The Scoop: Plenty of couples and singles have experienced issues with sex or intimacy, but societal stigma often leads them to keep it quiet. A lack of proper sex education combined with stigma-related shame frequently keeps people from addressing relationship and sexuality struggles. Healing these experiences takes time and effort — both of which are tough to muster on your own. Accepting professional help, like that from the sex and relationship therapists at the Center for Love and Sex, can make this road a lot less bumpy. It may even lead you and your partner to the ultimate destination: happiness and connection.
Intimacy can be a complicated aspect of any relationship, especially a romantic one. When you and your partner are struggling with any manner of issues, your intimate connection is typically affected as well. Intimacy isn’t always sexual in nature, but it can manifest in the form of shared emotional vulnerability or mutual trust.
Couples who experience issues within their sex lives often find deficits in other forms of intimacy, and this can be difficult for them to tackle alone. Seeking professional help when you and your partner are dealing with conflict in your love and/or sexual relationships is a fantastic idea. Finding the right experts for you, however, is no small feat.
When you’re looking for a qualified third party to assist with sexual or romantic rifts in your relationship, it’s important to keep their background and areas of expertise in mind. While a general therapist can certainly help, they may not have as much targeted knowledge about how to solve your specific issues.
Certified sex therapists and licensed relationship therapists may be more suitable for your needs in these situations. Although there are many of these experts out there to choose from, you may benefit from seeking out organizations that employ the best of the best.
Founded by certified sex therapist and licensed clinical social worker Sari Cooper, the Center for Love and Sex offers a comprehensive array of services for both couples and singles struggling with issues relating to sex, intimacy, and other aspects of their relationships. The Center employs a team of seven highly-qualified therapists to help strengthen relationships, and help their clients build passionate and fulfilling lives.
Sex Therapy Is For Everyone
Finding a suitable mental health professional can be a tough task for anyone. Even before starting the search, you need to be willing to seek therapy in the first place. When you hear “sex therapy,” you likely have a specific idea in mind about what that might entail; treatment for sexual dysfunction or sexual incompatibility between couples are topics frequently addressed by sex therapists. But clients of practices like the Center for Love and Sex receive so much more.
“Primarily, people are coming in with sexual issues, but they’re also coming in with couples communication issues,” Sari shared. “I ask people to become more aware of their bodies in the session to inquire what kind of feelings and emotions are coming up. A lot of people don’t have access to words to describe some of the emotional states they are feeling or experiencing.”
Sari explained that common issues like erectile dysfunction (ED) for people with a penis or pain experienced during sex by people with a vagina often pop up in their sessions, but that those issues go far beyond just the physical symptoms. Communication, trust, feelings of safety, and intimacy (or lack thereof) all impact the various struggles that couples and singles can all face.
The method of sex and relationship therapy is also important to consider, especially when you’re initially searching for the right fit in a practitioner. At the Center for Love and Sex, Sari explained that the focus tends to be on the issues shared between partners, rather than the people themselves.
“I practice systemic couples therapy and systemic sex therapy. The framework of systemic therapy is that we are treating the couple as our client,” she said. “What that means is the dynamic that goes on between the partners is what we’re very focused on and tracking. We don’t see the problem as innately in one partner or another, but what we’re helping is the system to get back into a ‘healthy stasis’ because it’s usually coming with an imbalance.”
Single people can also benefit from sex or relationship therapy at the Center, particularly when they feel their struggles with sex or dating are beginning to hinder them from experiencing fulfilling relationships.
Even if you have a partner — but they’re unwilling to work on your relationship in therapy — the Center offers plenty of assistance and expertise for ways that individuals can start to tackle the problems that ail their partnerships.
Communication Is Key
Every relationship requires some level of openness and willingness to meet each other in the middle, but romantic and sexual partnerships in particular present a need for communication so they can remain healthy.
