Ask a sex therapist: What does a sex therapist do and when should I see one?
“It’s very cool and it’s very complex.
Laura Miano is a Melbourne-based writer and sex therapist. Its mission is to help people with sexual problems as well as to support people who wish to improve their sex life beyond cultural norms. To learn more about her, follow @lauramianosexology or contact her here.
“What does a sex therapist do and when should I see one?” “- Sexology Curiosity
Hello Sexology Curiosity,
Excellent question! Since I first shared that I was pursuing sexology, I have had to explain and clarify exactly what it is. Although it has been around for over 100 years, little is still known about what sexology involves and what fieldwork is. I might be biased, but I think it’s the best job in the world! So as a sex therapist, let me show you around my work.
For starters, sexology is an area of study that draws on a number of other disciplines such as psychology, sociology, medicine, endocrinology, and more. It is the study of human sexuality that takes a holistic approach to understanding a person’s sexual and erotic functioning. As a sex therapist, I understand that your sexual system is totally interconnected with all facets of your life.
For more sexual advice, go to our Life section.
It doesn’t just light up behind closed doors, in your bedroom, like a boat in the night. Contrary to what our culture may have taught you, your sexual system is active all the time, engaging, interacting and scanning your surroundings – every day! Sexology understands this. It’s very cool and it’s very complex.
This is why the academic barriers to become a sex therapist are not a walk in the park. I haven’t done 2500 word essays almost every week of my masters for no reason (wow, trauma!) For this reason I recommend checking your sex therapist’s references as there may be a few cowboys – l The industry is new and unregulated. It is always a good idea to do a background check. As a rule of thumb, look for a graduate degree in human sexuality.
So what does a sex therapist do? Well, they can wear many different hats – working in research, in clinical settings where they conduct sessions with one or more clients, and in education where they can conduct conferences or workshops. There is also a lot more that a sex therapist can do, like writing articles (hello!) Or working in the media.
Some sex therapists also work closely with the sex toy industry, as our specialist knowledge lends itself quite well to a pleasure-based industry. I said I love my job; well that’s why! Between seeing clients, writing articles, create my own sex toy store and educating people via Instagram and in the media, I am a busy but happy woman.
Now that you know what a sex therapist does, you might be wondering how a sex therapist can help you. This is where sex therapy comes in. Sex therapy consists of 50-55 minute sessions where you can discuss your sexual concerns or curiosities with a sex therapist in a non-judgmental space.
As many clients I see haven’t had the opportunity to open up with anyone in as much detail as they do with me, providing a safe, inclusive and supportive space is absolutely paramount. And what people see a sex therapist for will be totally varied; from sexual dysfunctions such as vaginismus, erectile dysfunction or anorgasmia, to sexual problems such as problems with intimacy, sexual anxiety or overcoming a history of sexual trauma.
People can also see a sex therapist if there are no problems. In these cases, it could be to better understand their erotic identity, to speak through new sexual acts or to explore non-monogamy, to know more about their body and their pleasure card, or simply to receive normative and accurate sex education.
When you see a sex therapist, he will assess why you came to see him by asking you relevant questions about your sexual history, your autoerotic behaviors (eg. masturbation), your past and present relationships, and how you might have shaped your understanding of yourself as a sexual being, to name a few.
They will also assess your mental and physical health and learn about general lifestyle factors such as diet, social connections, exercise, working conditions, etc. When you take a holistic approach, there is a lot to cover!
Once your sex therapist understands your situation, he or she can develop a treatment plan and address each relevant factor that could be contributing to your problem.
You can expect to learn more about your thought processes and how they influence your feelings and behaviors, you might learn techniques to help you overcome difficult beliefs about yourself, and you might receive advice from mindfulness to calm negative or irrational thoughts.
There are a few exercises you can do during the session to help you with all of this. While much of the work takes place in these sessions, the majority of the work takes place at home, in your own space. Sex therapists give a lot of homework.
It can be sexual activities, games or conversations that you should explore with your partner, try conscious masturbation or erotic self-touch, use mindfulness techniques during sexual experiences, explore activities erotics outside of sex or impose restrictions on certain behaviors like orgasm, penetration or genital touching to help expand your sexual repertoire – to name a few!
And, if some of you are wondering, yes the clothes stay put and no one has sex in sex therapy. It’s like seeing a psychologist – you sitting across from your sex therapist talking. If you think you could benefit from a hands-on approach, the incredible work of sex substitutes or sexological bodyworkers might be the right direction for you. Do not hesitate to Google your nearest.
If sex therapy sounds like what you need, you might want to take a few considerations before doing it. Are they LGBTIQA + friendly? What are their specializations? Do they operate within a trauma-informed framework? Are they included sex workers and alternative forms of relationship? If these are important to you, take the time to research them.
And while we discuss finding the right sex therapist, let’s also bring to our attention your beliefs about sex therapists. A lot of people think we are these wild, uninhibited, borderless sex freaks. This isn’t necessarily the case, and just points out our culture’s bizarre relationship with sex – “Obviously, if anyone has studied sex, they must be totally out of balance!” “
Uh, uh, slow down bb. If anything, sex therapists might be more aware of limitations than the average person because they have the knowledge and conceptual understanding of how to honor their true sexual self. Maybe that makes them more sexually exploratory, maybe not. I don’t know, each person’s sexuality is different!
If you’ve read my spiel and now you’re thinking “Wow, I need to see a sex therapist, I don’t blame you”. We are not given enough sexual tools or knowledge in our development, so whether you have a concern or just want to grow up as a sexual person, a sex therapist can really help bridge this cultural gap.
To find the right one for you, turn to the internet or if you like the sound of my work, you can contact me by email or Instagram. It could be a low-key, life-changing experience. Personally, I cannot recommend it highly enough!
See other installments in our Ask A Sex Therapist series here.