Sex provides a couple with pleasure, vulnerability and a deep, close connection that is very important to experience in an intimate partnership. It’s also an important time-out and stress reliever from the mundane tasks and pressures of daily life. An unfulfilled sex life can become a big issue that can erode even the healthy parts of your marriage. If you or your partner is having sexual issues, it is best to deal with them directly, honestly — and with the help of a professional.

Sex therapy is a specific type of therapy for couples and individuals that focuses on the sexual functioning of either the couple or an individual. When some couples deal with conflict and communication issues within their relationship, their sexual lives become more active and connected because of the increase in positive, loving feelings for their partner. Other couples, however, find that the real problem is not communication or conflict, but simply sexual dysfunction. These couples need a very direct approach, with concrete homework and an increased understanding of human sexuality.

Sex therapists have a much higher degree of knowledge than most about the physiological processes that are a part of human sexuality. They tend to work collaboratively with physicians to address not just the emotional issues surrounding sexual dysfunction, but also the physical problems that may be interfering with a couple’s sexual life. In a very small number of cases, a separate “sexual surrogate” therapist may be needed, but most often, sex therapy is talk therapy with a cognitive-behavioral leaning, which can include homework assignments for one or both members of the couple.

So: Who goes to a sex therapist? Here’s a short list:

  • People with sexual-identity issues.
  • Couples who want to increase sexual intimacy.
  • People who want to deal with sexual inhibitions.
  • People who are dissatisfied with their sexual functioning (i.e., they have erectile dysfunction or low libido).
  • Couples wanting to increase their communication about sexuality.