Sex Therapist

A sex therapist is a licensed professional who can help with the mental or emotional aspects of sex-related issues. They have a thorough understanding of human sexuality and use psychotherapy (talk therapy) to help you work through sexual issues. Sex therapists work with individuals and romantic/sexual partners.


What is a sex therapist?

A sex therapist is a licensed healthcare provider who helps you address any emotional or mental roadblocks that are causing or are related to sexual issues. A sex therapist could be a social worker, medical doctor or psychologist, but they must have specialized training in sexual health and sexual problems.

A sex therapist can work with individuals or partners to help them resolve sexual difficulties, such as performance anxiety or intimacy issues.


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What does a sex therapist do?

Sex therapists can help treat many kinds of sexual dysfunction that have psychological causes or impacts. They can also help with life and relationship issues related to sex. Therapists do this in a supportive, nonjudgmental, inclusive and safe environment.

It’s important to know that sex therapists don’t treat physical or medical conditions that affect sex, such as low testosterone, for example. You may need to see a primary healthcare provider, gynecologist or urologist for any sexual function issues first to see if there are any underlying physical causes.

Sex therapists use an assortment of evidence-based treatments to help people improve their sex lives. Most often, they use psychotherapy (commonly known as talk therapy), which involves building a talking relationship to establish and assess your feelings, thoughts and behaviors. Types of psychotherapy for sex therapy may include:

Sex therapists prioritize confidentiality and maintaining your privacy. In fact, it’s a part of their professional code of ethics. Therapists who violate patient confidentiality risk losing their ability to practice therapy in the future.

What can you see a sex therapist for?

Sexual activity (including intercourse, outercourse and masturbation) is a complex experience that involves emotional, mental and physical components. If you want and desire sex, sexual function is an important contributor to your quality of life. It’s associated with physical and mental well-being and relationship satisfaction.

Healthcare providers and sex educators break sexual activity down into four phases known as the sexual response cycle:

  1. Desire (libido).
  2. Arousal (excitement).
  3. Orgasm.
  4. Resolution.

Sexual issues can arise at any point during this cycle. Knowing how you respond mentally and physically during each phase can improve your sexual experience and help you pinpoint causes of sexual dysfunction.

A sex therapist can help with the mental and emotional aspects of various forms of sexual dysfunction, including:

Sex therapists can also help you work through challenges such as:

  • Sex education and correcting miseducation.
  • Sexual trauma.
  • Feelings of anxiety, fear or shame related to sex.
  • Issues related to gender identity and/or sexual orientation.
  • Issues around cultural, religious and societal views of sex.
  • Improving communication about sex and intimacy between you and your partner(s).
  • Mismatched sexual desire between partners.
  • Relationship issues stemming from sexual difficulties.
  • Poor body image and its relation to sex.
  • Coping with and living with sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  • Hypersexual disorder (sex addiction).
  • Pornography addiction.


What happens during a sex therapy session?

During sessions, you and your sex therapist will work together to identify and change thoughts and behaviors that are interfering with your sexual life. You may see your therapist by yourself or with your romantic or sexual partner(s).

Your therapist may ask you questions about your:

  • Health and sexual background.
  • Sex education.
  • Beliefs about sex.
  • Specific sexual concerns.

Talking about sex can be awkward or uncomfortable. Sex therapists recognize this and do their best to make you feel comfortable. As conversation is the main part of psychotherapy, you need to be actively involved in the therapy. The trust and relationship between you and your therapist are essential to working together effectively and benefiting from the therapy.

Your sex therapists may assign homework — activities and exercises that you do in the privacy of your home. This may involve experimentation, such as role playing, or exercises to build trust and intimacy — whether with yourself or with your partner(s).

It’s important to know that sex therapy sessions don’t involve any physical contact or sexual activity between you and your therapist. If you feel uncomfortable with any aspect of therapy, you should tell your therapist or stop seeing them and file a complaint.

What is the difference between a sex therapist and a sex counselor?

Both sex therapists and sex counselors must be certified through the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT). They both have extensive training in human sexuality.

The difference is in how the two experts address sexual concerns. Sex therapists use psychotherapy (talk therapy) to help people with sexual issues — whether they’re simple or more complex. Sex counselors take more of an action-based approach by offering education and techniques to address short-term problems.


Additional Common Questions

How do you become a sex therapist?

To become a sex therapist, you must complete/obtain:

  • Undergraduate education at a college or university, resulting in a Bachelor’s degree.
  • Master’s degree, in addition to two years of post-degree clinical experience OR a Doctoral degree in addition to one year of post-degree clinical experience. The advanced clinical degree must include psychotherapy training, and you must complete at least 90 hours of academic coursework in sexuality education.
  • Associate license in the state in which you’ll be practicing sex therapy.

How long does it take to become a sex therapist?

It usually takes at least nine years to become a certified sex therapist. This includes undergraduate education, an advanced clinical degree and clinical experience.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Talking about sex or sexual issues can be difficult. Know that a sex therapist can help you better understand and work through sex-related roadblocks that are preventing you from living a full and healthy life. They’re experts in their field and have up-to-date knowledge on research and therapy strategies that can help you.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 12/12/2022.

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