Sex therapy can be incredibly useful in improving the sex lives of patients when medical interventions fail or do not exist. Similarly, sex therapy can be a great complement to ongoing medical treatments.
It’s important to better understand sex therapy when referring patients out so that you refer your patients to the right place. This guide can serve as a valuable reference.
What is Sex Therapy?
For many people, physicians included, sex therapy is a bit of a mystery. But as with other types of therapy, sex therapy is part of a holistic approach to health and wellness.
Sex therapy is a form of counselling intended to help individuals and couples address and resolve various sexual difficulties or concerns. Most sex therapists have graduate-level education and clinical experience as psychologists, social workers, psychotherapists, or even nurse psychotherapists.
How Sex Therapy Works
Sex therapy is actually a talk therapy treatment that helps individuals and/or couples work through common issues related to sex to create a more balanced and healthier sex life.
By examining emotional, psychological, and physical factors, sex therapy taps into the depths of desire, breathes life into stagnant relationships, and sets the stage for a passionate and fulfilling journey of self-discovery and pleasure.
Common techniques used in therapy sessions include talk therapy, sex education, exercises, and mindfulness. And, unlike the common stereotype, professional sex therapists never have any kind of sexual contact with their clients.
By supporting patients in exploring physical and medical interventions in conjunction with sex therapy, physicians can improve outcomes, potentially reducing complaints and repeat visits.
Reasons to Refer Patients to Sex Therapy
There are numerous reasons why a physician may refer someone to sex therapy.
Medical professionals should be aware of these reasons so that they are prepared to support patients and direct them to the best available resources as warranted.
Sexless Relationships, Low Libido, or Desire Discrepancies
Sexless relationships and low libido come about for several reasons, many of which are not biological factors. Stress, parenting, depression/anxiety, physical ailments, trauma, erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, and pain with penetration can be part of why patients are experiencing a sexless relationship or low libido.
However, mental health can certainly play a role. Additionally, desire discrepancies are a common reason for seeing a sex therapist. Talking to a professional sex therapist can address these challenges.
Erectile Dysfunction (ED)
Erectile dysfunction, or ED, may be commonly experienced by many.
ED can disrupt the sense of self, emotional well-being, and relationships. But it does not have to be something individuals simply live with.
By better understanding the condition, including body, mind, and behaviours, patients can get to the heart of what may have caused ED, address these root causes, and return to the happy and healthy sex life they deserve.
Premature or Delayed Ejaculation
Navigating the challenges of premature ejaculation requires a comprehensive approach that considers both the physical and emotional aspects of intimacy.
Sex therapy is a resourceful avenue that offers a safe and professional space for both partners to explore and resolve the challenges in their relationship related to premature ejaculation.
Painful sex is an issue that profoundly affects the lives of countless couples and individuals (including approximately 15% of women!). There are many complexities surrounding this issue, and the challenges, discomfort, and distress presented by painful sex should not be ignored.
Painful sex can be caused by a number of factors, such as medical conditions (e.g., infections, endometriosis, hormonal changes), psychological factors (e.g., anxiety, past trauma), pelvic floor dysfunction (e.g., dyspareunia), central sensitization of the nervous system (e.g., provoked vestibulodynia), inadequate lubrication, and relationship issues, among others.
Seeking help from a therapist specializing in sex therapy and couples counselling can be immensely beneficial. A therapist can provide a safe and judgement-free space for patients to explore the underlying causes of their pain and work towards finding effective solutions.
Sexual trauma, whether recent or in the distant past, can create difficulties for individuals in their intimate relationships.
Individuals with unhealed or unaddressed sexual trauma can manifest a host of medical conditions or concerns, like addictions, eating disorders, sexual dysfunction, insomnia, and anxiety. While some of these conditions have effective medical interventions, it would be useful to seek support and guidance from a therapist with a specialized background in trauma.
Sexual Orientation or Identity Concerns
Sexual orientation and gender expression or identity lie at the heart of all human experiences.
Fortunately, sexual orientation therapy and/or gender-affirming counselling can help patients navigate complicated feelings, difficulties in family or personal relationships, and conflicts that arise based on culture or ethnicity.
Kink, Sexual Fetishes, or Fantasies
Fetish therapy can be a great way to help individuals overcome feelings of confusion, embarrassment, or uncertainty and feel at home with their sexual interests.
