It can feel like a huge step to begin to think about having sex and relationship therapy. The first step may be admitting that something isn’t right in your relationship and you could benefit from expert help. The second step may be researching the kind of therapist who’s right for you. Unfortunately, we’ve found that there can be some myths about what psychosexual and relationship therapy actually is – and what happens in the therapy room. These misconceptions, and the anxiety they cause, can discourage people from trying sex therapy – meaning many people suffer in silence and miss out on getting the support they need to make their relationship and sex lives better.
Bola Ogundeji, is a therapist in our low-cost psychosexual and relationship counselling service in Clapham. She outlines three of the most common myths about sex therapy – and makes some truer, more helpful suggestions.
Myth 1: It will be really embarrassing talking about the intimate details of our sex lives.
Reality: Your therapist is trained to make the experience straightforward and helpful. We don’t set out to embarrass you.
Sometimes when people think of sex therapy, they have a mental picture of having to expose the most intimate details of themselves. The therapist will of course need to know some information about your sex lives, and will take you through guided questionnaires so that you feel supported throughout the process. Feeling able to be truthful with yourself and your partner will facilitate that process. The therapist may also offer some exercises for you and your partner to carry out at home, to begin improving the physical and emotional communication between you.
Myth 2: Only men need sex therapy.
Reality: Sexual issues can affect anyone.
It is assumed that men are likely to be the ones presenting with difficulties linked to performance, such as premature ejaculation – which is typically defined as when a man ejaculates before his sexual partner 50% of the time. But women present with sexual issues too, such as low libido or painful penetration. For example, dyspareunia, which is persistent or recurrent genital pain that occurs just before, during or after intercourse. The truth is that many women have painful intercourse at some point in their lives. This pain could be experienced as pain only at sexual entry (penetration), pain with genital penetration, including putting in a tampon, deep pain during thrusting, burning pain or aching pain, throbbing pain, and lasting hours after intercourse. Sexual issues can affect anyone. Sex therapy can help you work through those issues.
Myth 3: Psychosexual therapy is only for people who have serious problems with sex.
Reality: Sex therapy can help to improve underlying difficulties in your relationship.
We now know that physical or medical issues around sex can sometimes stem from other psychological and social difficulties – or vice versa. Sometimes sexual issues are caused by other challenges in your relationship, such as communication or other relationship difficulties. If that is the case, the therapist may introduce some diagnostic tools around the health of the relationship in general to see if sex is the real issue.
Sometimes couples find that taking time to improve the way they communicate, resolve conflicts and relate to each other means that the sexual problems they brought to therapy can lessen, and their relationship issues can improve.
How sex therapy can help
People sometimes come to psychosexual therapy with the hope that it will make them ‘normal’ or confirm that there is nothing wrong with them to please their partner. Sexual issues are an essential part of relationships. Since sexual activity usually expresses the need for love, desire and being desired, caring, dependency, attachment, holding and intimacy, sexual difficulties are therefore often indicators of challenges in these areas of the relationship.
Sexual dysfunctions are believed to be among the more prevalent psychological disorders in our day. According to a study by the Centre for Sexual Health Research at the University of Southampton, 34% of women and 15% of men who had lived with their romantic partner for at least a year said they lacked interest in sex. Factors affecting this lack of interest – for men and women – included physical or mental health conditions, not feeling close to their partner during sex, issues affecting happiness in their relationship, and not having sex as often as they would like. All these factors can be worked through in psychosexual and relationship therapy.
It is a reality that the media offer glowing images of carefree, sexually active people enjoying each other, but we know that things don’t always appear as they seem when it comes to sex. There should be no shame in celebrating or discussing sex and admitting that one needs help when the need arises.
Although technology, pop culture and social media are accelerating the sense of isolation that people feel and are redefining the way people live their lives, it is however worth seeing a psychosexual therapist if you are struggling in your relationship or in your sex life. Psychosexual and relationship therapy has helped clients over and over again by offering a safe and confidential space to work through you sexual and relationship difficulties. It can also help you take away a better sense of who you are: this can have an enormous and positive effect on mind, attitude, sexual functioning and relationship with yourself and others.