“A lot of times people hear ‘sex therapist’ and they think, ‘Oh, they’re teaching people sex positions,’” says Christopher Ryan Jones, Psy.D. “Honestly, that would be a relief if that’s all the job entailed—it would mean the world was a much better and kinder place!” And OK, we’ll admit it—when we thought about sex therapy we were kind of imagining some sort of Kama Sutra workshop. Well, it turns out that sex therapy can be helpful for a variety of issues and concerns (that have nothing to do with the lotus position). Here, seven common reasons someone might see a sex therapist.
1. The Two of You Are Bored Sexually
“Couples may come to sex therapy for any number of reasons,” says Jones. “They may feel that they have lost romantic feelings toward one another or one of the partners may want to explore areas of sexuality that the other partner is not comfortable with.” Another common concern? Mismatched libidos. “The focus of the therapy would be to open up communication to discuss their wants and desires, and also give the couples homework that would help them to rekindle their romance.” Extra credit optional.
2. You Have Difficulty Achieving Orgasm or Arousal
The first thing a sex therapist would do in this case is to have the person get a physical check-up from a doctor to make sure no medical conditions are causing the lack of arousal or lack of orgasm. “If things came back normal, I would then recommend sensate focus,” Jones tells us. This involves abstaining from sexual activities and instead focusing on touch and sensation (orgasming is actually discouraged during the course of this treatment). After a week or two of touching, Jones would suggest incorporating kissing and light oral play. “The length of the sensate therapy depends upon the individual and couple. Nevertheless, they would gradually increase the level of play until they do have intercourse.” The goal here is to take the pressure off orgasming and focus instead on the sensations and other pleasures of sex.
3. You’re Processing Sexual Trauma
“A person who has been sexually abused or raped may come to therapy for a number of issues—the most obvious reason is to find help dealing with the trauma,” says Jones. It’s common for someone who has had this type of experience to have difficulties being intimate, he tells us. But sex therapy can help a person overcome the traumatic experience and ensure that it doesn’t affect future sexual experiences.
4. You Think You Might Have Sexual Disorders or Dysfunctions
This can refer to a number of issues, including erectile dysfunction (“which is becoming more common with younger clients”), low sexual desire and sexual arousal disorder (“although these are only considered disorders if it causes distress to the client”). Things like vaginismus (involuntary muscle contractions in the vagina) and dyspareunia (pain during intercourse) are also valid reasons to seek help.
5. You’re Coping with a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI)
“Oftentimes when a person is diagnosed with an STI, they are so shocked that they don’t really register what their medical provider is telling them. One of the jobs of a sex therapist is to educate the client on treatments and care, as well as safer sex practices to stop the transmission of STIs.” People who have an STI can also find it difficult to disclose this information to partners, which is also something that sex therapy can help with.
6. You’re Dealing with LGBTQ Issues
“People in the LGBTQ community often have issues of acceptance, prejudice and alienation. Sex therapy can help clients who have trouble coming out to their friends and family, and navigate the new dynamic that being open about their sexuality introduces.” It can also help individuals realize and accept what’s going on with themselves.
7. You Just Want to Talk About Basic Relationship Issues
Sex isn’t everything in a relationship, but it isn’t nothing either. “Relationship issues can range from helping couples learn to communicate better to discovering ways for them to regain their intimacy. The fact is that people change over time—their bodies change over time and the way they think changes over time. This sometimes makes the relationship a bit complicated.” But just because things change doesn’t mean you have to settle for a lackluster sex life. Here’s what Jones tells his clients: It’s their perception that needs to be changed. That excitement you felt when you first met can continue throughout the marriage, he says. “You can discover things your partner likes and how their body responds differently. This isn’t a bad thing—this can be very exciting and fulfilling.”