Talking to a sex therapist

May help couples cope

Consulting with a professional sex therapist may be a safe way to discuss some of the problems that can occur with prostate cancer treatment, including:

  • Impotence or erectile dysfunction
  • Loss of libido (sexual desire)
  • Communication issues

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These problems may be magnified if one partner is unwilling or afraid to talk about problems within the relationship.

Sometimes working with a professional who is nonjudgmental can help couples open up and learn new ways to communicate to try to improve their relationship.

These professionals can provide information or specific suggestions to help you cope with problems and to validate what you are feeling.

What's a sex therapist?

A sex therapist is typically a psychotherapist who has been trained in human sexuality, including specific training to address concerns that arise in the complex array of human sexual relationships.

“A sex therapist can be helpful to partners and spouses dealing with prostate cancer in many ways,” says Dennis L. Detweiler, LSCSW, Certified Sex Therapist and former Sex Therapist Certification Chair for the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT).

He adds: “Sex therapists understand the unique dynamics of male sexuality and how the loss of a prostate gland can contribute to sexual concerns. For many men, prostate surgery has often led to erectile dysfunction. Sex therapists can help couples work in creative ways in their sexual relationship to maintain and recreate ways of being physically intimate.”

Qualifications of a sex therapist

Many of these professionals are certified (but not licensed) by AASECT. 

Certification ensures that the therapist has undergone specific training, focus, and supervision in working with persons with sexual problems.

AASECT members include:

  • Physicians
  • Nurses
  • Social workers
  • Psychologists
  • Allied health professionals
  • Clergy members
  • Lawyers
  • Sociologists
  • Marriage and family counselors and therapists
  • Family planning specialists
  • Researchers
  • Students in relevant professional disciplines

ASSECT also provides accreditation for sexuality educators (teachers and trainers) and counselors, including:

  • Pastoral counselors
  • Nurses
  • Other healthcare professionals
  • School counselors

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What is a sexologist?

“Sexology is the scientific study of what people do sexually, how they feel about it, and how they express their sexuality," says Thomas Erwin Gertz, EdD, DACS, former Executive Director of the American College of Sexologists.

This professional association provides professional standards for the training and certification of sexologists and those institutions that offer training in sexology.

It also provides recognition of the work of other professionals involved in the fields of sexology and erotology.

“A lot of times when we look at men who cannot have erections, they don’t want to touch or start something they can’t finish, and they are deprived of the benefits of touch and intimacy," says Dr. Gertz. 

He adds: "In the process of shutting down, that whole intimacy is gone. We associate touching with sex. You can be touched and it isn’t going to go through to the step to orgasm. So it’s important that people look at the sensual component and it needs to be there.”

Qualifications of a sexologist

Sexologists do not have to be licensed in some category that your state licenses (such as marriage and family therapy).

“To become certified by the American College of Sexologists, it doesn’t matter if they are a physician, a psychologist, or a family or marriage therapist. The importance is that they have had specific training in the field of sexology and erotology and that they understand those fields and they have that training,” says Dr. Gertz.

What about a psychotherapist?

You can certainly talk with a psychotherapist. But a certified sex therapist or sexologist has to undergo extensive training that is specifically related to human sexuality.

For example, a certified sexologist must have:

  • A transcript, diploma, or certificate of graduation from an academic program focused on sexology/erotology
  • 300 hours of academic training related to the field of sexology/erotology
  • Or documentation of two years of full-time work as a sexologist, erotologist, academician or researcher in the field of sexology/erotology

To become AASECT accredited, professionals must have:

  • A master's degree plus two years of post-degree clinical experience as a psychotherapist
  • Or a doctorate degree plus one year of post-degree clinical experience as a psychotherapist

A valid state regulatory license or certificate in one of the following areas is also required:

  • Psychology
  • Medicine
  • Social work
  • Counseling
  • Nursing
  • Marriage and family therapy or other appropriate certifications if there is no regulatory license in their state

How can I find a certified professional?

  • Go to the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists website and click on the "Locate a Professional" link
  • To find a certified sexologist, search the American College of Sexologists directory

What to expect

Like most forms of therapy, it depends on the individual style of the therapist.

You can ask about this when you first call to make an appointment.

The therapist will probably take a detailed history, including asking you about pressing problems or issues that are bothering you.

Then you might discuss a set of goals or interventions that are designed to help you resolve those problems.

Will insurance cover it?

Coverage depends on your individual health insurance plan.

If you meet with a professional who is a licensed therapist (family marriage therapist) or a psychologist or a physician, if it’s covered it’s usually billed under some different category other than something directly related to sexual therapy.

This is a good question to ask the therapist when you first call to make your appointment. 

Also check with your health insurance plan.

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