Having a healthy sex life can be a sign of a happy, healthy relationship. Could therapy help us to increase our sexual satisfaction?
Sex. It’s not just fun, it brings a whole host of health benefits for us. From the physical (better heart health, improved immune system and sleep) to the emotional (improved self-esteem, decreased levels of depression, anxiety and stress), having a healthy sex life is often a sign of being part of a happy, healthy relationship.
Despite the known benefits of having sex, according to researchers, we’re having less sex – both with our partners and by ourselves. But why is that, and how can we fix things?
Why are we having less sex?
According to one study, possible reasons for our overall declining physical sexual activity include: a rise in digital sexual activities (watching, reading and listening to pornography; sexting); our increased openness about discussing sex, consent, number and frequency of partners (which researchers believe may have previously been exaggerated); our increased time spent on social media and video games; and a decline in romantic relationships.
Is there something wrong with my sex life?
It’s important to remember that not everyone has the same sex drive! What we want from a sexual or romantic relationship can vary greatly from person to person, and it’s not fixed throughout our lives. It’s completely possible to have a fulfilling relationship without having sex, as well as to enjoy masturbation more than other forms of sex. It’s only a problem if some part of your sex life is causing you to feel unfulfilled, unhappy, or is otherwise negatively impacting you and/or your partner.
Common intimacy and sex-related problems (also known as sexual dysfunctions) can also include:
- Feeling pressured to have sex or experiment (risking feelings of stress, anxiety, upset, and resentment).
- Physical problems during or after sex (pain, guilt, anxiety, or loneliness).
- Age-related issues and/or concerns (lower arousal levels, increased climax time, loss of libido, decreasing natural lubrication, lower self-confidence due to physical body changes).
- Hypersexuality or sex addiction (you feel like you can’t stop or resist certain sexual activities or related actions, including accessing porn, masturbating, or cybersex, which may lead to feelings of isolation, regret, powerlessness, anxiety, or shame).
- Difficulty orgasming or achieving climax.
- Erectile dysfunction.
In this video, clinical and chartered psychologist Dr Robert O’Flaherty explains more about common sex problems and how therapy can help.
If you’re worried that there may be a physical problem, it’s important to speak with your GP to rule out other potential issues. It’s important to speak up and seek help if you are worried about your sex life or any specific sex problems. When we keep these worries bottled up, it can lead to ongoing feelings of disappointment, resentment, and guilt. Over time, it may cause arguments, and you or your partner may start to feel dissatisfied, worry that you are drifting apart, or even feel taken for granted.
So, how can working with a therapist help?
What is sex therapy?
Also known as psychosexual therapy, sex therapy is a type of counselling that can help you to work on and improve your intimacy with your partner, as well as to manage any sexual difficulties you may be experiencing. Providing a safe, judgement-free space with a qualified, experienced therapist, sex therapy can give you and your partner a neutral place to discuss your worries, concerns, and fears together. Some people may find it helpful to work with a psychosexual therapist by themselves, to overcome feelings of embarrassment, shame, or fear stemming from talking about sex or sex-related issues.
What can sex therapy help with?
Working with a sex therapist can help you with a wide variety of issues, including a lack of sexual desire, ejaculation and climax problems, as well as experiencing pain during sex. As sex problems can often be affected by other issues, including relationship problems and communication issues, a sex therapist may also encourage exploring other areas.
It’s important to remember that there are many different types of therapy available, which can help with a wide variety of different sex and relationship-related issues and concerns. There’s no right or wrong approach to try, and you don’t have to stick with the first professional you speak with. If you don’t feel comfortable with a type of therapy or a therapist, it’s OK to switch things up and work with someone else. It’s all about finding the right solution for you and your relationship.
A sex therapist can help guide you, but isn’t there to take sides. It’s also worth noting that sex therapists aren’t there to give hands-on demonstrations.
What kind of therapy can help with my sex life?
Other types of therapy that may be able to help you focus on ways to improve your romantic relationship(s), increase intimacy, and focus on overcoming sexual problems can include:
Couples and relationship therapy - couples counselling, also known as relationship therapy or marriage counselling, can help you to resolve issues within an intimate relationship through using talk therapy. Often accompanied by homework between sessions, couples therapy works best when you attend together.
A couples therapist is there to help facilitate change, guide you towards better, more effective communication, and help you to work out any problems or issues you are having together with your partner.
Sex addiction therapy - if you’re worried that you may be experiencing a form of sexual addiction (where compulsive sexual thoughts and/or acts negatively impact your life or relationship), working with a hypersexuality or sex addiction therapist can help. This could include working one-on-one with a counsellor or psychotherapist, trying cognitive behavioural therapy, or attending group therapy.
Find out more about the types of therapy that can help with sex addiction.
Psychosexual therapy - a psychosexual therapist is specifically trained to talk about sex, as well as to explore and help people overcome sexual dysfunctions. Knowledgeable about a wider range of sexual issues, psychosexual therapists can often help individuals or couples, of any age, gender, or sexuality.
Kink-aware therapy - working with a kink-aware therapist or BDSM-aware counsellor can be particularly beneficial for anyone in a more non-traditional relationship (non-monogamous, polyamorous) or relationship dynamics.
Speaking with a kink-aware counsellor may help you to feel more comfortable opening up about kinks, fetishes, experiences, or desires you may have that you haven’t previously felt able to open up to your partner about. It can also provide the space to better understand and accept your own desires, discuss worries or issues around these, and work through feelings of shame towards self-acceptance. If you are part of the kink community, working with a kink-aware therapist can also help you to talk about other, unrelated issues without worrying about explaining the context of your relationship.
How do you know if you need sex therapy?
There can be a number of different signs that working with a sex therapist could benefit you and your partner. If you’re worried that your overall emotional health and wellbeing are being negatively impacted, that your communication with your partner has or is breaking down, or that your sex life is negatively affecting your relationship, it can be a sign it’s time to talk with someone.
If you are experiencing issues around a lack of sexual desire, pain during or after sex, or trouble or inability to orgasm and your GP has ruled out any other medical issues, working with a therapist (by yourself or with your partner) may help.
You don’t have to wait until you’re experiencing a specific problem to try therapy – including sex therapy. Working with a sex therapist can help anyone who wants to improve their relationship or sexual experiences, both couples and individuals.
Working with a therapist can help you to improve your self-confidence, learn new, better ways of communicating with others, and feel more comfortable talking about issues, worries, or problems that you may struggle with right now.