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What is sex therapy

What is sex therapy? – By Dr. Sarah Sease

The value of mental health and therapy has significantly skyrocketed since the pandemic. There has been a significant increase in the demand for therapy and many therapists report having waiting lists that range from a couple of weeks wait time to six-month wait time. As more and more people seek therapy, more and more are seeking specialized therapy. People are seeking specialized therapy for addictions, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and sex therapy.

As a clinical psychologist who specializes in sex therapy and who has been working in Dubai for almost 5 years, I am frequently met with several questions by potential and/or current clients. Sex therapy is a relatively young area within the study and practice of mental health so it makes sense why people may have many questions. Below are the most common questions I have received and my answers to them.

What is sex therapy?

Sex therapy is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on helping individuals/couples understand, navigate, and improve their sexual experiences to reach sexual satisfaction. Many factors can impact a person’s sexuality and expression of intimacy. Physical, psychological, emotional, and sometimes cultural factors often influence sex/intimacy. The goal of sex therapy is to help someone better understand these factors and address them so that he/she can have a more thrilling and fulfilling sex life.

Who offers sex therapy?

Only licensed mental health professionals who are properly trained in sex therapy can offer sex therapy to clients. These individuals have specialized training and certifications that enable them to provide the proper evidence-based methods when delivering sex therapy. Common modalities within sex therapy include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), emotion-based therapy, mindfulness-based skills, and couples skills.

If you have questions about a therapist’s qualifications regarding sex therapy, I recommend that you ask questions about their training process, supervision process, continuing education process, and certifications. Some therapists can be sex/sexuality-informed therapists and not be proper sex therapists. This means that they have had some training or some experience around sex/sexuality issues but may not have been formerly trained or trained in depth to tackle sex/sexuality concerns.

How does sex therapy work?

Much like other forms of psychotherapy, sex therapy focuses on talking and processing through the challenges that a person/couple faces. At the beginning of sex therapy, it is common for the therapist to enquire about your mental health and sexual history. They may also ask questions to better understand the context of your challenges. This may include sex education, sexual beliefs, cultural influences on sex/sexuality, and your specific concerns.

From there it is common to use various techniques to support the therapy and your journey. It is common to use CBT to change some negative beliefs or behaviors around sex (ie: changing “sex is dirty” to “sex can be fun in the right situation”). It is also common to process emotions that might be creating barriers (ie: “sex is dirty” triggers emotions of shame, so working through the shame.) Sex therapists will often check in with clients about how they are feeling about the work and will make needed adjustments to improve success.

Can only couples do sex therapy?

Couples and individuals can come into sex therapy. Sometimes the challenges are more from an individual standpoint (ie erectile dysfunction), sometimes the challenges are related to couple dynamics (ie mismatch libidos), and often sexual issues will be a mix of individual challenges and couple challenges. A sex therapist will often assess the sexual challenges and then make a clinical decision about the best course of action and treatment for you and your concerns.

What kind of issues do I work with?

I see a variety of issues with sex therapy. I see women who struggle with vaginismus, pain with intercourse, and libido concerns. I also see men with erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, and desire concerns. I commonly see couples who are trying to improve their sex life and sexual connection to each other.

I genuinely love the work I do, and I am very passionate about helping people navigate a very sensitive and often difficult challenge in their lives. I fully respect my clients’ privacy and right to make decisions for themselves and their bodies. Often sex therapy includes education, working through gender roles, sexual trauma, intense emotions (anxiety, fear, shame), and body issues. My goal is to support my clients through this process and help them to achieve a satisfying sex life.

Sex can be a difficult topic for many people to address. There are often strong emotions, misconceptions, and wrong information about sex/sexuality. Many people have reservations about going into sex therapy and beginning that process. Sex therapy does not have to be painful, scary, or difficult. As a sex therapist, I view it as a journey that might have bumps in the road but the process can be fun, freeing, and ultimately lead you to somewhere you are excited to go. All it takes is one small step to start.


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Emotional Wellbeing Check

An Emotional Wellbeing Check is a 30 minute consultation to give you an overview of how you are doing with your psychological wellbeing. It will highlight key areas of your wellness and give an indication as to whether there are any areas of your life that would benefit from some attention. Like any other health check up, an emotional wellbeing check is an important part of staying on top of your mental health. With no commitment to engaging in regular therapy, this service offers a useful measure of your overall emotional wellbeing.

When might an emotional wellbeing check be beneficial?

  • Something feels “off”, but you can’t quite put your finger on what it is
  • You are considering embarking on therapy, but you remain uncertain as to whether this would be beneficial for you
  • You have a history of mental health difficulties and want to stay on top of your emotional wellbeing

Following the wellbeing check you will be provided with a brief summary report with recommendations from Dr Shamarel. As this is not a service that insurance companies typically reimburse for, you will not be given a formal diagnosis.