Maybe you have heard of sex therapy but are not quite sure what it entails. Sex therapist Amanda Auchenpaugh, LMSW, enlightened us on a few of the most common misconceptions to answer questions you did not realize you had!
1. Sex therapy is embarrassing and/or awkward.
A typical session involves more talking than you might think. According to Amanda, the first step is “to get to know one another and see if we think we will be a good fit to work together.” In order to establish a dynamic of trust and comfort, she values asking questions “to get the big picture of who you are and what your life has been like.”
This foundational first session makes way for a productive and relational therapy space. “It's not exactly like any other relationships we have in life, but it is a real relationship with real care. And because it's a real relationship, you're going to get my real, authentic self,” she says. “I am not a ‘smile and nod’ therapist like you may see on TV. We'll laugh, cry, celebrate, and hurt together...I truly believe that my clients are already oriented toward growth and change; it's my job to support them and offer some guidance where needed. If I can get you to be kind to yourself and trust yourself, that's probably 80% of the work done already.”
Where do conversations about sex fit into this dynamic? In subsequent sessions, Amanda dives into more details “about what you’re wanting to work on and what factors contribute to it. I view my clients holistically, which means we can't just talk about your sex life because we will miss a lot of important stuff that affects your sex life!”
2. Only couples or people in relationships go to sex therapy.
If sex therapy sounds beneficial to you, don’t let a relational status get in the way. On the contrary, “EVERYONE should try sex therapy!” Amanda says. In fact, “You do not have to be in a relationship with another person - your sexual relationship with yourself is the most important one anyway! Individual sex therapy work is some of my favorite work to do, actually.”
The myth that sex therapy is only for certain people may discourage someone from going. However, Amanda welcomes all kinds of clients to try sex therapy. “I have had clients who range from age 15-65 and I'm open to expanding that range as well. Single, partnered, queer, straight, monogamous, non-monogamous, vanilla, kinky - all are welcome!”
That said, couples are common clients for Amanda. In that case, “the biggest task is often getting them comfortable with talking about sex with one another without shame. I help people learn how to identify what they need, develop the language to ask for it, and negotiate how to get everyone's needs met.”
3. Sex therapy is for individuals or couples who have problems with sex.
You don’t need a specific reason to seek out sex therapy, nor are relationship problems a requirement. In Amanda’s experience, “People come to me for all sorts of reasons,” including “sexual shame, particularly related to purity culture and religious trauma” as well as “low sexual desire, sexual dysfunction, wanting to explore something new sexually like ethical non-monogamy or kink/BDSM, questioning their gender and/or sexual orientation, and navigating sexual compatibility with partners. Others come to me to work on more general therapy concerns like anxiety and depression, but they want someone who is sex-positive and/or LGBTQ+/polyamory/kink friendly. I also enjoy working with teens/young adults on exploring their sexuality for the first time, and providing general sex education for all ages. No one has come to me just out of pure curiosity yet, but that would certainly be a treat too!”
For many people, sex therapy is beneficial as a judgement-free space to talk about sex. “You’re not going to shock me,” Amanda assures. “So much of what people need to hear is that they’re normal. Clients will come to me concerned they are broken and need to be fixed. (Spoiler: that's never the case.)”
You might learn some things at sex therapy, too. “A lot of what I do is challenge all of the many assumptions my clients have about sex and identify the messages they've been given about sex. That helps us know where we are, and then we determine where we're going. One of my goals is that clients leave with more things on their ‘sexual menu.’ You wouldn't want to eat the same meal every day for the rest of your life, so why would you want to have the same sex for the rest of your life? Particularly if it's not working for you! So let's add some things to that menu that you may not have tried before.”
So, what is the important takeaway from Amanda’s approach to sex therapy? All are welcome, and curiosity is encouraged. “I truly believe that sexuality is far more central to our identity and sense of self than most of us believe. If you haven't learned to know, accept, and care for your sexuality, then you haven't fully known, accepted, and cared for yourself.”
Learn more about Amanda here.
Author: Suzanne Godard