Erectile dysfunction, or ED, is a common issue that affects around 30 million men in the United States and many more worldwide.
A variety of factors can contribute to ED. Sometimes, ED is caused by a physical health issue, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. In other cases, it may be caused by a psychological factor such as anxiety, depression or nervousness about sex.
While ED is usually treated using medications like sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra®), tadalafil (Cialis®) and others, options such as counseling and sex therapy can be effective for ED that’s caused by a psychological or emotional factor.
Below, we’ve explained what sex therapy is, how it works and how it can be useful for treating erectile dysfunction. We’ve also talked about other science-based options for improving your erectile health, from medications to habits and lifestyle changes.
Sex therapy is a specialized form of counseling that’s designed to help you (and, in many cases, your partner) treat sexual issues.
Common issues discussed and treated during sex therapy include relationship problems, sexual performance anxiety and other sex-related problems.
Contrary to popular belief, sex therapy doesn’t involve any sexual contact between you and your partner or you and your therapist. Instead, it’s focused on discussing your problems and seeking practical, results-focused solutions to help you overcome them.
Although talking to a stranger about your sex life might feel awkward, the reality is that most sex therapists will go out of their way to make you feel relaxed, comfortable and focused on making progress.
Depending on your specific problem, sex therapy might involve learning more about your sexual health and needs as an individual, overcoming anxiety or nervousness about sex, improving the level of intimacy with your partner or many other things.
While the results of sex therapy aren’t immediate, if you (along with your partner, if you are both undergoing sex therapy together) are willing to work with your therapist over time, you may see real improvements in your relationship, sexual performance and level of sexual satisfaction.
Sex therapy offers several different benefits. Some of these are general benefits for your sexual health, performance and wellbeing, whereas others are more specific benefits related to treating erectile dysfunction.
One of the biggest potential benefits of sex therapy is that it can cause significant improvements in your sex life and relationship, often without the use of medication.
Although medications like sildenafil and tadalafil can make getting an erection easier, they aren’t designed to treat anxiety or nervousness about sex.
If you think that your ED is related to a psychological issue, taking part in sex therapy may help you to identify and improve the underlying factor rather than simply using medication to improve your performance.
Sex therapy can also have benefits for your relationship. Many couples report better enjoyment of sex after undergoing sex therapy.
With this said, it’s important to understand that sex therapy isn’t necessarily a panacea for any sex-related issue. Sexual health is complicated, meaning there’s no “ideal” treatment for every problem.
Several studies have found that sex therapy can improve sexual performance issues, including erectile dysfunction.
For example, one study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior followed 36 couples that took part in sex therapy to treat the male partner’s ED.
Two thirds of the couples completed the treatment. The researchers found that 69.4 percent of the couples that took part in sex therapy reported a positive outcome.
A more recent study published in Sexual Medicine looked at the effects of cognitive behavioral sex therapy on young men with nonorganic erectile dysfunction (NOED) -- a form of ED that’s linked to psychological issues such as anxiety and depression.
The researchers found that the cognitive behavioral sex therapy produced an improvement in erection scores and a reduction in the severity of ED over the course of the study.
Interestingly, this study also featured a control group of men with nonorganic ED who received treatment with the ED medication sildenafil. The researchers found that the difference between sex therapy and sildenafil in ED score and ED severity reduction was nonsignificant.
The men who took part in cognitive behavioral sex therapy also reported a larger improvement in anxiety scores than those who received the ED medication.
In simple terms, the men who took part in sex therapy showed similar improvements in erectile performance to those who used ED medication, along with a larger reduction in anxiety related to sex.
Most mid-sized and large cities will have several sex therapists, making it relatively easy for you to find someone in your area.
The easiest way to find a sex therapist near you is by making use of online tools. The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) offers a referral tool that you can use to find licensed sex therapists in your state and area.
You can also search for sex therapists in your city or area via Psychology Today’s sex therapist search tool.
If you have health insurance, you can also reach out to your provider to ask about sex therapists in your area. It’s also okay to ask your primary care provider or other healthcare provider to give you a referral to a sex therapist.
Finally, Googling “sex therapist” along with your city or region should bring up local websites for sex therapists offering their services.
Sex therapy can be a great option for overcoming ED that’s caused by performance anxiety or another psychological factor. However, it’s far from the only treatment option that’s available for erectile dysfunction.
Below, we’ve listed other treatment options for ED. Some of these options may be effective on their own, while others may be helpful when used or practiced alongside sex therapy.
Numerous science-based, FDA-approved medications are available to treat ED. These work by making it easier for blood to flow into the tissue of your penis, allowing you to get and stay hard during foreplay and sex.
FDA-approved medications for ED include:
We offer generic versions of several ED medications, following a consultation with a healthcare provider who will determine if a prescription is appropriate.
If you’re affected by erectile dysfunction, making some changes to your habits and lifestyle may help to improve your erectile health and sexual performance. These include:
We’ve provided more information about habits and lifestyle changes for improving your erectile health in our guide to natural ways to protect your erection.
Sex therapy can be an effective treatment option for many sex-related issues, including erectile dysfunction. Research shows that it may be especially effective for ED caused by psychological factors such as anxiety or depression.
If you have ED and think that a psychological issue could be the cause, consider reaching out to a sex therapist to learn more about how they may be able to help you.
It’s also okay to talk to your primary care provider or reach out to a licensed healthcare provider online for more information.