At the Center for Intimacy Recovery we affirm the World Health Organization’s definition of sexual health as, “A state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being related to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences…”
What is Sex Therapy?
Sex therapy is centered on the different sexual issues that may cause problems in our lives and relationships. What makes sex therapy unique is that it is focused on these issues and that the sex therapist or sex coach has received training with this specific focus.
People seek sex therapy for a variety of reasons such as:
Improving their sex life
Addressing issues that are causing sexual distress, disorder and disfunction
Learning how to enhance the pleasure in their sex life
Understanding the impact of their sexual lives on their mental health
Most people experience some form of difficulties in their sexual lives and often don’t seek professional help because of shame, embarrasment or not knowing where to turn. Sex therapists and coaches provide a safe, positive, and supportive environment for people to seek assistance and to better understand the issues in their sex lives. There is no judgment or agenda other than helping the client.
There is no physical contact between you and the therapist or coach. There is nothing unique to sex therapy, except the topics we address and the specialized training your therapist has to address those issues.
There are times when sex therapy is done as individual therapy and other times as couples therapy. Additionally, people may seek sex therapy when they are in a relationship as well as when they are single.
While sex is certainly not the ONLY form of intimacy, it is one area of intimacy that is given special focus and sensitivity at the Center for Intimacy Recovery. Our staff are trained to help you explore the issues that may be impacting your sex life. We also work in collaboration with doctors, pelvic floor physical therapists, and other providers when needed to create a supportive medical team to work on the physiological aspect.
What Does Sex Therapy Treat?
Some of the commonly sex therapy treated issues include at The Center for Intimacy Recovery include:
Difficulties experiencing orgasm for women
Erectile dysfunction such as difficulty in getting or maintaining an erection, difficulty in ejaculating, premature ejaculation,
Diminished or lack of sexual desire
Fear towards sex due to previous trauma
Stress and/or anxiety regarding sex
Discrepant desire (each partner has a different level of sexual desire)
Pelvic, Vaginal and Penetrative pain (GPPPD)
Navigating Ethical/Consensual Non-Monogamy, Polyamorous Singles and Couples
Kink/BDSM (Lifestyle) interest
Sexuality Challenges due to Infertility/IUI/IVF/Hormone Treatment
Peri-menopausal, menopausal and post-menopausal challenges
Our Approach: The Six Principles of Sexual Health
At the Center for Intimacy Recovery we are a sex positive practice and affirm the World Health Organization’s definition of sexual health as, “A state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being related to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences…”
At The Center for Intimacy Recovery we also work in the framework of the six principles of sexual health based on the work of Doug Braun-Harvey.
Sexual health requires sex to be consensual. This is the most universal sexual health principle on the planet. Consent means “voluntary cooperation” (Wertheimer, 2003, p. 124) and communicates permission to try and reach sexual satisfaction and intimacy with willing partners. The age of consent varies by country, and in the U.S. varies by state. Non-consent forces children and adults into sexual experiences that are not desired or wanted. This sexual health principle is most commonly violated in the victim’s home in circumstances of child sexual abuse, sexual assault, and rape.
Consent transforms the act of sex from an invasion, intrusion or violation into an act of transformation. Establishing consent throughout each step of a sexual interaction provides each sexual partner space for sexual safety and pleasure that is consistent with their sexual desires. When consent is given, one is saying, “I want this experience to have an effect on me, to change me, to give me something that I desire, and I want you to provide it for me.”
Sexual health requires sex to be non-exploitative. Exploitation is when a person leverages their power and control to receive sexual gratification. The cruel brutality of exploitation compromises a person’s ability to consent to sex. Exploitative sex unfairly makes use of someone for sex. People under the oppressive influence of exploitation may be faced with placing themselves in more danger if they chose to say no to sex. Exploitative sex is ruthless and insensitive to the feelings of a partner and family members. Exploitation encompasses unwanted harsh or cruel domination or taking advantage of a person who is mentally incapable to use their cognitive and emotional capacities to give or not give consent. Intoxication is often used as an excuse to be exploitative. Money, drugs, clothing, shelter, or love are often situations in which a person will use coercion to gain access to sex.
Members of a couple will each bring their individual sexual histories of both exploiter and exploited. The most common form of sexual exploitation that motivates people to seek out marriage and family therapy is when one or both partners unilaterally changes the couples’ sexual agreement. (usually called an affair, cheating, stepping out, or betrayal). The exploitation is the cover-up, the denial, the pretending this did not happen and exploiting their partner’s trust. Emotional affairs and cheating are common reasons for couples to seek out a marriage and family therapist.
