The Psychology Of Sex: Therapy Gets Even More Personal

By ReGain Editorial Team|Updated July 12, 2022

You may feel like you tell your therapist everything, but there’s a topic many of us tend to avoid. While unpacking your thoughts and emotions, how often do you talk to your therapist about your sex life? Most likely, your response is the sound of silence as you try to think back to the last time you mentioned it even in passing. Maybe your therapist has even chosen to avoid or ignore this topic.

Studies show that over 30% of women and almost 50% of men consider sex an important part of their lives. And your mental health, as well as your sex life, can be greatly benefited when you decide to discuss this in a session. Unfortunately, many antidepressants are known to suppress sexual desire and orgasm. So, it might not surprise you to learn that people living with depression and other mental health diagnoses can find relationships and communication challenging.

There is a psychology of sex—it is a physiological drive that meets the psychological need for connection. Therefore, it stands to reason that if you avoid this topic with your therapist, wherever your sex life falls on the spectrum from lackluster to outstanding, you are leaving out a broad topic in your psychological wellbeing and sexual health.

But What Do I Talk About?

Discuss Intimacy And Other Concerns In Online Therapy
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Most likely, the most significant hurdle you’ll have once you decide to speak with your therapist about sex is how to jump into this conversation after many sessions of artfully avoiding it. First, identify whether you have a problem in your sex life, or if everything is going well.

Here a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Am I sexually satisfied?
  • Am I happy with the frequency of sex in my life?
  • Are my partner and I sexually compatible?
  • Do I feel respected in my sex life?
  • Do I want to or need to process a past sexual trauma?
  • Do I have difficulty climaxing?
  • Do I experience pain during intercourse?
  • Has my libido increased or decreased recently?

If you answered no to any of the first four questions or yes to any of the last four, you may have plenty to discuss with your therapist. But even if your answers are reversed, you can still have a conversation about sex. Your therapist should know where in your life you are functioning well and the areas in which you might not be thriving. A fulfilling sex life can help you balance out your wellbeing, stabilize your emotions, and process hard times. At the same time, a dissatisfying sex life may not only be negative in itself but might also be a symptom of a greater problem.

Sexual Desire And Sex Differences As Social Constructs

If you find yourself in a relationship with a mismatched desire for sex, it may surprise you to find this might be purely a product of social grooming. In some cultures, gender norms might be strongly enforced when it comes to sexual activity. For example, women have often been conditioned to feel ashamed of desiring sex. And many men feel pressure from society to be very sexually active. These norms might result in some women leaning into sex for connection, and men leaning into sex for confidence and self-esteem.

This sexual psychology disconnect means that partners often find themselves not meeting one another’s needs, with sex lives that fall short even if the sex is frequent and sexual desire is on overdrive. The fact is that human sexuality is complex, and it isn’t always biological; sometimes, it’s a construct. If you feel too distant, or you feel like your partner isn’t enjoying you, and communication between the two of you isn’t bridging the gap, your therapist or a certified sex therapist can help reconcile these differences. Your sex life, your mental health, and your therapy may be significantly improved.

Sexual Arousal As A Science

Throughout history, most sex studies have focused on men. But today, psychology is becoming more equanimous, and we are beginning to understand more about female arousal. Male arousal is typically more observable than that of women, and in addition women’s sexual desires have been considered taboo historically in certain cultures. All of these factors combined can make discussing sexual arousal a complicated issue.

Some studies also suggest that men are more aware of physiological signals of sexual arousal—such as increased heart rate and respiration, increased skin temperature, and conductivity—than women. This may be due to the fact that, again, due to the psychology and biology of sex, women don’t show as many obvious visual indicators as men that they are aroused.

These differences may cause sexual performance problems in a relationship or in a person who struggles with effective communication. It may be possible that women verbalize their desires while men act on theirs after intuiting sexual desire, which may or may not actually be present. It stands to reason this can create mixed signals and communication issues in a relationship—which sex therapy can help.

