Sex therapy is a type of psychotherapy designed to help people identify and work through their sexual challenges and improve their sexual satisfaction.

Sex therapy may benefit anyone who wants to improve their relationship with sex and pleasure. It can be especially helpful for those who have difficulty with a lack of arousal, painful intercourse, an inability to reach orgasm, or other sexual dysfunctions.

Sex therapy does not require both partners. Some people may benefit from individual therapy sessions, while others may find couples sex therapy more useful.

This article discusses why someone may need sex therapy, what to expect during therapy, how to find a qualified sex therapist, and more.

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Sex therapy is a type of talk therapy designed to help individuals and couples experiencing issues achieving sexual satisfaction.

Physical, psychological, and emotional factors can all cause sexual challenges. A sex therapist’s goal is to help a person or couple address these issues and obtain a more fulfilling sex life.

Sex therapy does not involve sexual contact between clients and therapists.

As with any psychotherapy, sex therapy involves talking through issues.

Generally, the client and sex therapist discuss any experiences, emotions, and concerns that may contribute to the client’s sexual dissatisfaction and challenges. They will also work on coping mechanisms to help them build a more satisfying sex life.

Sex therapists might also give their clients “homework.” This may vary depending on the individual or couple and can include assignments designed to increase sexual education and improve communication between partners. Sex therapists also may assign sexual experimentation and sensate focus homework.

If they suspect a physical concern is behind the sexual challenges, the therapist may refer the client to a medical doctor. In turn, the doctor and therapist may work together to address the physical issue while guiding the client toward reaching their sexual goals.

Sex therapy can help both individuals and couples:

  • gain a realistic understanding of sex and pleasure
  • identify and address underlying causes of sexual issues
  • grow and maintain a deeper sexual connection with themselves and their partners

People who experience sexual dysfunction may be among those who could benefit the most from sex therapy.

Simplified, sexual dysfunction is an umbrella term for various recurrent difficulties related to sex and includes:

These dysfunctions can cause a lack of interest in sex, low confidence, sexual performance anxiety, painful intercourse, and an inability to become aroused or reach orgasm — seriously impacting a person’s ability to enjoy a healthy and fulfilling sex life.

Sexual dysfunction can have physical or psychological causes. Sometimes, it is associated with a history of abuse.

Sexual trauma

Sexual trauma can particularly interfere with a person’s interest in or ability to enjoy intimacy and sex.

Research suggests that sex therapy may help people with a history of sexual trauma. For example, combining trauma-based therapy with sex-positive techniques may be more effective in helping someone work through their trauma-related sexual dysfunction than using trauma-based therapy alone. These studies are small but promising.

However, as some researchers note, some people with a sexual trauma history may need individual therapy to work through other issues before they are ready to explore sexual desire and satisfaction in sex therapy.

Discussing someone’s sex life with a stranger may feel uncomfortable. It is likely the therapist anticipates this and will begin with simple getting-to-know-you questions.

People can expect to discuss their:

  • health
  • sex education
  • sexual background
  • beliefs and ideas about sex
  • specific challenges with sex

The sex therapist will work with the individual or couple on their specific concerns and challenges through talk therapy. The frequency and length of therapy sessions will depend on the client and challenges and needs.

The sex therapist will not:

  • choose sides or attempt to convince anyone to do anything
  • undress or ask anyone to undress
  • have sexual relations or instruct sexual relations

Note that sex therapists, as with all therapists, are not one-size-fits-all. Compatibility is important for successful treatment. If someone does not feel comfortable with their therapist, they may wish to consider another expert.

Couples sex therapy is when both sexual partners attend therapy sessions.

For some people, attending sex therapy sessions alone is sufficient. For others, having both partners present is more beneficial for building stronger communication and improving satisfaction.

In some cases, the therapist may be able to help a couple determine whether individual sessions, couples sessions, or a mix of both would be the most favorable.

Some professional groups, such as the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT), provide directories for locating qualified sex therapists.

Additional directories include those within state psychological associations and other professional associations such as state and national associations for licensed marriage and family therapists. For example, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) provides a locator tool for therapists across the country.

Other ways a person might find a sex therapist include:

  • receiving a referral from another healthcare professional
  • asking their health insurance company for a list of covered mental health professionals who specialize in sexual health
  • contacting local and national mental health organizations

Sex therapy aims to provide a comfortable, encouraging atmosphere for people to safely talk through their challenges at obtaining a healthy and fulfilling sex life.

Anyone can benefit from sex therapy — especially people experiencing sexual challenges and dissatisfaction with their sex lives.

Some people benefit from individual sex therapy sessions while others find couples sex therapy more useful.