Our intimate relationships can be the source of our greatest joys, as well as our greatest frustrations and disappointments.
If you’re experiencing difficulties in your relationship, you know how painful it can be to share your life with someone only to find later that you’re unable to connect in a meaningful way.
Fortunately, help is available in the form of professional counseling and psychotherapy.
Unfortunately, with so many different types of professionals to choose from – psychologists, marriage and family therapists, family counselors, licensed professional counselors, and social workers to name but a few – finding the best mental health practitioner for your needs can be a daunting task. And this difficulty can be compounded when a couple is confronted with sexual issues.
It is probably no stretch to say that the majority of couples have some type of sexual issue. These issues can range from disagreements about the frequency of lovemaking and the pace of sexual intercourse to personal preferences such as whether or not to use sex toys or whether the lights should be on or off.
When a couple is experiencing communication problems or other relationship issues, these challenges often manifest in a couple’s desire or ability to be intimate and sexual.
Although some form of couples counseling can undoubtedly help in such circumstances, the not uncommon question is, “How do you know whether you and your partner would be better served by seeking the help of a marriage counselor or the specialized expertise provided by a sex therapist?”
Differences between Couples Counseling and Sex Therapy
Though couples counseling and sex therapy share many similarities, there are some distinctions that are worth noting. The most important difference is the focus on sex itself.
Couples counseling commonly deals with communication issues, problem-solving skills, and conflict resolution, but these issues may or may not deal directly with a couple’s sex life. But, when couples attend sex therapy, sex is definitely on the agenda. In fact, it is usually the primary focus of the work to be done.
Additionally, professional counselors and therapists have different training from that of sex therapists.
While most states don’t require specific licenses for sex therapists, the current “gold standard” for sex therapists is certification by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT). In order to qualify, a counselor or therapist must not only be a licensed mental health professional but they must receive specific education and training in all aspects of human sexuality, and hundreds of hours of practice providing sex therapy.
Specific Issues that Sex Therapy Can Help Resolve
Sex therapy used to be primarily about helping women who were unable to have orgasms and men who lacked control of their ejaculations. While sex therapists still treat these problems, many people can overcome these issues by reading the right self-help books.
In addition to problems that lend themselves to self-help, many sexual issues have medical origins, such as high blood pressure, low levels of testosterone, and drug side effects. In fact, if you’re experiencing sexual problems, the first place to turn to for help should be your family doctor, gynecologist, or urologist.
However, if your doctor is unable to help and medical treatment doesn’t resolve your problems to your satisfaction, then it’s time to consider seeking the help of a professional sex therapist, especially if you’re experiencing:
- Loss of Sexual Desire – In addition to the possible medical causes mentioned above, relationship issues, anxiety, depression, and stress can all play a role in the loss of libido. Sex therapists can work with your doctors to diagnose and treat any medical causes of your decreased libido, identify any relationship or lifestyle issues that are contributing to a decrease in your sex drive, and help you regain your libido by changing your thought patterns, behaviors, and reactions regarding sex.
- Erection Difficulties – Many factors can also contribute to erection problems – including alcohol, smoking, illness, medication, relationship difficulties, anxiety, stress, and depression. While prescription medications like Viagra can help men with erection problems, these drugs only treat the symptoms of the issue and are usually most effective when combined with some sort of sex therapy that addresses the underlying causes of an individual’s erection issues.
- Discrepancies in Sexual Desire – It is not uncommon for two individuals in a relationship to each have similar libidos but different levels of desire regarding the amount or frequency of sexual intercourse. Although relationship issues and other life stresses may be involved, many times there is no clear reason for the difference in desire. Sex therapists can help couples work together and compromise on their differences so that both partners’ desires are met.
- Painful Intercourse – Women experience pain during intercourse for a variety of reasons, including vaginismus, endometriosis, reproductive tract infections, an unusually low tolerance for pain, a history of sexual trauma, relationship difficulties, anxiety, and stress. A sex therapist can help determine the root causes of any pain experienced during intercourse, as well as make sure you receive the most effective physical and psychological treatment possible.
- Sexual Aversion – People suffering from sexual aversion not only have no desire for sexual intercourse, they experience a strong aversion to even the thought of having sex. Sexual aversion is more common in women than men and it is usually the result of a previous traumatic experience (such as incest or rape) that requires some form of trauma counseling or psychotherapy to resolve successfully.
Is Sex Therapy Right for You?
If you and your partner are experiencing any of these issues and you’re both committed to working together to resolve the problem, sex therapy can help.
In fact, a 1997 report issued by the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy found that sex therapy helps two out of every three couples who attend, regardless of the specific issues being faced, the gender of the person with the difficulties, or any history of sexual trauma.
This having been said, the decision about whether you should seek couples counseling or the specific assistance that only a sex therapist can provide is largely subjective. Either way, professional counseling, psychotherapy, and sex therapy can help you and your partner restore joy and intimacy to your relationship and make your sex life better than ever!
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