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Stop the Stigma of Sex Therapy

Learning the Importance of Sex Therapy

Over five decades have passed since the renowned sex researchers, William Masters, MD, and Virginia Johnson, initiated groundbreaking studies on sexuality and sexual dysfunction. Their influential work served as the bedrock for contemporary sex therapy, with some of the methods they outlined in the 1960s still finding application today, according to my insights as a licensed psychologist and certified sex therapist,

Jennifer Surch, working at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Reflecting on their contributions, I acknowledge that Masters and Johnson were pioneers in their field.

However, the landscape of society has evolved since the era when miniskirts were considered scandalous and television portrayed couples sleeping in separate beds. Expanding upon the tools articulated by Masters and Johnson, a subsequent generation of researchers has introduced innovative perspectives on sexuality and inventive approaches to addressing sexual challenges such as arousal issues, desire discrepancies, pain during intercourse, and difficulty achieving orgasm.

Even in the present year, 2019, discussions around these topics may evoke discomfort. Nonetheless, as a professional therapist, I emphasize the importance for psychologists to enhance their comprehension of sex therapy for the benefit of their clients. Sexuality is integral to overall mental health, and psychologists, regardless of specialization, bear the responsibility to acquire a fundamental understanding of human sexuality. This viewpoint is shared by clinical psychologist Zoë Peterson, PhD, an associate research scientist at the Kinsey Institute and associate professor of counseling and educational psychology at Indiana University. Dr. Peterson, who served as the editor of the 2017 "Wiley Handbook of Sex Therapy," asserts that while having expertise in sex therapy is valuable, all psychologists should be equipped to offer some guidance on human sexuality to their clients.

Whether sex therapy serves as a focal point in your practice or is addressed briefly, here are noteworthy advancements to monitor.

Be Sensitive - In the February 2019 issue of the Home Monitor on Psychology, the cover story explores the evolution of sex therapy into the 21st century, highlighting five emerging directions in the field. The article, written by Kirsten Weir, focuses on the significant shift brought about by mindfulness-based therapy for sexual issues.

The piece begins by acknowledging the groundbreaking work of sex researchers William Masters, MD, and Virginia Johnson over half a century ago. Their pioneering research laid the foundation for modern sex therapy, with some of their techniques still in use today, according to insights shared by Jennifer Vencill, PhD, a licensed psychologist and certified sex therapist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

The narrative emphasizes the changing times since the era when miniskirts were considered scandalous and television portrayed couples sleeping in separate beds. Building on the foundations laid by Masters and Johnson, a new generation of researchers has identified innovative ways to understand and treat sexual problems, including arousal issues, desire discrepancies, pain during intercourse, and difficulty achieving orgasm.

Despite the evolving landscape, the article emphasizes the relevance of updating psychologists' understanding of sex therapy. Clinical psychologist Zoë Peterson, PhD, an associate research scientist at the Kinsey Institute, stresses that sexuality is an integral part of general mental health. She asserts that all psychologists, regardless of specialization, have a responsibility to possess a basic understanding of human sexuality and provide guidance to their clients in this area.

The cover story outlines five developments in sex therapy that professionals should monitor. The first highlighted development is mindfulness-based interventions. Sex therapists are increasingly recognizing the effectiveness and broad applicability of mindfulness-based sex therapy in addressing various sexual problems, including arousal and desire issues, pain during penetration, lack of orgasm, and sexual problems following medical conditions.

The pioneering work of clinical psychologist Lori Brotto, PhD, Canada Research Chair in Women’s Sexual Health and director of the University of British Columbia Sexual Health Laboratory, is discussed. Brotto introduced mindfulness for sexual dysfunction after encountering mindfulness during her psychology residency and postdoctoral training. Drawing parallels between patients with parasuicidal behaviors and women who had survived gynecologic cancer, Brotto explored whether mindfulness could help individuals feel connected and present during sexual encounters.

The article concludes by encouraging psychologists, whether sex therapy is a core component of their practice or addressed briefly, to stay informed about these emerging directions in the field.

Get a therapy - The debut of Viagra in 1998 marked a significant milestone as the first FDA-approved oral treatment for erectile dysfunction. Despite two decades having passed since its introduction, there remains a substantial emphasis on pharmacological solutions for sexual problems, as pointed out by Cynthia Graham, PhD, a professor of sexual and reproductive health at the University of Southampton in England and the editor of The Journal of Sex Research. Numerous pharmaceutical companies have introduced alternatives to Viagra for men, and in 2015, the FDA granted approval for Addyi (flibanserin), a drug designed to address low sexual desire in premenopausal women.

