What Is Sex Therapy?

Shot of two young men and a woman having a discussion in a modern office


What Is Sex Therapy?

Sex therapy is a type of psychotherapy that couples can undergo together, or that individuals can seek out on their own. While couples often look into sex therapy because of sexual dysfunction or when some part of their sexual relationship is off, it can also be used as a tool to keep relationships strong and transparent for years to come.

It is typically a form of talk therapy, so couples or individuals can expect to talk about their hesitations or concerns when it comes to physical intimacy.

"Sex therapy is all about feeling good," says Stephen Snyder, MD, a New York City-based sex therapist and the author of Love Worth Making: How to Have Ridiculously Great Sex in a Long-Lasting Relationship, "You can't accomplish anything in sex therapy unless what you're doing is making you feel good."

Types of Sex Therapy

Talk therapy is the primary method of sex therapy. Couples can expect to work on their general communication skills, explain the points of sensitivity that they've discovered in regard to sex in the past, and even expand on their knowledge of sex education.

In one study, therapists who were reporting on their caseloads said that desire discrepancies were the most common issues between couples. This means that one partner wants to have sex more or less often than the other. This can often stem from emotional concerns and even high stress levels, both of which can be addressed during talk therapy.

Sensate focus is a behavioral form of sex therapy that hones in on the details of a couple's relationship, and then has them complete behavioral exercises. This can involve homework assignments that prompt couples to focus on physical interactions that they enjoy without the pressure of penetrative sex.

This type of therapy typically also asks couples to take any sexual acts that might be causing anxiety off the table for a period of time. The goal is to enhance the way the couple experiences intimacy, and to help them build on that by working through any preexisting issues.

Many therapists will combine these types of therapy or work in aspects of both during different sessions.


Snyder sets these three goals as he goes into sessions:  

  1. He works to identify exactly what the person or couple wants to accomplish.
  2. He gets the story in as much detail as possible, of what's actually happening in bed—and in both people's heads.
  3. He works to determine what each partner would consider satisfying and how each person can keep these things in mind during sex.

Snyder explains that there are benefits to meeting both with individuals and couples—with individuals he says he can find out what's going on their head, and with couples he says he gets a more well-rounded idea of what's going on in bed. He likes to do all of the above over the course of a one-hour session.

"It's possible to see a couple for 15 minutes, then see each person alone for 15 minutes, then wrap up with everyone together, confident that I've heard all angles," says Snyder.

This also allows Snyder to get an idea of how the couple interacts with one another, and how or if they change when they're on their own.

What Sex Therapy Can Help With

Sex therapy can help you work through any mental or emotional hurdles that could be keeping you from enjoying sex with your partner. It can also help couples or individuals identify physical and emotional concerns that are keeping them from being able to enjoy or engage in intercourse.

  • As mentioned, this can include helping couples through desire discrepancies, but it can also help with sexual dysfunction. Dysfunctions can include pain during sex, premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, arousal disorders, or desire disorders. Desire and arousal disorders are often tied to underlying psychological concerns, which can be helpful to speak about with the therapist.
  • While many drug companies offer options to help men deal with sexual dysfunctions, studies have shown that many of the root causes of these dysfunctions stem from psychosocial behaviors like substance abuse or depression and anxiety. Sex therapy can help couples or individuals identify underlying behaviors that may be impacting their sex lives.

Benefits of Sex Therapy

Sex therapy can help with a range of relationship issues, however, it can also positively impact the overall mental outlook of those being treated. Here are some benefits that can come from sex therapy:

  • It can improve emotional intimacy between the couple, which can lead to an improved sense of fulfillment and happiness.
  • Having sex at least once a week has been shown to improve overall relationship satisfaction.
  • It can help couples become better communicators, especially when it comes to intimacy and satisfaction.

Things to Consider

If you're planning on doing sex therapy with your partner, it's important to seek out a therapist that is compatible with both of you. This means that you need to be intentional about communicating with your partner after sessions, especially in regard to their reactions to the therapist's personality and methods of treatment.

Both the Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) and the American College of Sexologists allow you to find sex therapists based on your location (with some telehealth options) as well as their specialty.

It's also important to consider logistical concerns like the location of the office, especially if you are going with a partner and you'll both potentially be commuting to the office from different locations.

Finally, don't forget to ask about insurance coverage ahead of time. Some psychotherapists aren't covered by insurance at all, while others can offer sliding scales or accommodations based on your individual situation.

How to Get Started

Once you and your partner have found a potential therapist, here are some things to know going into your first appointment.

  • You'll want to come with as many concrete facts as possible. With sex therapy in particular, it can be easy to become weighed down with emotions when discussing issues. Make sure that you and your partner are prepared to answer questions about frequency, including dates and even times.
  • Make mental notes of how you have felt before, during and after sexual acts and sexual discussions that you've had with your partner.
  • Make sure to tell your therapist if you have identified triggers that make you feel uncomfortable about sex.
  • Snyder notes that sex therapists tend to "get much more detailed in asking about what happens in bed—and in your head," so be prepared to share.
4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kilmann PR. Perspectives of sex therapy outcome: A survey of aasect providers. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy . 12(2):116-138. doi:10.1080/00926238608415400

  2. Vowels, L.M., Mark, K.P. Strategies for Mitigating Sexual Desire Discrepancy in RelationshipsArch Sex Behav 49, 1017–1028 (2020). doi:10.1007/s10508-020-01640-y

  3. McCabe MP. Risk Factors for Sexual Dysfunction Among Women and Men: A Consensus Statement From the Fourth International Consultation on Sexual Medicine 2015. The Journal of Sexual Medicine. 2016;13(2):153-167. doi:10.1016/j.jsxm.2015.12.015

  4. Muise A, Schimmack U, Impett EA. Sexual Frequency Predicts Greater Well-Being, But More is Not Always BetterSage Journals. Published online November 18, 2015. doi:10.1177%2F1948550615616462

By Brittany Loggins
Brittany is a health and lifestyle writer and former staffer at TODAY on NBC and CBS News. She's also contributed to dozens of magazines.