Sex therapy, like sex itself, can be clouded in stigma. But as two local therapists see it, it doesn’t have to be that way.
“I think sex therapy can be a lot of different things. It is really an umbrella term for any type of therapy that’s addressing some kind of sexual difficulty or some kind of sexual dysfunction,” said Dr. Miranda Fudge, a sex therapist at Lesley Hartman & Associates.
“There are lots of different strategies that it involves, but for the most part, we’re working … to help people get an understanding of all the different types of factors that may be contributing to their concern and then we come up with a plan to address them.”
Fudge, along with her colleague Dr. Kate Rancourt, presented a workshop on the topic at Venus Envy this month. Through the workshop, ‘Getting Real About Getting It On,’ the therapists aimed to alleviate stigma, along with educating the public about sex and busting some of the myths associated with it.
According to Rancourt, sex therapy is not unlike general couple’s therapy. Sex therapy can address sex-related concerns in a relationship, which can relate back to relational issues or emotions. But it also deals with more than that. Although sex therapy often does involve with couples, it can also occur when an individual comes in with sexual difficulties – whether that is in the context of dating or a relationship.
“If I’m doing couples therapy, we’re focusing on issues that relate to a couple’s sense of connection or ability to be vulnerable and intimate with one another and particularly manifests around the ways that they’re communicating around difficult topics,” said Rancourt. “When an individual comes in with sexual difficulties … some of our strategies, in that case, are to determine whether it is in the context of a physical concern or emotionally not being able to effectively communicate with your partner – relationship or otherwise – about sexual or non-sexual issues.”
As with any form of therapy, both therapists agree that prospective patients should seek out someone they feel comfortable with. The patient should also ensure that the therapist they are seeing has expertise and experience when it comes to working around sexual issues.
“The beginning of sex therapy includes setting out what the person wants to accomplish,” explained Fudge. “It’s about taking a look at your sex life. It’s about taking a look at your day-to-day interactions with your partner, if there’s a partner involved, or with yourself when it comes to your sex and sexuality.”
Depending on what a patient is looking to change in their sex life, the outcome of the sessions may be different.
Sex therapy also seeks to eliminate some of the pre-conceived myths surrounding sex while alleviating some of the discomfort that often occurs when sex is the subject of conversation. Ideas such as “sex is supposed to hurt,” “having crushes while I’m in a relationship isn’t normal,” “not having an orgasm during partnered sex is weird,” or “losing my erection while switching positions or giving oral is abnormal,” are typical assumptions that both Fudge and Rancourt are trying to open conversations about.
Christine Ollier, a sex educator at Venus Envy, also deals with a lot of these common questions. She works to educate outside of sex therapy to ensure that the general public can feel comfortable in their bodies and with their sexuality in a way that is healthy and safe. According to Ollier, staying educated about sex is one of the best ways to decrease stigma and make sex a more pleasurable experience.
“I think that sex is often thought of it as scary or shameful or stressful and the more that you talk about something, the less scary it gets,” said Ollier, “Accessing good sex education can only improve these negative feelings and learning about our bodies and sharing our experiences can prevent more misinformation and debunk more myths.”
Fudge and Rancourt agreed that sex therapy puts a similar emphasis on education, but instead of being a strictly education-based practice, it can also be used in conjunction with other sorts of sex-related psychological and physical therapy. Many of these methods include an aspect of mindfulness or behaviour-based strategies. The discussions involved in these methods are often what ignite the stigma that leaves sex therapy being thought of differently by the general public.
“Seeking sex therapy for some people feels like they’re admitting something is wrong or that there’s something unnatural about them. So I think that that in itself is kind of a stigma,” said. Rancourt.
“I certainly think that sex therapy is not something that is openly discussed in the same way as regular therapy. I think part of that stigma, I suppose, is just around how personal sexual issues are and a general societal discomfort in talking about sexuality.”