PART 2 OF MY SEX THERAPY SERIES - AIMED AT ANSWERING ALL YOUR BIGGEST QUESTIONS ABOUT SEX THERAPY
Sex therapy is still pretty elusive. I mean, unless you have actually been in a sex therapy session (or watched a wonderful episode of Sex Education on Netflix) then you are probably in the dark.
Before I go on to tell you what happens in a sex therapy session, let me tell you what a sex therapist is.
A sex therapist is a person who is qualified to provide counselling to people with sexual concerns or problems. A sex therapist listens and provides feedback to help people change their thoughts, feelings and behaviours about sex and intimacy so that they can have experience more enjoyment and pleasure from sex.
The training for a sex therapist differs but the common thread is that at some point, the therapist has undergone specific (usually tertiary) study in human sexuality.
I am a registered nurse that became a qualified counsellor and later a qualified sexologist through a post-grad diploma of sexology. Sounds cool? It is!
I married my qualifications and experience together to provide sex therapy for women today (and for the last 6+ years).
These are the things that we talk about in a sex therapy session:
Your sexual history – what you remember about sex growing up, your first experiences alone or with another person, your parents attitudes, sex education or lack thereof, how you experienced puberty, what you were told about sex, feelings about your menstrual cycle, whether you have had any non-consensual experiences or abuse, STI history, any gynaecological or urological conditions, pregnancy history and more.
This part can sound overwhelming but depending on your reasons for therapy, not all issues will require a lot of exploration. Some of these issues may also have been addressed extensively in other therapeutic processes – it’s still important to let your sex therapist know so that they are informed and can keep any trauma or distress in mind when working with you.
What is happening now and recently in your sex life – whether you have a partner/s, if you have and do self-pleasure (masturbate), if you are dating, whether there is or has been any infidelity, if you are orgasmic (some ask if you can orgasm but I like orgasmic because it feels like you can define it for yourself and is broader and more compassionate), how you feel about and whether you use sex toys, what works and doesn’t work for you, how you feel about initiating sex, your boundaries – which encompasses your yes and no, whether you feel confident speaking up and communicating with your partner about sex, what types of touch you are responsive to and so much more.
What you would like to get out of coming to sex therapy – your goals, your intentions (this is the word I use over goals), what you want to feel instead of what’s frustrating or bothering you, what you want to experience more or less of, how you want the quality of intimacy to change in your relationship and what other parts of your relationship or dating experiences need some attention.
In speaking about these things, clients often report they feel better. When they share an experience or belief or thought, it’s as though it is a weight they don’t have to carry anymore. They can unburden and that is a bit part of what happens in a sex therapy session.
But a sex therapist isn’t just sitting there stoically and not saying anything. They are listening intently and considering what is the best course of action to help you with your concerns. They are ensuring that what they suggest to you to do when you go home will provide the most fruitful outcomes. And above all, any good quality sex therapist is going to ensure that you feel as safe as possible with any exercises given.
The work that we do happens in and out of sessions. What I love about our time together is that you having what you have said questioned and reflected back is really powerful. Clarifying. I’ve noticed that confusion often happens when everything is a jumble in our own minds and there is nowhere to put any of it.
This is especially true for sexual problems and concerns because the topic is so taboo and people, especially my incredible clients, fear that they will be judged if they speak out about what is going on. It’s not uncommon for crying to happen in a sex therapy session – it’s an important way of releasing.
Make no mistake, what happens in a session is a conversation – it goes back and forth but the focus, obviously, is on you. If a client asks a question to me, it isn’t personal but they are asking about the process and what happens next. When I speak to a client in sessions, it is to ask questions, clarify their perceptions and experiences to ensure I understand and to provide education. Education is a massive part of sex therapy and if a therapist doesn’t enjoy that part of the process then they will be limited in how they can help a client.
Sometimes, in my own process, we move that education onto the floor of my space so that I can demonstrate different aspects of the body and how it moves (all clothes on). I show what I am speaking about in a gentle way. It might be a type of breathwork, it might be a different body angle, it could be a way of curling their pelvis that they haven’t done before. Moving from the chair to the floor also allows for us to get into our bodies – which should be a natural part of sex therapy because then getting into your body at home is much easier.
The simplest and most frequent way we get into our bodies in sessions is: when clients come in and sit down, we take a few minutes to anchor in – I call it this because it is a way of decompressing and easing into talking about something taboo. My clients use aspects of anchoring in in their sex lives ALL the time. It’s a game changer. We have better sex when our nervous system is in a happier state and that’s what clients learn to do for themselves. Total empowerment.
Then when we talk, she is calmer, clearer and her heart has revealed to her what it is she wants to discuss that day. It makes so much of a difference to the remainder of our session.
When it comes to talking about what happens in sex therapy sessions, you probably have other questions…
Does the sex therapist touch the client?
Does the sex therapist watch the client?
Does the sex therapist listen to all of the clients darkest secrets?
No. Maybe. Yes.
Let me explain.
A true sex therapy session conducted by a qualified sex therapist (who may or may not identify as a sexologist – depends on their training) has no touch involved and they don’t watch their client do or perform sexual acts.
Now – there are services available to assist people with concerns about sexual functioning where they need examination and direct feedback. Usually practitioners who provide this service are certified as sexological bodyworkers and operate under their own ethical code. If they do align with this code, they need to wear gloves when touching clients and be clothed when providing sessions.
Sometimes they are both a qualified sex therapist and certified sexological bodyworker and if they are – it needs to be clear what aspects of their service you are interested in and what processes you are consenting to.
In my case, I am a qualified sex therapist that is also certified as a sexological bodyworker but I am not practicing as a bodyworker, hence all of my sessions are hands off. I do, however, offer to hug when I greet and say goodbye to clients but that is on an individual basis if the client consents to it.
And to speak to deepest, darkest secrets - yes that happens and for any men wondering (they always ask me at parties) - sex therapy isn’t full of titilating stories for yours or my gratification. My clients are invited to share their stories to release shame and call on new perspectives about them. This part is important if we are to move forward.
I love what I do and what happens in a sex therapy session is pure magic. There aren’t words for what can change internally and externally by attending sex therapy sessions.
If you are a woman who is curious about getting started then I have BRILLIANT news. I have introductory sessions available so that you can taste test what it’s like to feel better about sex and intimacy. Doubly good news is that if you book in and attend your introductory session before April 11 then you’ll secure my ongoing packages at the current rate. Say yes and beat the price rise – in Brisbane and via Skype. See you soon!