What Happens In Sex Therapy?

Any sex therapist can tell you that they get many raised eyebrows when they tell someone what they do. A sex therapist can be a psychologist, a marriage and family therapist, a social worker, or a psychiatrist. In fact, just speaking with your regular therapist can help, and you may not necessarily need to look for a specialist, as it is becoming more typical for therapists to be well-versed in universal aspects of being human, such as sexuality.

However, a sex therapist is trained in therapy methods beyond those practiced by professionals who don’t specialize in the psychology of sex. In most cases, sex therapy is a form of talk therapy. Its goal is to address factors impacting sexual satisfaction, whether psychological, interpersonal, or medical.

This can include topics that affect almost everyone at some point, such as erectile dysfunction, low libido, premature ejaculation, and sexual disorders that are somewhat common. But some people and couples need to work through something that can seem deeper. Low libido, for example, may actually be a sexual desire disorder, which can be useful to know so that a partner doesn’t feel unwanted. A therapist can also address partner infidelity and distrust, unwanted sexual fetishes or mismatched sexual interests, sex addiction, or concerning sexual thoughts and shame. If a client believes there is a sexual problem in a relationship or within themselves, a therapist can help.

Your Own Therapist, A Couples Therapist, Or A Sex Therapist?

Are you open to speaking more with a therapist about your sex life, but unsure about who to talk to? If you’re already seeing a therapist, it will likely be best to start there. If they feel that your issue is something more serious than they may be qualified for, such as sex addiction or sexual desire disorder, they may suggest you see a sex therapist.

Mismatched sexual desire or communication problems can be referred to a couples therapist or a sex therapist, depending on the situation. Sexual health concerns necessitating medical care can be referred to a medical doctor. And with online therapy platforms like ReGain, you have even more options for specifically what you need.

Discuss Intimacy And Other Concerns In Online Therapy

If you haven’t started therapy yet, but you’re considering it, the licensed mental health professionals at ReGain can help you work through any concerns and successes in your sex life (and all other aspects of your life). With ReGain, you can connect with a therapist alone or with your partner to discuss topics related to sex, communication, and your relationship. You’ll have the opportunity to participate in therapy from the comfort of home, or wherever you have an internet connection. Online therapy provides you with secure and private access to the support and advice you need as you navigate life’s challenges.

What Isn’t Considered A Sexual Concern?

Perhaps when considering whom to consult, you aren’t sure whether you actually have a concern that relates to sex. The psychology of sex isn’t dissimilar to other psychological themes. If it causes you anxiety or stress, you should consider discussing it with a therapist who can help you resolve your negative thought patterns.

If you are concerned that you may have a sex addiction that is affecting your life or relationship in some way, a sex therapist can help. Sexual health concerns can be addressed with the assistance of a medical doctor, but the emotions that can accompany them are often treated in therapy.

Talking to a therapist about sex doesn’t have to be taboo. The world is changing and evolving—what was maybe once considered a topic to not speak about is now welcomed openly and vulnerably in the mental health community. If you find a sex therapist, you should feel free to discuss consensual sexual fetishes, desires, and other topics you might feel initially nervous disclosing. And a truly good sex therapist will understand how past sexual traumas, phobias, and toxic relationships play a role in who you are and what you need today.

There is a promising outlook on the role of past sexual traumas in future relationships. Studies tell us that people with past sexual trauma can still lead healthy sex lives. This is all the more reason to share thoughts, positive or negative, about your present sex life with your therapist, as well as to share any past traumas. This information can help your therapist understand what tools you may need and what support to provide.

Maybe you have shared almost everything about yourself with your therapist. They know things about you that you might hesitate to share with others. But therapists and their clients alike report that sex is one subject that tends to be avoided, even in the modern psychology world. And if you feel quite satisfied with your sex life? The psychology of sex isn’t so different than the other aspects of your life. So don’t hold back on sharing the areas of your life that are going well with your therapist, especially when it comes to sex.

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