Sex Therapy—What Is It and Who Needs It? – Part 1

I’m often asked about my work as a sex therapist. I’m surprised at how few people have any sense of what a sexologist does. While I can’t speak for all my fellow therapists, I can tell you a bit about my own practice.

Most of the work I do is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): short-term, goal-directed and personally liberating (I don’t believe this kind of therapy should become a lifestyle). Basically, I suggest that people with sexual issues change the behaviors that contribute to their problems as a surefire way to solve them. I try to give my clients all the tools they need to successfully work things out on their own once the therapeutic intervention is over. This approach doesn’t fit everyone; however, 99.9 percent of the people I work with respond positively.

I encourage my clients to give themselves permission to investigate their sexuality. This in turn assists them in taking charge of making themselves feel better and/or perform better. And as soon as they do, they almost immediately have a greater sense of wellbeing. Like they say, nothing breeds success like success.

Once we identify an area of concern, my client and I create a plan of action for them to implement. I believe the more an individual is part of their own healing process, the more productive that process will be.

Sadly, I find that fewer and fewer people are willing to give their sexual issues the attention they deserve. Rather than investing the time and energy to get to the bottom of their issues, many opt instead for the quick fix—the “Give me a pill for that” mentality. They’re often unwilling to make the necessary lifestyle changes to actually solve their problems. For example, I encounter people who are eating themselves to death, or abusing alcohol or drugs. Of course they have the accompanying sexual response issues—erection problems for men and arousal concerns for women. They may desperately want to resolve these issues, but without committing to any change in behavior—i.e.: “I want my erection back, but I won’t stop drinking”—such interventions almost always ends in disappointment.

Sexual dysfunction of one sort or another is the issue I see most recurrently in my practice, although the reason why a client reaches out varies. Sometimes an individual’s tolerance level peaks, and they finally decide to do something about an issue that may have been smoldering for years. Sometimes it’s a partner who brings in their proverbially “broken” partner, telling me to “fix him/her.”

Couples often seek sex therapy together, as sexual problems tend to be more obvious within relationships. However, by the time the couple comes for therapy, the issues have most likely been plaguing them for some time. The relationship often comes close to ending before the couple agrees to address the problem. For example: Say a guy brings his wife in because she’s “frigid,” whatever that may entail. They’ve been married for X-number of years, and he’s finally had it. She, on the other hand, doesn’t want to be in therapy, because she doesn’t really think there’s anything wrong with her. She just doesn’t want to have sex anymore, and she doesn’t want to discuss it. Period.

This is a difficult way to start therapy. Resentments are high and frustrations rage. If the couple does continue, we usually discover that there’s also something desperately wrong with the husband. Inevitably, we ascertain that he’s an ineffectual lover—and his inability to pleasure his wife is the root of her “problem.” It’s often painfully clear that he knows little (if anything) about his wife’s sexual needs or desires. Meanwhile, the wife has never had permission to know her body, so she’s unable to help or direct him. As you can imagine in a case like this, there’s a load of remedial sex education that must come before anything else is resolved.

Couples also seek therapy when one spouse has cheated on the other. The “cheat-ee” declares, in no uncertain terms, that this therapy is the last-ditch effort before “the end of the road.” Often in such cases, it’s too late for a successful intervention, because each partner is so angry and shamed that the chance of turning the situation around is slim. Sometimes the best we can do is end the relationship with as little acrimony as possible.

In difficult couple counseling situations like this, my first effort is to get the couple to disarm. There will be no sex therapy—and God knows there is a need for sex therapy—until there is some semblance of peace between partners. If we don’t establish at least a small bank of goodwill, our efforts are doomed.

We’ll pick this up next week at this time.

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