Sexology and Sex Therapy

Sexology deals with the investigation and treatment of human sexual needs. Likewise, it offers an explanatory framework and specific techniques to treat sexual dysfunctions, at any age and in any context.
Sexology and Sex Therapy
Bernardo Peña

Written and verified by el psicólogo Bernardo Peña.

Last update: 30 July, 2021

Sexology is the scientific and humanistic discipline that studies everything related to sex and sexuality, from the biopsychosocial and cultural points of view.

It’s a multidisciplinary science with contributions from health professionals such as psychologists, doctors, nurses, etc. However, other leading professionals in the human sciences such as anthropologists, philosophers, educators, and others also contribute to it.

Sigmund Freud and sexology

Although the forerunners of sexology were R. von Krafft-Ebing and H. Havelock Ellis, it was Sigmund Freud who first discovered that some mental disorders had their origin in sexual problems at times. He discovered that, at other times, these were related to imbalances in sexual behavior.

For Freud, human sexuality is a source of vital energy that conditions human behavior. He called this energy libido . This vital energy is present right from the first weeks of life.

Freud highlighted these teachings in his theory of psychosexual development. He noted that the way we satisfy the libido during childhood leaves important traces in the unconscious. He concludes that these will then emerge in adult life.

Stages of psychosexual development

One of the central elements of Freudian theory is the psychosexual development of the individual. He believed that they go through the following stages:

Oral stage (0-18 months)

At this stage, the mouth is the area that gives the most pleasure. Babies tend to explore the environment and everything around them by experiencing through their mouths. It’s for this reason that they have a special tendency to bite and suck.

Anal stage (18-36 months)

This is the phase when children begin to control the anal sphincter. According to Freud, this activity is related to pleasure and sexuality.

Phallic stage (3-6 years)

The erogenous zone of this stage is associated with the genitals. Children begin to be aware that genitalia are different in men and women. This stage is related to the appearance of the Oedipus Complex. Children are attracted to the mother and jealous of the father.

Latency stage (7 years to puberty)

During this stage, there’s no specific associated erogenous zone. Freud described this phase as one in which sexuality remains hidden. This stage is associated with modesty and shame in relation to sexuality.

Genital stage (from puberty onwards)

The genital stage is related to the physical changes of adolescence. Sexual desire increases and intensifies. The erogenous zone at this stage is the genitals. This is, therefore, the birth of adult sexuality.

sexuality sex couple STD

Neurosis and sexual disorders

Finally, it should be noted that the correct resolution of all the stages of psychosexual development would, in principle, lead to a healthy and balanced adulthood. Conversely, stagnation in any of these phases could result in neurotic symptoms and even sexual problems in adulthood.

Although Freud dealt with neurotic problems with his psychoanalytic method, he was much less explicit with sexual ones. Later, sexology would try to fill this gap, both in research and in treatment.

Sexology today

As we discussed earlier, sexology is the science that investigates and treats sexual problems. These days, it’s an established scientific discipline, which has prestigious researchers on the international scene. It’s based on the experimental method and, in terms of his treatment, it has a sufficient level of evidence, both from medicine and from psychology.

Sexology and sex therapy

Beyond the scientific study of sexual dysfunctions, clinical sexology tries to offer a therapeutic response. This treatment can be medical, psychological or a combination. If the expert rules out organic illnesses, then they will treat the patient from a psychological point of view. This is because they believe there’s a cognitive or emotional element behind the dysfunction.

Sex therapy consists of the direct treatment of sexual dysfunctions. Generally, this treatment is carried out from the cognitive-behavioral approach. In addition, it has the following objectives:

  • Analyzing the factors that cause the sexual problem
  • Analyzing the problems that impede sexual performance
  • Enhancing skills to improve sexual response
  • Working on the thoughts, behaviors, and emotions that influence sexual development.

Examples of sex therapy techniques

Next, we’ll look at some techniques that are used in sex therapy:

Techniques to increase sexual desire

These techniques seek to improve and enhance the sexual response through work with the imagination, sexual fantasies, sexual wish lists, intimate contacts, etc. Similarly, they seek an improvement in sexual communication, and seek to boost sexual relations.

Techniques for premature ejaculation

The objective of these techniques is to delay ejaculation. We’re not only talking about the length of time here; the idea is to delay until the man decides that he wants to ejaculate. Therefore, the patient will learn to control the ejaculation partially or totally.

It works by conditioning the sensory stimuli that lead to ejaculation and which tell the body that it’s imminent. In addition, there are a series of manual techniques that allow you to exercise more effective control over it. Have a look at the stop-start technique.

Techniques for erectile dysfunction

A man looking at his penis.

The main objective, in these cases, is to achieve a hard erection until you’ve been able to finish the sex act. To do this, experts usually recommend paradoxical and distraction techniques. In some cases, performance concerns and other anxiety-generating complexes prevent erections.

For example, prohibiting intercourse and sexual relations exerts a paradoxical influence that goes in the opposite direction from usual. Similarly, shifting attention to the partner and not to the performance itself can alleviate the tension of the moment.

Techniques for female anorgasmia

The main objective, in this case, is for the woman to achieve orgasm, either through masturbation or through sexual intercourse. Therefore, you need to analyze all those cognitive, emotional, and behavioral factors that are preventing it.

In addition, the sessions will put forward the imagination as a key factor in achieving orgasm. For example, reading erotic novels, writing down your sexual fantasies, viewing erotic content, etc.

Techniques for dyspareunia and vaginismus

In this case, penetration needs to be carried out without pain, achieving the vaginal lubrication necessary to allow it. In this way, experts will work with progressive vaginal dilation exercises, while, at the same time, promoting relaxation and sensory stimulation through physical stimuli or in the imagination.

Conclusions about sexology

Sexology is a relatively young science. However, its development has been extraordinary, especially since the 60s and 70s of the last century. Currently, sexology, both in research and in its clinical contributions, is at the level of a consolidated science.

On the other hand, sexology offers an effective response to human needs, whether from psychology, medicine, or educational sciences.

  • Labrador, F. J., & Crespo, M. (2001). Tratamientos psicológicos eficaces para las disfunciones sexuales. Psicothema13(3), 428-441.
  • Murillo, M. L., & Martínez, A. P. (2011). Manual de sexología y terapia sexual. Revista Internacional de Andrología.
  • Sexología basada en la evidencia: historia y actualización. (2015). Revista Costarricense de Psicología.

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