Men’s and Women Health & Fitness
Talking to Your Therapist About Sex Can Be Hard—Here’s How to Do It
People often go to therapy to find someone who won’t be judgmental when they spill the uncomfortable feelings they’ve buried. Or they might want to find someone who can help them unearth those feelings they’ve stuffed down deep.
So when you start seeing a therapist, you might promise yourself that you’ll hold nothing back—you’ve found a safe space, and you’re committed to doing “the work.” Sometimes, however, that’s easier said than done, especially when those feelings revolve around sex. Sex is something many people don’t even discuss with their closest friends or even partners. So, as much as you want to be an open book in therapy, talking to your therapist about sex might still feel awkward. Is it okay to talk about sex if your therapist isn’t specifically a sex therapist? How can you even start the conversation? And what will you get out of it if you do?
To help you out, we spoke to several people who’ve had sex-related breakthroughs in “regular” therapy without seeing a dedicated sex therapist at all. Here’s what they have to say, followed by some tips for starting this conversation with your own therapist if you’re feeling ready.
“I’m realizing that internalized anti-fatness has really messed with the way I think about sex.”
“I’m a fat woman,” Julie B., 29, tells SELF, adding that she does identify as fat, though people might not be comfortable with the term. “Through therapy, I’m realizing that internalized anti-fatness has really messed with the way I think about sex.”
She explains that, when a partner doesn’t make the first move, she assumes they’re not attracted to her. “My current partner has a low libido, and even though she’s told me that she doesn’t usually get turned on until I’m turned on, I constantly feel like she … doesn’t actually like having sex with me.”
Julie’s therapist is helping her realize that anti-fat culture has made her believe she’s not attractive. Her therapist has also encouraged her to notice all the other ways her partner shows love and desire. “With my therapist’s help, my partner and I have scheduled special intimacy time during which we might have sex, but we might also just make out a little or talk about how we each experience sexual desire,” Julie says. “So I can understand [my partner’s] perspective when my brain spirals.”
“I had been so in my own head [about my sex drive], I didn’t consider external factors.”
When the pandemic hit and Abigail G., 24, suddenly wasn’t as interested in sex, she asked her therapist for solutions. “I felt so disconnected from my identity—plus, I felt a huge weight that I wasn’t able to please my partner sexually. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to feel aroused and just couldn’t get there,” she tells SELF.
Abigail’s therapist asked her to take a moment to consider how her overall circumstances might be impacting her libido. She and her partner had moved in with his parents for six months, and then, after they went home, her sister crashed on the couch in their one-bedroom apartment for three months. “Thin walls and family are certainly the antitheses of setting the mood,” Abigail explains. “But I had been so in my own head I didn’t consider those external factors.”
Instead of putting pressure on herself, Abigail’s therapist “gave concrete tips on how to relax in the moment, how to talk about this more with my partner, and ideas for reintegrating regular sex back into my routine,” she says. “It helped me get excited about intimate moments with my partner rather than fear my own arousal (or rather, my lack thereof).”
“I came to the realization that I use sex in relationships to try and provide worth.”
John D.*, 36, started going to therapy after a divorce. Through the therapeutic process, he recognized patterns in his marriage and from other relationships throughout his life. “I came to the realization that I use sex in relationships to try and provide worth, [and] to try and keep my partner around,” he says.