Kink refers to ‘non-conventional’ sexual practices or fantasies. While a fetish is a sexual response to an object or body part that isn’t typically considered sexual.
If patients have expressed difficulties expressing these interests or want strategies for supporting a partner’s expression, sex therapy can help.
Chronic Illness and Cancers
Individuals that experience chronic illness or are in treatment for/recovered from certain types of cancer (like prostate cancer) may find their typical sexual interactions and preferences difficult or impossible. As one example, 90% of men who undergo treatment for prostate cancer will experience some form of sexual dysfunction afterwards; and given that 1 in 8 Canadian men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime, this is a huge proportion of the population in need of help from a sex therapist!
Sex therapy can help patients understand their new physical reality while enabling them to uncover new and different ways to experience sexual intimacy.
Chronic illnesses, pain, and cancer can be emotionally debilitating on their own; sexual complications only make things worse.
Sex therapy can give patients the opportunity and support they need to talk about their feelings and how circumstances have changed, promoting a healthier outlook and improving their sense of self and partnerships.
Sudden Onset of Sexual Problems with No Clear Explanation
While patients may feel alone, it is not unusual to experience a sudden onset of sexual symptoms or intimacy issues.
A sudden loss of libido, the inability to orgasm, painful sex, and more could be a sign of a medical issue, but it could also indicate something else brewing beneath the surface.
By seeking sex therapy, patients can better understand what may be happening and gain insight into their sexual, mental, and emotional health. This understanding can help individuals improve their intimate relationships and set themselves up for fulfilling connections and gratifying experiences, long term
Benefits of Sex Therapy That Physicians Should Know About
Most physicians are trained to consider medical interventions and treatments first and foremost. With a sex therapy partnership, physicians can help their patients reach a happier and healthier outcome.
Sex Therapy Clinics Provide Continuing Medical Education
Sex therapy clinics, like The Tri Health Clinic, can provide continuing medical education about sex-related concerns so that physicians can continue to provide a high standard of care to their patients.
Better Patient Outcomes
Often, conditions like painful sex, erectile dysfunction, and premature ejaculation have a psychological component. Failure to address this aspect and any underlying physical conditions can result in a failed intervention.
Improved Patient Confidence and Self-Acceptance
Sex therapy opens the door to authentic conversations and exploration of one’s thoughts, feelings, and attitudes toward sex, sexuality, and their bodies.
These open and honest conversations can improve patients’ understanding of themselves and boost confidence and self-acceptance.
This healing and transformative process can improve the physician’s practice as well. Confident and happy patients are more likely to embrace a healthier lifestyle or be more receptive to interventions that will further improve their circumstances.
How to Refer Your Patient to a Reputable Sex Therapist
Specializations Sex Therapists Focus On
Depending on a patient’s needs, a physician should look for a clinic with a specialty or focus on a particular area of concern. Just as physicians can be specialists, so too can therapists.
For example, if erectile dysfunction is the primary concern, a clinic with an extensive background in this area would be best.
In other cases, a female provider may be best. Consider the patient and what may be most impactful for them.
Mental Health and Sex
Sex therapy acknowledges the interplay between physical and emotional well-being, allowing physicians to holistically address their patients’ needs.
As mentioned before, sexual concerns may have a foundation in a physical or medical issue, but for many, medical interventions are not enough. Things like anxiety, depression, stress, and low self-esteem can exacerbate some of these problems. Patients may see more lasting and satisfying improvements by addressing these psychological elements.
How to Find a Sex Therapist in Ontario
Finding the right sex therapist for patient referrals may be challenging. Many qualified sex therapists in Ontario provide both in-person and remote care. Reviewing their credentials and ensuring they have the services your patients need is important.
At The Tri Health Clinic, we aim to provide a safe, non-judgmental space for clients to explore their concerns with sex and intimacy openly.
We use a variety of techniques and strategies to help couples and individuals navigate what can be awkward and uncomfortable conversations.
We believe that sex therapy is an ideal way to support overall patient health. It can help get to the psychological root of a particular concern, and it can help individuals who are trying to navigate complex issues like gender identity or sexual orientation, sex with chronic illness, or relationship issues that have limited intimate connections.
Sex therapy empowers people and can improve not just mental health but overall health outcomes.
Contact us to learn more about the services we provide and how we can help your patients resolve their concerns and live happier and healthier lives.