9 Sex Therapists Reveal What They Get Asked the Most
The number one question sex therapists get from clients, by far, is "Am I normal?" Read on to find out just how common other sexual issues really are.
Everything you wanted to know and weren't afraid to ask
If you're curious about what goes on behind the closed doors of a sex therapist's office, brace yourself. You may get your own questions answered, as well.
Am I normal?
"The most common question I get is some variation on 'am I normal?'" says Cyndi Darnell, a sex and relationship therapist based in New York City. "Sex is under-taught, so most of us gleaned what we know from well-meaning friends and pop culture. As a result, we're left to fill in the blanks ourselves and can feel isolated. People feel afraid to ask for help or worse still, do not know who to ask!" Darnell wants to reassure you: Whether a person is wondering about their biology (e.g. the size, shape, placement, scent, etc. of body parts), their sexual abilities, or the kinds of activities they enjoy, "someone else out there has had the exact same feeling." Sex therapist Megan Fleming, PhD wholeheartedly agrees and adds, "There is such a range of sexual interests and behaviors that no matter how 'strange' or uncommon, they are 'normal' as long as it's consensual and pleasurable for both partners."
How do I get my sex drive back?
"Low desire is often complex, but in the majority of cases, the low-desire partner is running on empty," says Fleming. "For most women, and an increasing number of men, desire for sex isn't as spontaneous as it might have been when they were younger, had fewer responsibilities, or were newly into a relationship." The pathway back to feeling frisky is something called "responsive desire": Even if sex is the last thing you want, nonsexual touches—him caressing your hair, you rubbing his back—may feel good to you. And that little bit of pleasure (aka "arousal) in the body can lead to desire in the mind. "The sexual response cycle isn't linear as once was thought. Arousal can lead to desire and orgasm, you don't always have to feel desire first." Don't miss these other natural libido boosters.
Is 'sexting' cheating?
Flirting outside of a committed relationship isn't new, but these days there are so many more ways to do it. "Boundaries can be blurred when people communicate with friends or acquaintances on Kik, text, direct messages, Snapchat, and other platforms," says Sara Stanizai, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Long Beach, California. Clients who discover a partner has been "sexting" are often most hurt by the secrecy and lies, she says. "I tell my clients in this situation that the flirter has to be open about the communication and what they're getting from it. People who keep these kinds of secrets often feel immense shame about their needs and about the secrets. If they can share that part of themselves with their partners, they have an opportunity to become more open and connected, which can actually bring the two of you closer."
Can you "fix" my partner?
According to Dori Gatter, a relationship expert and psychotherapist for 25 years, she's heard many clients complain about mismatched libidos—often a male partner who wants more sex than his female partner. A handful of times, a guy has actually asked Dr. Gatter, "Can you fix her?" The fact is, it's normal for individuals to have different levels of desire and needs for sex. And if one partner is feeling ignored or taken for granted, it's natural for sex drive to tank, she says. "Women, in particular, have a need for things to feel fair and equal, and a need to feel seen, appreciated and validated. It is really quite simple to do this for a partner, and yet it is one of the hardest things I teach spouses to do in my office. When you learn how to do this, your partner feels closer and more connected and then they want to have more sex! It is simple but not easy." Check out these 8 other common reasons for low sex drive.
Am I boring in bed?
"People often ask me why their sex lives don't look the way sex and relationships do in the movies or on TV," says Kristie Overstreet, PhD, a clinical sexologist and sex therapist in Huntington Beach, California. "The sex and passion we see on screen or online isn't real life. It is choreographed, planned, and acted out to invoke an emotional response from the audience. There are many men and women that feel there is something wrong with them because their relationship isn't similar to how relationships are portrayed in these media. Unfortunately, this leads individuals to feel bad about themselves and to build unrealistic expectations of their relationships." Remember: What you see on TV, in movies, and online isn't "normal"—so don't compare yourself to it.
Can our sex life recover after infidelity?
