Sex therapy, despite what many believe, isn’t full of kinks and problems aren’t solved with the crack of a slick leather whip. Rather, it’s very similar to other forms of counseling: you sit down with a psychiatrist, psychologist, marriage, or sex counselor to work through everything from intimacy issues to sexual dysfunction. Even couples who think that they have things wired in the bedroom can learn a thing or two from sex therapy.
“Some couples intuitively know how to have good sex, and how to take good care of a sexual relationship,” says New York City sex therapist Stephen Snyder MD, author of the new book Love Worth Making: How to Have Ridiculously Great Sex in a Long-Lasting Relationship, “They know how to balance sexual selfishness and generosity. It’s important to have both.” Snyder adds that they also know how to balance being an “I” and a “we” in a relationship. “But many couples don’t have a clue about such things,” says Synder. “If that’s the case with you, then a few sessions with a sex therapist might be a good idea — before your erotic relationship goes to hell.”
Here, per Dr. Snyder, are some key signs that you and your partner might want to arrange a sex therapist sit-down.
You and your partner have stopped having sex.
The sexless marriage has become a cliché over the years, but it’s more common than one might think, with 15 percent of marriages being either partly or completely sexless. What’s worse, says Snyder, is the longer you and your spouse don’t have sex, the harder it will be to get back on the horse.
Why, you ask? “Probably because of what’s called ‘The Westermarck Effect,’” says Snyder. “Whereby if you live under the same roof with someone and don’t hook up with them, they’ll start to register in your brain as ‘sibling.’ So if your relationship has become sexless, best to do something about it right away. Seeing a sex therapist is often a logical way to start.”
You and your partner have started fighting after sex.
If you and your spouse are arguing after the deed is done, it’s most likely stemming from the fact that the sex itself has left one or the both of you feeling unsatisfied.
“Let’s face it,” Snyder says. “Good sex makes you feel good — and bad sex can make the two of you feel pretty sucky about yourselves. Negative feelings can easily erupt into arguments.”
You’re avoiding sex, because you’re worried it’s not going to go well.
If the sex is sub-par, and especially if you’re both fighting after the fact, it’s not an experience either of you are going to be eager to sign up for another go-round.
“Anxiety tends to lead to avoidance,” says Snyder. “But what most people don’t know is that avoidance tends to worsen anxiety. Which in turn prompts further avoidance, and so on. Your classic ‘vicious cycle.’ The only reasonable way to break that kind of cycle is to get help for your sex problem.”
You feel relieved when your partner is too tired for sex.
If you feel obligated to propose sex, only to be turned down, and then secretly feel relieved, that’s an issue. Seeking to avoid sex or being glad when sex is off the table cuts yourself off from intimacy with your partner, which can have ramifications that extend beyond the bedroom.
“Sometimes avoidance can be subtle,” says Snyder, “like waiting to go to bed until after your partner is asleep, or making sure you don’t wear anything sexy to bed. That kind of avoidance will usually end up turning yourself off, which can make any sexual problem worse.”
Your self-esteem has taken a beating because of sex.
If your partner is refusing sex, doesn’t seem to be attracted to you or, for whatever reason, you just can’t seem to muster the excitement yourself, all of it can affect how you view yourself as a person. “Sex problems have a unique ability to make you feel bad about yourself,” says Snyder. “Which is no surprise, since sexuality touches the deepest parts of who we are.”
You’re in individual therapy, but it’s not helping your sex life.
You might think that seeing a therapist will help iron out out all of your problems, but the truth is, they might not be trained to deal with sexual matters. “Therapists are trained to help people deal with psychological pain, and psychotherapy often involves going through suffering,” Snyder says. “Sex therapy is different. Your sexual mind doesn’t understand pain and suffering. All it knows is how to have a good time. If therapy isn’t helping you with your sex problem, it may be time to consult with someone who can.”
You’re in couples therapy, but it’s not helping your sex life.
You and your spouse have agreed to see a couples therapist and make your marriage work. And while your marriage is growing stronger, things between the sheets are still cold. What’s the deal? “Good couples communication doesn’t always lead to good sex,” Snyder says. “Sex therapists are trained to ask different kinds of questions — especially the kind of ‘Who-does-what-to-whom, and how-does-it-really-make-you-feel?’ questions that can be most useful for figuring out what’s going wrong in bed.”