However, amid the proliferation of pharmaceutical options, psychologists are advocating for a greater focus on psychological interventions, which have consistently proven to be effective.

Respect your partners Perspectives - While the notion that it takes two to tango is not groundbreaking, the majority of studies have traditionally focused on sexual problems at the individual level, particularly in research on interventions for such problems. However, there is a growing shift towards examining the role of partners in the context of sexual dysfunction. Cynthia Graham, PhD, notes that sexual dysfunction is frequently viewed as an individual problem, yet it is often a concern that affects both partners within a relationship.

When one partner experiences sexual dysfunction, it can introduce stress and diminish the pleasure of sexual activities for the other partner. Jennifer Vencill highlights that the impact on sexual desire is unsurprising in such circumstances. A review of the literature conducted for the 2015 International Consultation on Sexual Medicine, led by Lori Brotto and her colleagues, revealed consistent findings indicating that dysfunction in one partner frequently contributes to issues related to sexual satisfaction and functioning for the other partner (The Journal of Sexual Medicine, Vol. 13, No. 4, 2016).


Sex Education can also be a Vital role in Sex Therapy

As the body undergoes physical transformations with age, there is a profound impact on sexuality. Declining hormone levels and alterations in neurological and circulatory functioning may contribute to sexual issues such as erectile dysfunction or vaginal pain.

These physical changes often result in a shift from the intensity of youthful sex to more subdued responses in middle and later life. Nevertheless, the emotional byproducts of maturity, such as increased confidence, improved communication skills, and diminished inhibitions, can contribute to a richer, more nuanced, and ultimately satisfying sexual experience. However, many individuals may not fully realize the potential of later-life sex. Understanding the crucial interplay of physical and emotional elements underlying satisfying sex enables better navigation of problems that may arise.

Addressing sexual problems is now more accessible than ever, with medications and professional sex therapists available if needed. However, minor sexual issues may be resolved by making adjustments to one's lovemaking style. Here are some strategies to consider:

  1. Educate Yourself: Numerous self-help materials are available for various sexual issues. Explore the internet or local bookstores, choose resources that apply to your situation, and use them to become better informed about the problem. If direct communication is challenging, underline passages in materials and share them with your partner.

  2. Give Yourself Time: Recognize that sexual responses slow down with age. Find a quiet, comfortable, interruption-free setting for sex, understanding that the physical changes in your body may necessitate more time for arousal and reaching orgasm.

  3. Use Lubrication: Combat vaginal dryness with lubricating liquids and gels. Addressing this issue can prevent painful sex, which may otherwise lead to a decline in libido and relationship tensions. Consult your doctor if lubricants are no longer effective.

  4. Maintain Physical Affection: Engage in kissing and cuddling, even when tired or upset. These acts are crucial for maintaining an emotional and physical bond.

  5. Practice Touching: Explore sensate focus techniques to re-establish physical intimacy without feeling pressured. Self-help books and educational videos often offer variations of these exercises.

  6. Try Different Positions: Develop a repertoire of sexual positions to add variety and address problems. Experimenting with different positions can enhance stimulation and contribute to overcoming issues.

  7. Write Down Your Fantasies: Explore potential turn-ons by recalling experiences or movies that aroused you. Share these fantasies with your partner, particularly helpful for individuals with low desire.

  8. Do Kegel Exercises: Improve sexual fitness by exercising pelvic floor muscles. Men and women can benefit from these exercises, enhancing sexual health.

  9. Try to Relax: Engage in soothing activities before sex, such as playing a game or enjoying a nice dinner. Incorporate relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises or yoga.

  10. Use a Vibrator: This device can help women understand their sexual response and communicate preferences to their partner.

  11. Don't Give Up: If efforts do not yield results, consult a doctor to identify the cause of sexual problems. A sex therapist may be recommended to explore underlying issues hindering a fulfilling sex life.

By implementing these strategies and maintaining open communication, individuals can enhance their sexual well-being in later life.

I, Jennifer Surch, a seasoned expert in sex therapy with years of experience, I am dedicated to assisting you and your partner in achieving your sexual goals. My expertise in Sex Therapy field aims to not only enhance your individual well-being but also contribute to the overall improvement of your relationship. Your satisfaction and fulfillment are at the forefront of my therapeutic approach, and I am committed to guiding you through a journey that fosters a healthier and more satisfying intimate connection.

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