Sex can be an especially tricky matter after one partner has been unfaithful. "I work with a lot of couples who have experienced sexual betrayal and infidelity," says Piper S. Grant, a clinical psychologist and sex therapist in the Los Angeles area. Sometimes these couples wonder if they can ever really relax and be sexual again. "I tell them it is possible, and in fact, I have witnessed people come through infidelity stronger and more connected than before when they get thrown into deep, raw, and honest conversations that create vulnerability and builds intimacy. I've had many couples go through this and tell me 'we have never been connected like this,' or 'we have a more honest relationship now than ever before.' It can be hard for people at the beginning of the chaos to see the possibility, but it does happen."
How many times a week should we have sex?
Gatter hears this one a lot. "Usually one partner wants to know this in order to prove to their spouse that they don't have enough sex; meanwhile the other partner is waiting for my answer, convinced it will prove they are normal," she says. But the real issue is never just about sex, she says. "If we take the time to peel back the many layers of what this is really about, interestingly enough it usually comes down to the same need for both partners: the need to feel loved, seen and validated. Men need to have sex in order to feel loved, seen, and validated. Women need to feel loved, seen, and validated in order to have sex. Quite the conundrum. It is an age-old issue that presents itself to this day in pretty much all of my couples sessions." These are the 14 sex problems you should take seriously.
I need more sex than my partner—why can't I just get it elsewhere?
"Believe it or not, I've actually heard this question numerous times, said in a variety of different ways: 'What's wrong with having my relationship needs and sexual needs satisfied by two different people?' 'Why can't I just have my marriage and my side chick?'" says Colleen Long, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist and couples therapist with practices in Boston and Los Angeles While some couples are comfortable with "open" relationships, most aren't. Rather than looking elsewhere for excitement, partners need to carve out special moments for pleasure and flirting, says Fleming. "I have my clients plan 'sexy time.' Of course, you can't 'command' yourself to feel sexy or aroused at a certain time, but if you have that time set aside it gives desire some space to emerge." Check out 7 ways to make sex great again.
Why do I lose my erection?
Erection and orgasm problems—especially in healthy, younger men—are usually more about anxiety than anything physical, says David F. Khalili, a sex and relationship therapist in Oakland, California. The same goes for many women with orgasm issues, he says. "What it usually boils down to is that anxiety is blocking the person from being fully present in their sex life, how they get in touch with their desire, and how they feel about themselves," he says. "My approach with sexual anxiety is to help them slow down so that they can work towards being more comfortable and less overwhelmed. Mindfulness and meditation practices can be particularly useful. The second step is to look at what is causing their anxiety. Often it's shame or low self-esteem—but it can also be caused by sexual or relationship trauma, which needs thoughtful attention in therapy. I often recommend EMDR therapy for trauma as well as a sexual trauma survivors' support group to these clients." Couples approaching 50, here's what you need to know about sex in mid-life.
Why can't I orgasm?
Licensed clinical social worker and sex therapist Shamyra Howard of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, recalls being very surprised by something one female client told her during a session. "She was talking about having sex with her partner and I asked, 'Did you orgasm?' Her response was, 'well, no. Women can't do that during sex, right?' I explained that women can and do climax from penile-vaginal penetration, but some are not able to without adding direct clitoral stimulation." Too little attention is paid for women's pleasure in sex education, says New York City sex therapist Cyndi Darnell—instead, the emphasis is all on women's bodies in the context of procreation. "In the vast majority of sex acts, procreating isn't the motivator—people have sex for all kinds of reasons! But for many women, exploring pleasure remains a taboo, so it remains an obligation rather than a pursuit of enjoyment. Until women experience themselves as sexual beings—whose role is not solely to procreate or perform for their partners—women's sexuality will continue to be viewed as mysterious and unreliable, when in fact, it's perfectly normal." Here are some more things sex therapists wish you knew.
- Cyndi Darnell, a sex and relationship therapist based in New York City
- Megan Fleming, PhD, sex therapist
- Sara Stanizai, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Long Beach, California
- Dori Gatter, PsyD, who has been a relationship expert and psychotherapist
- Kristie Overstreet, PhD, a clinical sexologist and sex therapist in Huntington Beach, California
- Piper S. Grant, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and sex therapist in the Los Angeles area
- Colleen Long, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist and couples therapist with practices in Boston and Los Angeles
- David F. Khalili, a sex and relationship therapist in Oakland, California
- Shamyra Howard, a licensed clinical social worker and sex therapist in Baton Rouge, Louisiana