One issue that therapists at the Center for Love and Sex often see between couples is infidelity. While this behavior is typically seen as one partner cheating on the other, a lack of connection and communication can sometimes be found at the root of it.
“We [often] get couples who have just discovered infidelity of their partner, which is really traumatic for the partner who has been betrayed. It unleashes similar symptoms to what people might have when they experience a trauma,” Sari said. “They get flooded and overwhelmed. They come in, in crisis, and they really need help right away to become calm and grounded before they can make any decisions about what they’re going to do.”
As Sari previously mentioned, her experience has led her to understand that most people don’t have a framework or skill set to communicate their feelings and needs. This deficit tends to kick-start the process of infidelity because some partners may feel that they can get those emotional or even sexual needs fulfilled elsewhere.
There’s also the idea that some people simply aren’t taught how to prepare for a committed relationship — especially those who didn’t grow up having a healthy model for what a long-term relationship or marriage should look like.
“The top three reasons for couples to get a divorce are infidelity, domestic violence, and substance use. There are so many ways in which people aren’t properly prepared for commitment,” Sari said. “I think there’s a way they’re not educated enough about their own sexuality, sensuality, desires, and how to talk about that. There’s a way people go into marriages or long-term relationships with unrealistic expectations. And then that goes undiscussed for a long time.”
Sharing your feelings or sexual needs with a partner can be a scary or even vulnerable process, so seeking expert input from organizations like The Center for Love and Sex can be a great way to get equipped for those conversations.
Intimacy Requires Intentionality
By nature, long-term relationships often go through many seasons and stages of life. When you’re sharing years upon years with the same partner, you’ll likely see several versions of each other and experience bumps in the road together. Surviving these changes takes effort — and intention.
In a similar way, connection and intimacy also require both partners to remain intentional. Keeping the “spark” alive in a relationship doesn’t just happen overnight or on its own. Rather, you and your significant other need to show both each other and yourselves that you’re committed to doing the work required to keep your connection strong.
A lack of sex education and the stigma around sex-focused conversations still plague plenty of couples in the U.S., regardless of how far society has come in terms of sex positivity. To this end, sex therapy practices like the Center For Love and Sex encourage their clients to gain a more comprehensive understanding of sexuality.
This not only benefits the individual, but also their partner because they’ll become better equipped to facilitate conversations about their sexual needs, desires, and any issues that come up.
Sari and her colleague Kelly have developed a year-long course for adults in this situation called “Erotic Intimacy: S*X Ed for Adults,” which will serve as a fantastic resource for both couples and singles to gain insight into the world of sexuality, eroticism and intimacy while empowering them to advocate for their own pleasure.
“Some of those building blocks really have to do with first understanding what you want. Some people don’t know what they want. Maybe they grew up in a very religious community, maybe they were taught to feel shame when experiencing fantasies or desire, and there are a lot of people who’ve been assaulted, abused — or experienced what we call a ‘boundary crossing.’ So I asked people to start exploring the array of fantasies and behaviors gradually through mediums like: erotica, films, audio or books on their own. These inquiries allow them to build what I have termed their Sex Esteem.”
For couples feeling distant or disconnected from each other, Sari emphasized that it takes intentional effort to fix.
“Start to carve out ‘intimacy dates.’ Intimacy dates can be different for each person. And in order to have an intimacy date, you need to prepare for it, the same way you prepare for dates. You have to think about it a week in advance, about what energy you want to get, who’s going to take care of your children if you have kids in the house, so that you’re not interrupted,” she said.
“It can be outside of your home, it can be an adventure, it can be something you’ve never done before. One of the tips I have is for each person to think about six things that they would love to do — things they would find intriguing, sexy, curious, and put it in a basket. Each week, one person picks out an idea. And then they’re responsible for putting it into play.”
Struggles with intimacy, infidelity, or sexual dysfunction can be difficult to surmount. With the help of a qualified expert, you can start the journey of empowerment and education necessary for having a joyous and healthy love and dating life.