What Is Sex Therapy? - Definition and Features

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  • 0:05 Sexual Dysfunction
  • 2:04 The Plissit Model
  • 3:34 Sex Therapy in Practice
  • 5:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Sex is a normal part of adult life, but sometimes people have issues with sex. Where can people turn when they have sexual dysfunction? In this lesson, we'll examine what sex therapy is and how sex therapists help patients with sexual dysfunctions.

Sexual Dysfunction

Kenny has a problem. Whenever he and his wife become intimate, he can't seem to sustain an erection. The doctors say there's nothing physically wrong with him, but he feels frustrated and depressed.

Julie wants to be in a loving relationship. She comes from a very traditional family and culture and really wants to marry a nice man. But she's not really attracted to men; she finds herself attracted to women, and this makes her feel very anxious. As a result, she's developed a pain whenever she's engaged in sex.

Phil, on the other hand, has never really been interested in sex. His whole life, he's enjoyed the company of others, but even with his wife, he just isn't really into it.

Kenny, Julie, and Phil all have different types of sexual dysfunction. Sexual dysfunction is a general term used to refer to a number of disorders that lead to sexual problems.

There are many causes of sexual dysfunction disorders, including physical, psychological, and sociocultural. For example, Kenny's erectile dysfunction disorder might be caused by a problem with blood flow, a fear of not satisfying his wife, or a combination of both.

Julie's pain during sex is caused by the psychological distress brought on by the difference between her sexual orientation and the sociocultural pressures of her family and community.

Phil's hypoactive (meaning 'unusually diminished') sexual desire disorder might be a result of a physical issue, like a low level of the hormone testosterone, or it might be a result of a childhood psychological trauma.

Regardless of the cause of sexual dysfunction, many people find that they need help dealing with the symptoms and stress associated with issues around sex. Some psychologists and psychiatrists are trained to deal specifically with sexual issues. They are called sex therapists, and the work they do is sex therapy.


Sex therapy is not unlike other types of psychological therapy. The session usually involves talking with the therapist in his or her office and then some exercises to do between sessions.

Sex therapists follow certain guidelines to increase their effectiveness. These guidelines are often referred to as the PLISSIT model of sex therapy.

The 'P' in PLISSIT stands for permission. Because sex and sexuality are hot-button topics for many people, it's important for the therapist to build trust by getting permission from the client to talk about sexual issues and giving permission to the client to bring up any questions or issues they have with sex.

The 'LI' in PLISSIT stands for limited information. Many people are just not completely aware and educated about sex issues. The therapist needs to expand their knowledge base by educating patients and their partners about the problems they face.

The 'SS' in PLISSIT stands for specific suggestions. Besides just educating clients about sexual disorders, the therapist needs to offer suggestions that are specific to the patient's problem.

The 'IT' in PLISSIT stands for intensive therapy. Patients might need more than just a sex therapist to help them out. They might also need to see a medical doctor, for example, if they have a physical issue that underlies the sexual dysfunction. A good sex therapist will be able to see what therapies are best for the client.

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