Giving Sex Therapy the Time it Needs
While working on my dissertation, I interviewed 19 sex therapists about what leads to good sex therapy outcomes versus what doesn’t. There were several factors that emerged from this study. One of the most prevalent factors was patience. Therapists risk rushing too fast, and only dealing with the surface issue. When this happens, sexual failures often person without developing coping skills to manage the failures.
Clients also can be in a hurry early in therapy too. Unfortunately, a lot of people put off dealing with their relationship problems, which leads to a lot of frustration. Thus, clients want to hurry and make things better. It’s generally not a good idea to rush when things already feel intense. There is growing research that shows that our bodies respond to this stress by increasing sexual problems!
These were two of the most important reasons sex therapy takes time:
- It takes time to understand a sexual problem, because these problems tend to have multiple layers.
- It takes time to build a relationship with the therapist.
Sexual problems are rarely just related to physical issues. If they were, you’d be getting your help from a doctor. These issues, whether they are sexual dysfunctions, or relationship dissatisfaction with sex have several factors. Here are some examples of those factors.
- Mental factors: Beliefs that are leading to ongoing problems.
- Relationship factors: Fears, communication problems, resentment, boundary issues, and sexual avoidance.
- Emotional factors: Depression, shame, and anxiety.
- Breaking down of sexual myths.
- Development history: sex education, and upbringing.
- Trauma histories
As you can see, that is a pretty complicated list. Here’s what also came from those same interviews with these sex therapists. Building a solid relationship in sex therapy can be more challenging than other types of therapy. Sex is difficult to talk about! To add to that, whatever problem you’re dealing with has likely been around for awhile. It won’t take as long to work through, but it will take some time.
But there are things you can do to make it more likely to work.
- Give it a little time. Patience is key.
- Be open with your therapist. Tell your therapist if you’re unclear, need more direction, or you’re feeling stuck. It’s natural to want to avoid confrontation. Therapists can’t read minds though. Most of the time, pointing these things out to your therapist can increase your therapeutic trust and help you confront difficult issues.
- Do the opposite of avoidance. Most sexual issues can lead to some type of avoidance. This can be prevalent in therapy as well. It is tough to want to go and deal with something so personal with someone you don’t know that well. To add to that, sex can be overwhelming to unpack. If you feel overwhelmed, share it with your therapist.
- Be open to trying different things. Anxiety around sexual issues can make this really tough. It’s also important to recognize that making any change is going to require doing things differently. A lot of people get stuck doing the same things or doing nothing at all. Some of things that you try will work. Others won’t, but you’ll walk away with new knowledge.
- Accept how you feel. Sex can lead to a lot of negative feelings when it doesn’t work out well. Oddly, disconnecting from those feelings does little to help. In fact, that tends to make things work. Learning to tolerate and accept these feelings can go a long way in building the type of sexual relationship with yourself. That can help you build a better relationship with your partner as well.
If you’re interested in sex therapy to help for your sexual problems, here is what to expect.
- Assessment of the problem. This requires understanding of the past and present. Then, a building a relationship with the therapist (trust is important to make change).
- Identification of the different aspects of the problem: emotional, physical, and mental.
- If you’re in relationship therapy, start with communication.
- Adding to it! Getting deeper into the problem, learning about the problem, and trying new things.
- Repeat! (as needed).
All of this can take a lot of time. I hope this simplified guide can give you an idea of how sex therapy can go about help you with any sexual problem you may be dealing with.