Let’s Talk about Sex Therapy with TLC

We sat down with the lovely folks from TLC: Talk, Listen, Change, to learn all about sex therapy.

We discussed why people need this service, what to expect from a session and how it benefits intimacy. Plus, we talk about TLC’s project to provide 1,000 sex therapy sessions to low-income households. Read the full interview below!

So, What is Sex Therapy?

We got Polly Sangar, Relationship and Psychosexual Therapist at TLC, to teach us all about it; “Its full name is psycho-sexual therapy, and it’s a structured programme that deals specifically with sexual problems or dysfunctions”. Polly outlined, “The psychological element is important as it can have a massive impact. We look at the problem and the person(s) as a whole, holistically.”

You don’t need to be in a relationship to go to sex therapy either; this is something you can do for yourself. “As individuals, we are sexual persons; we have sex with ourselves before entering into sex with another person. So it’s helpful to understand ourselves before entering into sex with another person.”

She also broke down why an individual or couple might decide to attend sessions. “In its crudest nutshell, it’s: ‘Can’t get it in, can’t get it out, can’t get it up, or gone off it’. So, that covers the basis of thinking around dysfunction.”

Reasons You Might Go to Sex Therapy

  • Physical Sexual Dysfunction, e.g. Erectile Dysfunction and Vaginismus
  • Hypo-desire – Decrease in libido or interest in sex
  • Mismatched Sex Drive– One partner may have more or less of an interest in sex
  • Changes over time – Ideas and attitudes towards sex evolve over time and may no longer align
Bondara Sex Toy Blog - Let’s Talk about Sex Therapy with TLC - Illustration of two pairs of feet under a duvet suggesting sexual relations.

“We can prevent ourselves from engaging in sex by overthinking it and by being really hard on ourselves or on our partner.”

– Polly Sangar, TLC

Wait… Do I Need Sex Therapy?

Don’t panic! Just because you’re having issues in the bedroom, doesn’t necessarily mean you need this style of therapy.

“We first start with an assessment to see if it’s appropriate”, Polly explains. “For example, some couples might come in asking for sex therapy, but then it’ll become apparent that the issue’s root is in communication. The sexual dysfunction is just a by-product of that.”

“If someone comes to us and the rest of the relationship is really good, everything’s fine, but they just can’t nail sex, that’s when sex therapy would be suitable.” Once it’s decided which support is best for you, your therapist gets a complete sexual history. This can include:

  • Background
  • Sex education
  • Ideas surrounding the do’s and don’ts of sex
  • Previous sexual experiences, both positive and negative
  • Impact of porn
  • Sexual expectations of yourself and your partner

“It’s a full exploration. It is really important to the process because there might not be an arousal or desire disorder. It might just be that they’re not enjoying the sex on offer in their relationship anymore.”

If you decide to start therapy as part of a couple, these discussions are done separately, so there is time for each partner to focus on themselves. “We do a formulation and put all that information back together. So, it breaks down everything that seems to be a factor in the issue and then works out a tailor-made treatment plan.”

No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service

Polly wanted to clarify that these appointments are solely about therapy; “Nobody gets naked in the therapy room. It’s talking with exercises to try at home. That feedback then informs the next session, which in turn informs the next stage of the process.

How Does It Benefit Intimacy?

So how does this all benefit your sex life? “It’s a total breakdown of all the preconceived stuff around sex, identity and expectations.” Starting fresh and discussing expectations ensures you’re on the same page as your partner. “We want to rebuild intimacy and an idea of self from a more understanding, better place.”, Polly elaborated.

While relationship status doesn’t matter, Polly did want to reiterate how positive the appointments can be for long-standing couples. “It can be really helpful for longer-term relationships, as it allows them to have that open and honest conversation without feeling rejected or hurt.”

Equipping people with the tools to navigate their relationship problems moving forward is a huge part of therapy; Polly explained: “We encourage people to build in those practises so that any minor problems you’ve got, there is the vocabulary to discuss them, and you can iron out issues before they become major problems.”

What Are the At-Home Exercises Like?

The at-home activities set by TLC therapists are about getting couples out of their heads and into their bodies. Polly told us, “The exercises promote sensations and feeling because that’s where good sex happens.”

She also broke down how the exercises work and how they inform the whole process. “We’ll bring partners in and ask what they like so that they’re led by their own interest. It’s about letting people be free to explore their own wants and needs and then bringing that together and seeing how it fits.” And despite the name, the emphasis isn’t on having sex. It’s about connecting to yourself and your partner on a sensual, emotional level.

“We want people to practice being in the moment, how things feel, and getting in touch with the senses rather than going, “Oh, what do I look like right now? Do I look like an idiot?”.

The homework aims to start very basically and slowly build up, giving the clients as much control as possible over pacing. “We start from zero and build it up really, really slowly. The start of the touch exercises is not about looking for pleasure but about curiosity. So, we’re changing the focus of what we’re bringing to the practices and helping people develop a new connection with themselves and their partners.”

Who is TLC?

A leading relationship charity in the Northwest, TLC’s core belief is that everyone deserves a circle of safe, healthy, happy relationships. “We try to aid this through various community projects, mediation for separated parents, domestic abuse services with victim support, and counselling”, Emily Manning, one of their Development Managers, told us.

The counselling on offer is for people of all ages, genders, sexualities, and races, and sex therapy is an essential part of it. “It sets us apart from other counselling services and relationship charities because it’s not really offered anywhere else.”

Bondara Sex Toy Blog - Let’s Talk about Sex Therapy with TLC - Illustration of a hand holding condoms.

Money, Money, Money

With private sessions averaging £70-100 and the cost of living price looming over us all, it’s easy to understand how it can be viewed as a luxury. However, TLC doesn’t believe that should be the case, offering a sliding scale of payments based on individual income.

It also catalysed their first-of-its-kind project to offer 1,000 sessions to lower-income households. “With the other services we offer, we tend to recommend up to 10 sessions, but with sex therapy, there’s no upper limit because everyone is different. This is why we’re raising money for a number of sessions versus the number of people it would benefit, as we’re not sure how many sessions a couple might need.”

Emily stressed that TLC believes this type of therapy should be as accessible as any other. “When we analysed all of our different types of counselling services, sex therapy was one of the ones that had a massive drop in engagement from referrals to appointment bookings.”

While sex therapy is offered by the National Health Service, the criteria for receiving it can be very specific. Plus, with options in the NHS being reduced, TLC hopes to fill that gap. “We know that the demand and need are there, so it was a project we really wanted to get behind.”

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Want to learn more about TLC: Talk, Listen, Change?

TLC has been one of the leading relationship charities in the Northwest for over 40 years, offering a range of programmes, including Adult Counselling, Mediation, Children & Young People’s services and Domestic Abuse services. They believe the relationship you build with yourself is just as important as those you build with others. They take a holistic approach to counselling, supporting their client’s emotional well-being and encouraging safe, healthy, happy relationships.

If you’re interested in TLC’s services, read more about Sex Therapy and their other counselling options. To donate to TLC’s “Let’s Talk About Sex” project as an individual, check out their JustGiving page. Read their Support Our Work page to see what else you can do to help out.

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