For most couples, the mere suggestion of seeing a therapist is an implication that the marriage is in trouble. Throw in the idea of seeing a sex therapist? Get ready to put up those dukes of yours because them’s fightin’ words. Therapy? For SEX!?
But the truth is, even couples who think that they have things wired in the bedroom can learn a thing or two from sex therapy. Because when did learning new tricks ever hurt? “It’s always good to learn new things and to learn how to keep it exciting,” says Dr. Stacy Friedman, DHS, a clinical sexologist and certified sex coach.“It’s not always just about fixing something that’s broken, it’s about keeping it from breaking.”
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And sex therapy, despite what many believe, is quite tame. It 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.
Still, many couples tend to shy away from the notion of it.“Sex therapy can be very frightening to enter into an arena that’s so personal,” says Dr. Claudia Luiz, a psychoanalyst and author of The Making of a Psychoanalyst. “When you start talking about your sexuality, you’re pretty vulnerable and pretty exposed.”
“[Sex therapy] is promoting intimacy, connection, and communication, which eventually will help with sex in the long run.”
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, agrees, and also says that couples tend to avoid therapy because they’re afraid of what they might find out. “You hope that talking with someone will lead to your feeling better,” he says. “But you’re also worried it will make you feel worse. It’s crucially important that sex therapists know this, so they can be prepared to offer an unequivocal message of hope.”
There also seems to be a gender divide. According to Dr. Stacy, men tend to be opposed to therapy because even the mere suggestion of therapy can be seen as an implication that their performance in bed is lackluster.“I think it automatically hits them in the ego or in their insecurities when it comes to going to a sex therapist,” she says. “Women, on the other hand, feel that, if their partner wants them to go to a sex therapist, that the therapist is just going to make them have more sex.”
Many times, Dr. Stacy says, women don’t want to have more sex until other issues are resolved. “So they don’t understand that sex therapy is more than just trying to get you to have sex,” she says. “It’s promoting intimacy, connection, and communication, which eventually will help with sex in the long run.”
Indeed, the fact is, sex therapy has a number of unexpected benefits, even beyond better performance behind closed doors. “Seeing your partner in a new setting and talking to a third person about them, sometimes you see them with fresh eyes,” Dr. Snyder says. “You’re confronted with the fact that they’re a separate individual, with their own hopes and fears and concerns, which are separate from yours.” Per Snyder, the technical term for this is that the two of you become “more ‘differentiated’ from each other.” More differentiation is a good thing, says Snyder. It often leads to better sex.
Sex therapy isn’t just about relearning the mechanics of intercourse. It’s about rekindling desire across all levels, and sometimes that means getting back to basics. “Many times people come in and I work with them to rebuild intimacy and I’ll ask them, ‘When’s the last time that you guys kissed each other?’” says Dr. Stacy. “And they can’t remember. Then all of a sudden they start kissing each other more and they start having more fun. They’re like, ‘This is all it took?’”
Additionally, sex therapy can be shockingly revealing. “Sexuality is where everything shows up,” Dr. Luiz says. “Our shame, our sadism, our arrested development, our fixations. So you not only learn how to communicate, you learn about what’s hidden in your mind. You peel back the layers of your own mind.” Once you start coming to grips with what your brain does, she adds, that’s a form of awakening. It’s a form of higher consciousness.
“In sex therapy you not only learn how to communicate, you learn about what’s hidden in your mind. You peel back the layers of your own mind.”
For each couple, the time to consider therapy is different, but the major thing to keep in mind is listening to your partner. “I notice that a lot of people don’t listen to their partner when their partner is saying, ‘I’m not happy,’” says Dr. Stacy. “They just feel that it will blow over. As soon as your partner says they’re not happy, find out why. Talk about it, discuss it.”
Happiness is the key, Dr. Snyder concurs. “Sex should be a happy thing,” he says. “If the sex you’re having isn’t making you happy, then it’s best to get help. There’s no benefit in continuing to have bad sex, since if you do you’ll just keep getting more and more miserable.”
Dr. Stacy also notes that before that unhappiness manifests itself, it’s important to try and listen to what your partner wants. “People feel love and affection in different ways,” she says. “More so for men, it’s about the physical and for women a lot of times it’s more emotional. So you kind of have to learn each other’s love language.”
Whether you’re just looking for a tune-up or if your sheets have gone completely cold, sex therapy is a bold step. But, if you’re willing to take it, the benefits can be great.
“When you reach a higher consciousness,” says Dr. Luiz, “which stepping into these sexual arenas and talking about everything and shining a light on it can do, it is difficult and you do have to come to terms with a lot of stuff, but it is worth it. You can accept yourself, you can accept your partner, and you can enter into an intimate space without fear.”