Sexual health requires open and direct communication with oneself and every sexual partner. Honesty with oneself involves being open to sexual pleasure, sexual experience, and sexual education. Without honesty, sexual relationships will not be able to have effective communication or be able to uphold any of the sexual health principles. Honesty encompasses sexual health conversations about gender and/or sexual relationship diversity. Each person has the responsibility to determine their own standards of honesty about sex and sexuality as it relates to their partners, medical providers, community, and themselves.
A sexual health conversation tip: when you’re surprised by a sudden question about a sexual matter from a child or teen, you can give yourself a few extra seconds to compose yourself by taking a deep breath and first thanking them for their honesty and asking a question about sex. They will remember that some adults welcome their honesty, a lesson that they might benefit from throughout their life.
4. Shared Values
The day after a dolphin has sex, they don’t spend the next day talking with their fellow dolphins about whether it was “too soon.” Humans do. Children, teens, and adults of all ages think about their values and how they relate to experimenting with sexual activity, entering sexual relationships, or facing gender and sexual relationship diversity.
Too often the caring adult’s discomfort or conflicted values about child and adolescent sexual questions leaves youth without important sexual health conversations that help them build a sexual values system of their own. One of the most universal areas of sexual value conflict is the sexual debut (usually called losing one’s virginity). There is no universal cultural agreement about the circumstances upon which a person should first experience sexual intercourse.
Throughout the lifespan, sexual values play an important role in motivations for sex. Specific sexual acts or turn-ons may have very different meanings for each partner. Values are a source of identifying one’s sexual standards and ethics. Values differences, when honestly and vulnerably shared between partners, can lead to closeness or painful distance. Either way, it is a conversation that brings reality and clarity where couples may have previously chosen avoidance and deception.
5. Protected from STI, HIV, and Unwanted Pregnancy
This sexual heath principle addresses the need for anyone engaged in sexual activity to implement a contraception plan, prevent acquiring a sexually transmitted infection and take precautions to prevent transmission of HIV. Access to tests that identify the presence of a sexually transmitted infection and proper medical attention to address any infections is essential for sexual health. Scientific and medically accurate information regarding how to prevent pregnancy requires access to a range of contraception methods. Latex condoms, medical adherence to HIV medications, and taking PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) are essential ingredients for protecting ourselves and others from HIV infection. This is a time of increasingly reliable and effective forms of contraception as well as HIV prevention. Lack of medically accurate information about these excellent sexual health protection resources is a much larger problem. For example, less than 20 U.S. states require that the sexual education provided by federal and state funding be medically accurate. This means that even when a child or teen is fortunate enough to have school based sex education, chances are the content of the class is not supported by sexual science unless the state has laws ensuring this sexual right.
Pleasure is a primary motivation for solo-sexual activity (masturbation) and the giving and receiving between sexual partners. What gives us sexual pleasure is often a source of conflict when our pleasure conflicts with other aspects of our overall private and public identity. A married cisgendered heterosexual identified woman may find peak sexual pleasure dominating a submissive trans man that she has no emotional connection with other than the immediate moment of power exchange and erotic exploration. Too often judgments about the lack of congruence between what we are expected to find pleasurable competes with the erotic demands of our most hungry sexual desires.
Pleasure is a primary motivation for solo-sexual activity (masturbation) and partnered sex. Adolescents interested in experiencing their bodies sexual pleasure either alone or with another person challenges many adults who love and care for teens. Engaging in conversation, education or accurate information with teens about sexual pleasure is typically avoided. When caregivers do have a conversation it too often emphasizes the adult’s values and judgments about teens and sexual pleasure. (i.e. they’re too young to truly understand how to feel pleasure, or they’re not ready to have sex at all, they should wait until they are older, or they should never masturbate). Throughout all stages of life from pre-teen to the final years of life, sexual health is the art of balancing one’s sexual safety and responsibility with the lifelong curiosity of pleasure, exploring sexual interests and remaining curious about the ever-changing sources of sexual pleasure.
- Braun-Harvey, D. (2020). The Six Principles of Sexual Health. Retrieved June 20, 2020, from https://www.theharveyinstitute.com/six-principles-of-sexual-health