If you are struggling with your relationship, your sexuality, or intimacy, it makes sense to reach out for some support.
The question is who do you reach out to...a therapist, a sex therapist or a sex and intimacy coach?
Each of these professionals play different, but often overlapping roles so let’s examine how each one operates.
Traditional therapy: Therapists play an extremely important role in helping you understand yourself better, work through childhood wounding, and identify and examine unhealthy relationship patterns.
Many are also very good with helping couples learn better communication skills. I’m a huge fan of therapy and in fact have had several therapists throughout my life who have been instrumental in helping me overcome some of life’s challenges.
Traditional therapy, however, typically consists of talk therapy. Talk therapy can be very useful at times but I have found that it is often not effective when it comes to issues around sexuality and intimacy.
There are numerous reasons for this but the number one constraint is that many therapists are not that comfortable talking about sex due to their own discomfort and shame.
Clients are always telling me that when the issue of sex came up in therapy, it often got deflected. Others have said that sex was like the elephant in the middle of the room. Everyone knew it was there, but no one was willing to deal with it head on.
This leads to ongoing frustration and disillusionment with the therapy process.
This is not to say that you should leave your therapist if you’re feeling like you’re making progress. I often see clients who are also working with a therapist and it’s not at all uncommon for me to refer a client to a therapist and vice versa.
If you’re feeling stuck, it might be time to look for some additional support.
Sex Therapy: Sex therapists receive additional training in the area of sexuality and should be better equipped to work through sexual issues with clients.
Indeed there are some very excellent sex therapists out there. Most are members of AASECT, the American Association of Sexuality Educators and Therapists, of which I am also a member.
Sex therapists are usually much more comfortable talking about sex with their clients. I’ve observed however throughout the years that in many cases, sex therapy is heavily psycho-educationally focused--meaning that the therapist spends a lot of time educating clients about their sexuality, having them read books and watch videos.
I’m all for you learning more about sex--that’s also definitely one of my missions in the world.
And there are some great books that you can read, including my own, “Living an Orgasmic Life” You can also check out my list of recommended reading on my website.
However, sex therapy, not unlike traditional therapy, is also very talk heavy. And sex does not happen in your head, it actually happens in your body.
Also sex therapists, like all licensed and credentialed therapists, social workers and counselors, are prohibited from making physical contact with their clients.
In part this is a liability issue but it also helps to maintain the distance between the therapist and the client (both physically and emotionally).
Most therapists keep an arm’s length relationship with their clients, rarely showing clients their own vulnerabilities. Not being able to model vulnerability makes it quite challenging for you to experience what it’s like to be vulnerable in a relationship.
If your sex therapist can’t touch you, then it’s impossible to demonstrate different types of touch, or what escalation, hair pulling, or being thrown up against a wall looks like.
Also helping heal attachment wounds by, for example, providing you with the nurturing touch that you never received from a parent, is also not in the cards when you work with a sex therapist.
Sex and Intimacy Coaching: Sex and intimacy coaches play a unique role by combining both therapeutic aspects as well as experiential learning.
This is particularly true of those coaches who have been trained in the Somatica Ⓡ method--a body based, interactive, experiential method of helping you fully embrace your sexuality and heal sexual wounds.
One of the unique aspects of working with a sex and intimacy coach is that we look at all relationships through the lens of sexuality.
So for example, if you’re struggling with low desire and feeling disconnected from your body, a sex and intimacy coach might help you work through body or sexual shame (which often starts in childhood or adolescence).
We’d also unpack what’s going on in your sex life right now that might be blocking your desire. Often this ends up being more about lack of emotional connection with a partner.
In my practice, I help women learn how to love their bodies and how to be truly present with their own sensations when they touch themselves or are touched by a partner.
I also help them learn how to embody their sexuality--to feel their turn on and turn off, to understand and experience their own boundaries.
For example, do you know the difference between what a “hell yes” and a “hell no” feels like in your body? This is important information since the brain can often override what your body actually wants. How many times have you said yes to sex for all the wrong reasons when in truth your body wanted to say no?
With couples, the work is also very experiential starting with how they communicate with each other (often with some modeling and/or role playing).
I might hold a “shame-a-thon” session with a couple where we can talk about and normalize shameful experiences they’ve had in their life, a beautiful way to create more vulnerability and intimacy.
Most couples need a lot of direction when it comes to sexual interactions. Learning how to slow down, read their partner’s body language, what teasing really looks like, how to touch your partner for your own pleasure which makes your touch more conscious and present, and how to take turns initiating touch for starters.
We will always look at core desires (the emotions that you really want from sex) and then play around with ways in which that might be achieved. All of this of course is done with clothes on!
One note of caution. In the last five years, there has been an explosion of people calling themselves, “sex and intimacy coaches”. Many of these individuals lack any type of formal training or certification. Some are transitioning from traditional sex work (e.g., sensual providers and escorts) and others take a course or two in sexuality or Tantra and declare themselves an intimacy coach.
While credentials has never been my thing--I know plenty of licensed therapists who are terrible at their job and coaches and spiritual mentors who get astounding results, I do think it’s important that you find a sex and intimacy coach who has gone through a rigorous training program, including supervision and a skills based certification process.
While life experience can be very helpful, you also want to ensure that your coach is well versed in the fundamental theories of sex and intimacy, including childhood attachment wounds, and is also trauma informed.
If you want to find out more about what it’s like working with a sex and intimacy coach, check out this Masterclass.
Sex & Intimacy Coach, Best Selling Author and Your Guide To Healing Yourself With Sex, Awakening Your Pleasure and Living An Orgasmic Life