Local sex therapist provides insight to the industry
OMC: The film "The Sessions" features Helen Hunt playing a sex surrogate. Apparently, this is also legal in California. What are your thoughts on this?
LL: There is absolutely no surrogacy involved in sex therapy. Surrogacy involves sexual observation and / or participation, and that is never, ever a part of sex therapy or any therapy. I wouldn't even know where to tell people to go for this if they asked.
OMC: Is sex absolutely crucial to a healthy love relationship?
LL: Yes, healthy sexuality is crucial for good human development and functioning, and it is also crucial for couples to have. It is imperative to make sure that each of the individuals feels comfortable with their own sexuality.
Within a couple, sex becomes a larger issue the more dysfunctional it is, and often each part of the couple disagrees upon factors such as frequency, duration and specific activities. Sex therapy helps to clarify many things of this nature. Because good sex requires good communication, it is often helpful for the couple in many ways.
OMC: Does a person have to be in a relationship to seek sex therapy?
LL: No, absolutely not.
OMC: Do you see people with non-sexual disorders?
LL: Yes, I also see individuals with mood disorders, anxiety disorders, issues with infertility, general life-stressors, individuals with psychological distress related to medical problems and relationship issues. I also specialize working with individuals or couples who are gay, lesbian and bisexual.
OMC: How old are your clients?
LL: I see people ages 16 and above. I see all ages, from late teens to early seventies, with 30 to 60 being the most typical.
OMC: Have many of your clients been sexually abused?
LL: Sexual abuse will be inquired about, but it does not have to be the focus if it isn't relevant to the current issue. That can be the patient's choice many times. For example, if a person was abused early in life or raped during college and the current issue is low libido, the therapist will decide whether the earlier experiences are impacting the current problem.
If not, the therapist may offer to address the abuse, and if the patient does not want to touch it, that's OK. If abuse is definitely part of the problem, the therapist will let the patient know and they will decide on treatment options from there. Not all, or even many, sexual problems stem from sexual abuse.
OMC: Are you open to all different types of couples?
LL: Yes, absolutely. Patients should know that sex therapists tend to be friendly to all sexual orientations.
OMC: How much does it cost / is it covered by insurance?
LL: Most insurances are accepted; if a clinician isn't in network, clients should check their out of network coverage. Also, most clinicians use a self-pay rate or sliding fee scale if insurance isn't an option.
OMC: What are your thoughts on Dr. Ruth Westheimer? Was she helpful in popularizing / de-stigmatizing sex therapy?
LL: Dr. Ruth is amazing. She really did and does normalize sexual problems and made it seem more OK to talk about them. She is a pioneer and has a complex and extensive educational and career history. She is a psychologist who earned her doctorate in family psychology and then studied with prominent sex therapists, so she has a comprehensive view of sexual issues. Yes, she absolutely has had a role de-stigmatizing both sexual dysfunction and sex therapy.
OMC: Is sex therapy less stigmatized than it was in decades past?
LL: Yes, I believe it is becoming less stigmatized. There are surprisingly few certified sex therapists nationally and internationally, however the number is growing. There are also surprisingly few female sexual medicine programs in the state and the U.S., though those are growing as well.
Many people feel embarrassed about it initially and are hesitant to seek treatment, even of a medical nature. Once they are in treatment or once the issue really becomes a problem that is life-interfering, they are more comfortable seeking or being in treatment. If the therapist is straight-forward and conveys comfort discussing the issues, the patient will also be more comfortable.
Also, commercials addressing ED have been helpful to men who might not otherwise seek help. Ads for over-the-counter female aids have also been helpful. I am not endorsing any products in particular.
OMC: What if someone is a private person or embarrasses easy? What would you say to them to assure that sex therapy doesn't have to be awkward? Or is it awkward sometimes and that's just part of it?
LL: As a sex therapist, I like to ask patients in the first session how embarrassed or awkward they are feeling. I also ask them what their expectations are regarding therapy and myself as the therapist. For example, I am not going to be like Dr. Phil.
Patients so often do not know what to expect, especially if they have never been in therapy. I try to really validate any discomfort and insert humor where appropriate. I also use their language, which implies comfort on my part talking about it.
Essentially, if the therapist is comfortable, that helps tremendously. It also helps to reassure the patient that any embarrassment they are feeling is entirely normal and will fade with time. Finally, I tend to let the patient know that it is very difficult to shock or surprise me, which is true of sex therapists in general.
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