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What To Know About Sex Therapy for Erectile Dysfunction

By

Kelli Miller

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Is your mind in the mood, but your body's not cooperating? It's normal to feel frustrated if you can’t get or keep an erection. And it's not unusual. About 30 million men in the United States have this condition, called erectile dysfunction (ED).

There are a lot of reasons for it. The good news is there are also a lot of treatments. You've probably seen the commercials. A little blue pill like sildenafil (Viagra) and similar drugs can help boost blood flow and make the penis firm. Voila! You're back in action. But perhaps you dislike the lack of spontaneity related to popping a pill before sex. Or maybe you can't take such medications because of a heart problem or other medical condition. Sometimes a combination of treatments will work best for you, such as medication and counseling.

Want a safer place to start? Try sex therapy. Psychotherapy, or counseling, can help nix anxious feelings that sometimes cause ED or make it worse. You might not need any other treatments. And bonus: Doing this type of therapy with a partner can boost intimacy and strengthen your relationship.

Here are some common types of sex therapy for erectile dysfunction.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a common type of psychotherapy that's used to treat all sorts of health conditions. It's based on the idea that how you think affects your actions. CBT teaches you how to turn negative behaviors into positive ones.  For erectile dysfunction, your therapist might ask you to think about the thoughts racing through your mind before or during sex. Then, you'll explore ways to swap any sex-halting thoughts for more useful ones. CBT can also teach you relaxation exercises to help ease anxiety. Anxious feelings are a major cause of erectile dysfunction.  

Psychosexual Counseling

This type of sex therapy involves talk therapy. Your spouse or partner is an important part of this therapy. Together, with a counselor, you'll discuss the expectations and emotions involved in your sex life. What do you think makes a good sex life? Does your partner feel the same? Discussing these issues helps build better communication and trust skills, which leads to more robust relationship overall.

You'll learn how to express what you want or don't want during sex. Talking to your partner about your intimate feelings and wishes can reduce nervous thoughts that might lead to erectile dysfunction while "in the moment." Psychosexual therapy can take a little time to work. It's important to stick with it. Studies show that doing this with your partner significantly improves persistent erectile dysfunction, when compared to the medication sildenafil.

Sensate-Focus Therapy

Sex is completely restricted during this type of therapy, at least in the beginning.  You and your partner will agree to be completely sex-free for a certain number of weeks, maybe months. You can kiss and even touch each other – but erogenous zones are off limits. The goal is to explore each other's bodies in a nonsexual way and to make the anticipation build. Remember when you first dated and how you longed to touch each other? Try to recapture that feeling.

During each session, the counselor will give you a set of sensual touching exercises. For example, your homework may be to give each other a 15-minute massage while clothed, and later naked.

After the sex-free period is over, you'll slowly begin touching and kissing each other more intimately. This type of increased sexual stimulation can help a man get and keep an erection.

How Long Will I Need Sex Therapy?

It depends on the type of therapy you receive.  Usually, you go once a week for 10–12 weeks. Some men get better after only 3–4 sessions.  

How to Find a Sex Therapist

If you are considering sex therapy, you'll want to make sure you find a counselor who has special training in this area. You can find one in your area by visiting the American Association of Sexuality Educators Counselors & Therapists (AASECT) website.

Licensed sex therapists:

  • Receive additional schooling to understanding the basics of healthy sexual relationships

  • Are knowledgeable about the field

  • Are comfortable talking about sex

  • Provide a safe and supportive sex education environment

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Jul 14, 2017

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View Sources

Medical References

  1. Sexual Health and Aging: Keep the Passion Alive. The Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/sexual-health/in-depth/sexual-health/art-20046698
  2. Erectile dysfunction (impotence) - Treatment. NHS Choices. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Erectile-dysfunction/Pages/Treatment.aspx

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