It’s quite astonishing that so many of us find it really difficult to talk about sex. You’d think that in today’s world we would be more open-minded than our parents, more relaxed and comfortable with it, but often the opposite is true. In fact, it’s often a sensitive, awkward topic that may raise feelings of embarrassment, shame or inadequacy.
This probably shouldn’t be a surprise, given all the negative messages most of us received about sex when we were young. Unfortunately, a lack of proper sex education means many of us don’t even have relatively basic information. In our society, sex is just not an acceptable topic for conversation, not too many people will talk openly about their sex lives at a dinner table or party.
Normalizing sex using sex therapy
I started working as a sex therapist quite late in life, after growing up in Holland, where sex was not as much of a taboo as it seems to be in Australia. When someone asks me what I do for a living and I say I’m a sex therapist, most of the responses are quite funny. A look of disbelief, a nervous laugh or giggle – usually people don’t know how to respond right away.
The clients I see, couples and individuals, usually take a long time before they make an appointment. “I have never done this before,” they say nervously. Some couples suffer for years before they seek help and by then it is often too late. Many clients tell me they think they are the only ones who have difficulties – they believe most of their friends have great sex lives and no problems at all.
When I see couples who struggle in their relationship or haven’t had sex for a while, often several months or even years, they tell me they don’t know how it happened. After I take a couple’s details and sexual history, I sometimes ask them what must seem like an irrelevant question. I inquire about their work and how many years they had to study and train to become good it. The answers vary, but usually quite some years! Then I ask how much sex education they’ve had – the answer is always the same “not much”. And any advice on how to have a relationship? “Nothing at all.”
So we can’t really blame ourselves for not being “good at sex”. We are led to believe that having sex is easy and natural but that’s not true. We are taught from a young age how to perform most basic human tasks and, when older, we learn how to study and get a job. But when it comes to knowing how to have sex or a good relationship, we are just thrown in at the deep end. It’s not surprising that so many relationships end in separation or divorce.
So what can a sex therapist do to help couples and individuals? The answer is simple; the goal is to help you make your relationships and sex lives as enjoyable and fulfilling as possible. I believe the best way to do that is by normalizing sex and providing accurate psycho-sexual education; sex should be a pleasurable experience.
Talking about sex and intimacy may initially feel awkward, but sex therapists are trained to put you at ease and are skilled at identifying and exploring concerns. Through sex therapy, you can learn to express your concerns clearly and be taught how to understand your partner’s and your own sexual needs better.
When I see couples we may focus on concerns such as lack of sexual desire, intimacy issues, mismatched libidos and lack of romance and fun. Other relationship problems involve infidelity, pornography and unrealistic expectations. I help my clients restore the intimacy in their relationship, highlight the misunderstanding in communicating, offer a new perspective, give advice and teach strategies on how to bring them closer together again.
Concerns for most of my male clients are erectile dysfunction (not able to sustain an erection), premature or delayed ejaculation, sexual performance anxiety or sexual problems after illness. For females: painful intercourse, vaginismus, difficulties experiencing an orgasm, loss of desire for sex or reaching menopause can be issues.
Other concerns clients may have are gender identity issues, confusion about sexual orientation, disability and sexuality, compulsive sexual behaviour or past sexual trauma.
Sexual confidence can be very difficult to achieve with so many unrealistic expectations of what normal sexual behaviour should be and is complicated by the lack of discussion around sexual problems. While women may sometimes talk to their girlfriends, men just don’t.
When men can’t or won’t talk about an issue with their partners, they might start avoiding sex all together, which can lead to relationship problems or breakdown. I’ve received calls from women who book an appointment for their partners, insisting he has the problem and he should be fixed! They don’t realize that the issue has become a couple problem. Nothing is more confronting or demoralizing for a man than to be told that he is a “dud” in the bedroom.
It’s just as confrontational for women who are asked by their partners all the time, “why haven’t you had an orgasm yet, what is wrong with you”? Again this is caused by a lot of misinformation as research has shown that only one in five women experience an orgasm by “just” having penetrative sex.
That’s why it is so important to have the right information. Talking to a sex therapist could save your relationship with your partner. It could also help you with your own personal struggles with understanding and normalizing sex.
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This post originally appeared on LinkedIn and was published on January 07, 2018. This article is republished here with permission and updated on February 24, 2021.