8 Common Features of Sex Therapy

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Chicago Therapists Explain Sex Therapy

By: Couples Counseling Staff

Sex therapy is one of those terms that conjure up all sorts of mental imagery. Some people think sex therapy means hiring someone to stand in as a surrogate while others mistakenly believe it is some kind of high-end escort service. Here is the deal – sex therapy isn’t any of those things! At its core, sex therapy is a clinical form of counseling designed to help a person or a couple with a given sexual problem.

If you thought this kind of therapy involved someone magically appearing in suggestive attire, replete with Chinese Ben-Wa balls in dim lighting, think again. That kind of “therapy” only happens in the movies and on late night television sitcoms.

At Couples Counseling Center, we recently convened a meeting of our therapists to identify the basics of sex therapy and move about the business of creating a concrete resource that outlines some of its common features. We know that many clients come to counseling seeking guidance around intimacy related issues and therefore wanted to offer you something as a website visitor that serves as a gateway to knowledge.

And to be clear, we do not consider ourselves to be “sex therapists” in the clinical sense. We do, however, speak to sex and intimacy related issues as part of the counseling services we provide. 

Are you ready? Let’s jump right in!

Sex therapy basics

The topic of sex certainly comes up in the context of couples and marriage counseling, particularly for those who are struggling with issues linked to intimacy. Generally speaking, sex therapy is short-term and instructive in nature, typically lasting 5-20 sessions.

The goal of this kind of counseling is to assist a person or a couple work through a given set of challenges. This point is particularly true for folks who have historically been troubled by a specific sexual dysfunction. Here, we are talking about everything from premature ejaculation to performance anxiety.

Principles of Sex Therapy

In couples therapy focused on intimacy issues, there are generally 8 principles that adhered to that clinicians follow as a way of helping clients. What follows is a breakdown of these principles that includes a short narrative underneath.

Let’s take a look!

eight characteristics of sex therapy


1. Assessment of the problem

Clients usually work with the therapist to discuss a specific sexual problem that is currently interfering with intimacy. In most all cases, the counseling professional will refer the client to a medical doctor to rule out any physical causes for the problem. Part of the therapist’s assessment may include a discussion of sexual history. Perceptions, feelings and thoughts about sex are also explored.

2. Education about sexuality

Many clients who suffer from a sexual dysfunction know very little about the physiology and techniques of sexual activity. During sex therapy, the counselor may discuss these topics and offer educational materials. Examples may include books or psycho-educational websites.

3. Mutual responsibilities

During couples counseling, most therapists will stress the importance of mutual responsibility. This means that both partners in the relationship share the sexual problem, regardless of who might have the dysfunction. In this way, the treatment is aimed at conceptualizing the couple as a unit and then integrating solutions into the relational dynamic.

4. Attitude change

Therapists try to help clients examine and change the beliefs and behaviors they may have about sexuality that are preventing arousal and pleasure. Common myths about dating, relationships and marriage are explored as part of the dialogue. This is a process that takes time and requires trust between the client and clinician.

5. Reduction of anxiety

Therapists that work with clients around intimacy issues teach couples various techniques for working through. Here, we are talking about concepts like sensate focus and non-demand pleasuring. These sensual tasks, sometimes referred to as “petting exercises” involve a couple exploring one another’s bodies at home, without the demand for intercourse or orgasm at the conclusion of the experience.

We are including a handout on sensate focus here to help demonstrate these concepts. Over the course of time, these kinds of exercises help to reduce anxiety for both parties in the relationship.

6. Increasing sexual communication skills

In couples therapy with a focus on increasing intimacy, partners are commonly advised by the counselor how to talk to one another in a way that gets physical needs met.

Examples include: “I like what you are doing right now” as opposed to “turn off” language like, “You are not doing it right.” Homework assignments are commonly given that involves elements of role-play and role-reversal between the couple.

7. Changing destructive lifestyles and interactions

In many couples and marriage counseling situations, a therapist may encourage both parties to change their lifestyle or take other steps to improve a situation that is having a caustic effect on the relationship.

Examples include creating distance from negative in-laws to identifying changeable sources of stress, such as work hours. If other sources of conflict are present, such as an underlying fear of intimacy, the therapist will try to help the couple work through in a realistic way.

8. Address physical/medical factors

When a sexual dysfunction is caused by a medical problem, such as an injury, medication or substance abuse, therapists will work with the client (or clients) to create positive change if possible.

For example, if anti-depressant medications are causing a man to experience erectile dysfunction, the counseling professional may suggest to the client to speak with his psychiatrist about other options.

Using this same example, the therapist may also encourage the client to identify his sexual peak during the course of a day and assess how changing medication dosage times may create positive change.

Resource for Intimacy

Many individuals and couples seek out the guidance, support and assistance of therapist who is comfortable with working around issues related to sex. At Couples Counseling Center, we encourage our clients to become educated on the topic of intimacy so that they can enjoy private time with a partner to the fullest extent possible.

One book we recommend to our clients is From the Living Room to the Bedroom by Drs. Jim and Ginger Bercaw. Inside, you will find meaningful, practical and useful insight on how to increase intimacy in your life – in a way that is easy to understand and devoid of the clinical jargon.

Elements of mindfulness are included as part of the dynamic with exercises that are designed to increase closeness between you and your mate. It’s an extremely useful book for anyone who is interested in going beyond boring, robotic interactions behind closed doors.

Final Thoughts

We hope you found the material on sex therapy presented here useful. If you are in Chicago and experiencing intimacy issues in your relationship, therapy may be a very viable option. Our therapists use a warm, caring and non-judgmental approach when helping clients find solutions to common intimacy problems.

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