Problems in the bedroom can be overwhelming

Sexual issues are common. Sex taps into many different parts of us: the emotional, the physical, the psychological and sometimes even the spiritual. Opportunities for something to go wrong in our sexual wiring is great.

Most people will experience some kind of sexual dysfunction at some point in their lives. These problems are often temporary and usually pass. For some people, difficulties having sex do not go away so easily.

There are many different types of sexual problems for both men and women. Some sexual issues are organic (biological) in nature and a GP can help with these sexual problems through medication and other treatments.

However, most sexual problems originate in the mind and are not due to a physical (organic) problem in the body. These types of sexual problems are usually treated through counselling and psychotherapy, in particular, psychosexual therapy. Sexual issues are one of the most common reasons people come to therapy.

Why is having sex so difficult?

You would think something as natural, healthy, common and socially acceptable as sex would be pretty straightforward. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Many of us have picked up negative messages about sex, negative messages about sexuality and negative messages about our own bodies. These messages, often acquired during childhood or adolescence, can make having sexual experiences difficult.

Some people have had negative or traumatic sexual experiences in the past that are difficult to overcome. Previous sexual trauma can make sexual encounters very distressing. Someone who has experienced sex as a painful, negative or damaging experience in the past may have trouble accepting that sex can be a healthy, enjoyable part of life.

And we can’t ignore religion and its role in how we view sex. Some religions teach that certain experiences of sex are good while other forms of sex are very bad. This can be confusing to some people as they come to understand their own sexual desires. Religious influences can have a devastating effect on how we regard our own sexuality. Most religions do not take into account the complex nature of normal human desire.

Whatever the reasons (and there are many), sex has become a complex and complicated issue. Since the twentieth century, we have given sex a great deal of importance in society. Messages are often mixed: sex is sometimes seen as taboo while all around us most advertising, film and social media are heavily sexualised. People with sexual issues often have much anxiety about their sexual problems and this anxiety usually makes the sexual issues worse.

Sex and intimacy

Sometimes a sexual problem has its origins within our emotions. On a number of levels, sex creates an intimacy with a sexual partner. Intimacy with another can make us feel vulnerable. For some people, it is this level of intimacy that creates the sexual dysfunction. Being intimate with another person can make some people feel exposed, vulnerable and afraid.

In these cases, the problem isn’t so much about sex, but it is the emotional discomfort that being up close and personal with another person brings. When facing sexual problems, it’s a good idea to think first about whether the issue is around sex and sexual behaviour or around intimacy and closeness. Problems with intimacy are also very common.

What you can do to help yourself through sexual problems

Overcoming sexual issues is not always easy and most people need the help of an experienced therapist to conquer sex and intimacy issues. Sexual issues are often deeply embedded and a good therapist can help understand and resolve difficult issues around sex.

Psychosexual therapists are therapists who specialise in sexual issues for individuals and for couples.

On our own, there are a few steps that might help alleviate some of the anxiety around having problems in the bedroom. Taking a few minutes to understand the nature of your sexual problem can help. The more you understand your sexual issue, the less the issue will intimidate you. If you have an ongoing sexual problem and you’d like to improve your sexual experiences, you might consider the following:

  1. Acknowledge and accept that you have a sexual issue. Tell yourself that sexual problems are common and that this is OK. In other words, let yourself off the hook.
  2. Think through what sex means to you. What is sex to you? What messages have you picked up about sex? Do you see sex as a positive or negative thing? Has religion influenced your ideas around sex? What were your parent’s attitudes towards sex?
  3. Think about why you have sex. What do you hope to get out of sex? Physical pleasure? A connection with another person? A sense of being loved and cared for? What do you want sex to be?
  4. Think about your personal sexual issues. At what point in sex does the problem begin? Are certain types of sex easier or more difficult for you? Have there been successful sexual experiences when the problem did not appear? What was different on those occasions?
  5. Does your problem feel like a sexual problem or an intimacy issue? How do you feel when you are emotionally or sexually intimate with another person? Is sex without intimacy less or more difficult for you?
  6. Are you having the type of sex you want to be having? How do you feel about your recent sexual experiences and the expectations or demands of your sexual partners? Is your partner fulfilling your sexual needs? What would make sex more comfortable, more fulfilling and more enjoyable for you?

Getting help

Counselling and psychotherapy for sexual issues is a common and effective treatment. Most therapists will have some experience of working with sexual problems and some therapists will have specialised training in sex or sexuality issues. A psychosexual therapist may be the best way forward if your sexual issues have been around a long time or if they are getting in the way of your personal relationships.

Many people are reluctant to speak with a therapist about sexual issues. This is understandable. It can feel uncomfortable talking about sex and sexual behaviour. However, most people are surprised how easy it is to speak about sex once they get going. A good therapist will make sure these conversations are managed sensitively and with care. Sex is an important part of life. Talk about it.

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