Almost everyone has heard the term sex therapy but not many of us have thought much about what it really entails. Whenever I recommend sex therapy to a patient as part of a treatment plan, he or she is almost always a little confused and anxious about just what will happen.
The term sex therapy as we know it today derives from the work of William Masters and Virginia Johnson in the 1960s and beyond. Their behavioral techniques, based on education, behavior modification, and learning theory, soon proved superior to the psychotherapeutic approaches that were prevalent back then in the treatment of sexual dysfunctions. Even when the problem is biological in nature, sex therapy combined with medical treatment can be very helpful in treating sexual disorders.
Today, sex therapy denotes a collection of therapeutic techniques which, depending on the nature of the problem, are used in various combinations to achieve the most effective treatment. One technique involves what are called sensate focus exercises to refocus the couple on the basics of giving and receiving pleasure in the sexual relationship and on removing the pressure to perform. This approach is often combined with couples therapy, which addresses any relationship difficulties that may have arisen from or contributed to the sexual problem. Individual treatment sessions can also be integrated into the treatment plan so that each member of the couple is free to discuss any concerns he or she may not wish to share with a partner. If one or both participants also suffer from depression or another psychiatric problem, this is usually addressed separately and is not considered part of sex therapy.
In its modern form, sex therapy can be a flexible and effective approach to sexual problems, whether it is used alone or as an adjunct to other treatments.