Relationships have sexual ups and downs — and that’s normal. Factors, from stress to busy schedules to hormones, can get in the way of intimacy and make our sex lives feel less exciting than they likely did at the beginning of a relationship. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your bedroom problems, it may be time to consider calling in some professional backup and seeing a sex therapist.
“There are always one-offs here and there, such as stress, lifestyle, and hormones,” says sex therapist , PhD, “but the real indicator that you need someone to address your issues it is to look for a pattern.”
Sex therapist agrees, pointing out that waiting to solve an issue can be unhealthy for your relationship. “Too many couples put off sex therapy and the problem snowballs,” she says. “If you’re in crisis mode by the time you land in a therapist’s office, you’re going to have to spend more time trying to address your anger and resentment than you will addressing the original issue.”
Click through for seven signs you might benefit from sex therapy from Drs. Kat and Marin.
If you find that you and your S.O. are bickering more than usual, don’t get too alarmed. “What you have to do is make sure the fighting is constructive,” Dr. Kat says. If you feel like your arguments are getting unproductive and repetitive, a therapist can help you walk through exercises to turn your fighting from nasty to constructive. Dr. Kat, for example, works with couples “on getting them aware of what their triggers are, what the signs are in their bodies [when they’re reaching to triggers], and what their negative self-talk is.”
Once patients are aware of why they’re feeling what they’re feeling during a disagreement with their partner, Dr. Kat helps them with tools for managing their emotions and getting out of “fight or flight” mode, which encourages people to get defensive or abandon a discussion altogether.
“This can involve breath work, verbalizations, eye-gazing, advocating for two-minute breaks to regroup, counting to 10, or even reaching out for body-to-body contact in order to switch up the energy of the interaction,” she explains. “Also, having established ‘fair fighting rules’ can be helpful. What works can be different for every couple.”
Let’s say you’ve been having sex with your partner for a while, but you haven’t orgasmed from it yet. While orgasm isn’t the be-all and end-all of your sex life, it can be a great part of it and you deserve to figure out what’s going on. Take a look at what’s happening in your life and your relationship: Have you been feeling more stressed than usual? Have you been communicating your desires to your partner? If it’s been a while and you still don’t know why you haven’t been able to come with your partner (and that’s an experience you’d like to have), it’s time to think about sex therapy.
And what if you’ve never had an orgasm — like, ever? Seeing a sex therapist is a great step. “The main issue is that women are made to feel guilty for not knowing how to orgasm, but they’re never given the opportunity to learnhow to orgasm,” Marin says. “They feel really lost about what they need to get there, and it’s hard to find accurate information.”
Sex therapists can be like detectives, working with you to pinpoint what’s holding you back from maximum pleasure and giving you action items, such as masturbation techniques, to help you get there.
It’s a common scenario: The hot, steamy sex that you used to have all the time has turned stale. “People get really stuck in patterns, and the problem is after a while, you lose a sense of fun, spontaneity, and creativity because you’re too comfortable,” Van Kirk says.
Sometimes, an open conversation with your partner is all you need to get back on track. In a gentle, non-accusatory way (before your clothes are off), explain to your partner what you’d like to try to make your sex life together even better. Then, ask for their ideas, too.
If you’d like to add something more complicated than a vibrator to your sex life, a therapist can help you figure out how. Can’t stop thinking about trying BDSM or having a threesome? While open communication with your partner is a great first step, “Sex therapy can provide you with a safe place to talk about your boundaries,” Marin says. “It can prepare you for your explorations and might ask you about topics you hadn’t previously thought about. For example, what would you do if you start having a threesome and one of you gets jealous?”
Your partner wants to get it on, but you’d rather go to sleep. When you want to have some fun shower sex, your partner is MIA. Having mismatched sex drives is actually a very common issue for couples.
“You’re never going to want sex at exactly the same time, every time, so all couples have to learn how to navigate their differences,” Marin says. But if you’re having serious trouble syncing your sex drives, it doesn’t hurt to get an expert’s advice. “Sex therapy can help you learn how to initiate sex in ways that will make your partner want to say yes and teach you how to turn down sex in ways that won’t drive the two of you apart,” Marin adds.
Anxiety you face outside of the bedroom has a way of trickling into it. If you’re too concerned about your performance to enjoy or even want to have sex — an issue that affects people of all gender identities — that’s a great time to seek out a sexpert who can help you develop methods for coping with anxious thoughts.
“There’s a lot of negative self-talk that’s all coming from people’s own heads,” Dr. Kat says. “Getting them to be aware of that is a big step.”
She helps women shift from focusing on how they’re being perceived during sex to the pleasure they’re feeling, so they can really enjoy the moment.
If you’re dealing with a past sexual trauma, therapy — both sex therapy and other kinds — can help. Sexual trauma can bring about feelings from shame to a lack of arousal, even when you’re ready to be intimate, and a sex therapist can assist you in sorting through them all.
“Therapy can help someone deal with the sexual trauma in an open way versus repressing it, which can become very negative when coming to intimacy with a partner,” Dr. Kat. “The therapist can help create a safe environment where the client can process through difficult emotions and how they’re hindering them in their everyday lives.”
Whether it’s physical or emotional, infidelity can definitely take its toll on your sex life (and every other part of life) with your partner. While “occasional jealousy, bouts of attraction to other people, and fantasies of cheating in a relationship can be very common,” Dr. Kat says, “the main thing you want to watch out for is if one of these becomes a pattern” — which can be a sign to seek therapy for either one or both of you.
If one of you has cheated and you both agree that you’d like to commit to the future of the relationship, a therapist’s office is a great neutral ground on which to do some of that work.
“It’s better to discuss feelings [than to ignore them] in order for the couple to have the [opportunity] of working it out,” Dr. Kat adds. “This way, the couple can use [infidelity] as an opportunity for understanding and growth.”