Sometimes it might be a sex menu with various activities to try with your partner and figure out what you’re into.”
Dr Ariana might assign the “six-second kiss” or massage techniques.
“I give them homework about how to interact which does involve physical activity,” he says.
“Other times I might give them meditation and mindfulness tasks.”
If you’re still nervous about trying sex therapy, Ms Torney says therapists work hard at creating a relaxed and comfortable environment to help with your needs.
“People think it’s going to be awkward and uncomfortable and embarrassing — it’s not.
“Sex therapists are people very comfortable talking about sex.”
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