How to find a qualified sex therapist:
What a therapist needs to know about sex, and the questions to ask them to find out if they do
Like a regular counselor, a sex therapist or sexologist is required to have a Masters degree in a related field (psychology, social work, gender studies, etc). But a sex therapist also needs an additional 150+ hours of training and 300 + hours of supervision specific to sexual issues to be qualified as a sex therapist.
What does a sex therapist need to know in addition to the regular counselor training? Here are some of the basics:
- Sexual anatomy and physiology
Sexuality training starts with “the parts,” with in-depth understanding of the anatomy and physiology of the nervous and hormonal systems. Why? A sex therapist needs to understand how stress, health issues and the stages of life intersect with sexuality and when a referral to a medical specialist is necessary.
- What is “normal”?
“Am I “normal”?” is one of the most common questions a sex therapist gets. Sexual misinformation abounds and a sex therapist needs to know which information is accurate and current and which include social myths.
- How desire and attraction work
Erotic desire is an interesting dynamic, that works in some circumstances but not in others. A sex therapist needs to understand how to navigate the murky area of sexual desire.
- Relationship counselling
It is difficult to feel sexual with a partner when you are upset with them. Sexuality is tied up with the general health of a relationship. Sex therapy requires a strong background in relationship dynamics.
- How do I talk about sex with my partner?”
A qualified sex therapist understands how difficult it is to talk about this sensitive subject, even (or especially) with our partner. They know the many different communication skills that couples need to address their needs, differences and misunderstandings of this sensitive topic.
- Bad sexual experiences
Sexual trauma has its own treatment. Having a sensitivity (without catastrophizing sex) is crucial.
- Specific sexual problems
The six most common sexual issues (erectile dysfunction, rapid or delayed ejaculation, low desire, difficulty with orgasm or painful intercourse) are treated with a approach. A qualified sex therapist knows to include all aspects (body, mind, social context and relationship dynamics) in assessing and treating sexual issues.
- Sexual kinks
The areas of sexuality that fall outside what we think of as “common,” such as open relationships, fetishes, kink (and the many things that go with that), etc. need to be understood fully (and currently) without bias or judgement.
- Sexual desire levels
Low sexual desire or a couple’s different levels of sexual desire is a common reason for couples entering sex therapy. A sex therapist should be familiar with factors affecting desire and skills for negotiating differences.
SAMPLE QUESTIONS to ask your sex therapist:
Are you unsure if your therapist is qualified as a sex therapist?
Here are some sample questions to ask to get a sense of their knowledge and perspective on sex therapy.
- How much/what is your training in human sexuality?
Look for: 150 + hours training (100+ hours of supervision)
- With which sexuality organizations are you listed?
Look for: American College of Sexologists, AASECT, American Board of Sexologists or research and therapy organizations like SSTAR, SSSS, IIASR
- Which types of sexual issues are you comfortable addressing in your practice?
Look for: “Anything,” as an ideal answer. Sex therapists also specialize. If you are interested in a specific topic, ask them about that topic. Ask them which books they have read on the topic or which ones they recommend. Look for 1-2, or at least knowledge of the most influential resource in the area.
- Do you have any limits on what you will discuss in your practice? Is there anything off limits?
Look for: Nothing should be off limits to discuss.
- How common is ________(fill in whatever your question is here)?
Look for: Your sex therapist needs to know the answer.
- Do you think __________ is wrong, sick or immoral, good/bad, healthy/unhealthy?
Look for: No judgement. A qualified sex therapist will have faced their own biases while in school. If you experience anything other than acceptance, look elsewhere.