How To Approach Your Partner About Sex Therapy (& What It Can And Can't Do For You)

All relationships need maintenance if they're going to work, especially for the long term. If you think of your relationship like any other part of your life, then you know that you can't just go day after day without checking in, communicating, and talking about things that might not always be the most comfortable to talk about with each other. That's where couples therapy comes into the fold.

But when we talk about couples therapy, it's important to realize there's no one type. Depending on what you and your partner are going through, there's a therapist that specializes in exactly what your relationship needs. For some couples, that might be a need for sex therapy. In sex therapy, couples have a safe space where they can discuss all things sex-related as they pertain to their relationship. For some partners, that could mean talking about ways to work on intimacy, while for others, it could involve exploring other types of sexual relationships, like opening up the relationship.

"All sex therapists are first and foremost therapists with additional training that makes them sex therapists," sex therapist Carolanne Marcantonio, LCSW tells Well + Good. "You're seeing someone who, after getting their master's degree, has spent many more years of their life dedicated to understanding pain disorders — such as vaginismus, dyspareunia, vulvodynia — erectile unpredictability; premature ejaculation; trauma; discrepancy in sexual desires, gender and sexuality."

When it comes to sex therapy, no topic is off-limits or too taboo. Like all forms of couples therapy, sex therapy helps partners understand each other, but also understand themselves as individuals in the relationship. It's just a matter of getting you both on board with it.

How to bring up that your sex life needs some work

According to various research and studies, one of the most common problems in relationships is related to sex. From mismatched libidos to opposing sexual interests, and all the other factors in between, having a fulfilling sex life can take a lot of work. If you're not particularly happy with your sex life and think it needs some tweaking or even a full overhaul, then there's a chance your partner might feel the same, but they've been too apprehensive about addressing it. The best way to broach the subject is in a neutral setting, void of distractions, so you can both focus on the topic. Timing and location are just as important as your word choice.

"Start with an open-ended question," licensed clinical social worker Tracy Ross tells HuffPost. "Say, 'I'm committed to our relationship and always working to make it the make best it can be, I've been thinking about couples therapy to gain some tools ― how does that sound to you?' And then listen with openness to their response."

Being open to whatever your partner says is essential to having a healthy dialogue. You may find that even if your partner feels the same as you, they have no interest in seeking sex therapy. Or, there may be a chance that everything you're saying about your sex life is a surprise for them. Because of this, you want to be prepared for any reaction they may have and stay calm no matter which direction the conversation goes. It may involve some convincing, but if your partner is as invested as you are, they'll realize sex therapy is the best idea at this juncture in your relationship.

What sex therapy can do for you

It's normal to be wary of sex therapy, just as much as it's normal to be wary of any type of therapy, especially if you're completely new to it. But the important thing to keep in mind — whether it's sex therapy or any other form of therapy — is that you're in a judgment-free zone the second you walk into your therapist's office. Also, if it makes you feel more at ease, anything you say about your sex life your therapist most likely has heard before; even the stuff you think might be strange.

According to the Sexual Health Alliance, you can expect your first session to basically be a meet-and-greet where the therapist will ask both you and your partner questions about all things sex-related. They'll inquire about your sexual past, present, any possible sexual trauma, your relationship with sex in general, and your goals for therapy. These may not be the easiest questions to answer and you may not have an exact goal in mind at the moment, but if you want to make progress in sex therapy, this is part of the initial intake.

Sex therapy is just another form of talk therapy, so becoming comfortable with the subject is important. If you give each session your all and do so with an open mind, you won't just end up with a better sex life, but you'll garner a deeper understanding of pleasure, especially realistic pleasure for each other. You'll also walk away with the necessary tools to be better at communicating about sex and sexual issues that might arise in your relationship.

What sex therapy can't do for you

Sex therapy can't perform miracles, nor can your sex therapist wave a magic wand and fix your sex life in a matter of minutes. Sex therapy requires work — often including homework — and allowing yourself to be completely vulnerable with not just your partner, but your therapist. Sex therapy can't be void of discomfort and straight-up awkwardness. After all, you're talking about one of the most intimate acts that human beings can perform. Sex and sexuality are complicated, so what you bring to and take from each session isn't going to be black and white — it's a nuanced topic, to say the least. This means things may come up that you didn't even realize could be negatively (or positively) affecting your sex life.

"When sex is working well for a couple, it feels like it's about 20% of what makes their relationship great," certified sex therapist and couples' counselor Jessa Zimmerman, M.A. tells Mind Body Green. "It's important, and it's a factor in their happiness, but it's in proportion to all the other things in their life ... when it isn't working, it can feel like it's 80% of their life together. It can overshadow the other parts that may be working really well. So sex becomes more important as it goes badly."

Sex may not be the most significant part of a relationship, but for many, it's a necessary part of it. Intimacy and connecting on a sexual level are part of the human condition, but that doesn't mean everyone has mastered it. That's why sex therapy exists: to give your relationship something it might be lacking.