Don’t worry. This post isn’t TMI. This whole post is PG-13, apart from the word “sex”.
Actually, a lot of our time with our coach, Dr. Anya de Montigny, was pretty PG-13 and just about relationships and communication. But with a specific goal. Sex!
Before starting sex therapy, I really had no idea what to expect. I knew that it was expensive and that I previously had a lot of trouble finding even a normal therapist that I liked.
Below I’ll go over
- Why use a sex therapist. Is it just for kinky stuff? (No, it’s not)
- What to expect from sex therapy (this might surprise you)
- Our experience with Dr. Anya de Montigny
Overview of Our Experience
This is a slightly awkward post to write — sex is pretty intimate. Those who are family (my parents read my blog!) and who come across this article are probably blushing.
Even though the entire content below is PG-13 and very family-friendly… If you are blushing, then stop reading this!
But the fact that talking about sex is so taboo, yet so normal, is why I thought it was important to write about. Sex is one of those things nearly everyone does in some way, similar to other things I write about. It’s important to a lot of people.
Unfortunately, because of social norms, embarrassment, insecurity, being afraid to ask, difficulty googling it (without getting a ton of ads and trash), and a plethora of other reasons, most of us do sex not as well as we want to.
What does “not doing sex well” mean? It doesn’t mean lacking some magical combination of skills. I’m not talking about not being able to pick up people in jazz bars then wowing them in bed through your moves. I’m actually mostly talking about self-acceptance and communication.
What I learned through working with a therapist — Dr. Anya de Montigny, based in the San Francisco area — is that sex that’s satisfying to both you and those you’re with starts with honesty with yourself and with your partners. And even if you think you have those attributes, most of us have a lot of room for improvement.
Dr. Anya says lots of people come to her looking for a quick fix. “Help me do blah blah blah in ten simple steps!” Sometimes she has felt compelled to offer just that. But that’s not what she gave me (and my partner).
What Dr. Anya taught us how to do was to (start to) understand ourselves and accept ourselves, then how to think about working within that framework, and how to communicate stuff with each other in a safe way.
Negotiating and communicating is really just the bread and butter of relationships and human relations in general. Couples spend a lot of time negotiating things like living situations, money, and so on. But for some reason, we often don’t do it well in the most intimate part of our lives.
A few examples of how sex therapy helped (PG-13 rated)
I’ll give a few examples — and while they’re personal, none of it is shocking.
Firstly, many of us have some idealised view of sex that’s obviously different to reality. Some of this comes from what we hear as kids, movies, and pornography.
Some examples of the idealised view are that sex “should” be: spontaneous, often at night time, and abiding by a certain frequency.
But unsurprisingly, we’re all different as humans. Some of us are morning people, some night people. Sometimes we get busy! And libido ebbs and flows with stress, diet, exercise, age, and so on.
So those conversations with our partner(s) and understanding that reality is different from imagination, and also that what you want might be different to what you think you should want, are not just hard to have, but critical.
Dr. Anya gave us frameworks for having those conversations, and it really helped.
Secondly, we come to relationships and to intimacy with a lot of hang-ups and fears from our pasts. For both me and my partner, this was a mix of influences from family, society, past relationships, religious conservatism (something we’ve both left behind), and cultural prudishness from coming from conservative cultural backgrounds.
It’s hard to disentangle ourselves from those and to accept ourselves as who we are, and believe that we’re OK.
Helping believe that we’re OK, and that our partners will accept us for that, is very hard. But it’s critical to not just surviving sex, but surviving a relationship. Dr. Anya gave us tools to help us know ourselves and give a language to it — and assurances that there are many out there like us — and it was enlightening.
Being able to accept ourselves and our partners sounds so simple, and it really is. It’s just amazing that many of us, despite good intentions and being good people, don’t exist like that.
To address these, Dr. Anya occasionally did one-on-one sessions with us, too.
There were many more specific tools that Dr. Anya gave us. Some of those were techniques! They came in the forms of videos to watch (unfortunately cheesy, but very informative), exercises (called “homeplay” rather than “homework”), and talking about them with her was an enlightening experience.
One of our favourite parts of the experience with Dr. Anya was that she started every session with a 3-minute meditation. It really set the tone for the entire session and was something we looked forward to every time.
What To Expect from a Sex Therapist Session
Not every sex therapist is the same. But below is what you can reasonably expect.
We went looking on Yelp. We know they mostly operate remotely (in fact, since 2022, all of Dr Anya’s clients are remote), and expected many of the best to be in the west coast of the US, and probably other major cities like New York. We also know that in these more liberal cities, people are more likely to leave reviews, so that helped our search. Dr. Anya has great reviews on yelp!
We tried one other sex therapist before Dr. Anya. Her suggestions were good, but we didn’t click with her — the conversation never felt natural and we didn’t get the impression that she really “got” us. (She had many rave reviews, so many others had fit with her.)
We clicked with Dr. Anya right away, and continued to do so. She’s a cool character! So — look for that. You’re paying a lot, so make sure it’s someone you can talk to as a trusted friend.
Dr. Anya gave us clues as to what to expect, and they turned out to be real. Some of these were
- There aren’t “quick fixes”. Well, there are, but they come after laying a foundation. Just don’t expect a change in one session. However, most clients stay for 10-15 sessions and then “graduate”, so it won’t just go on arbitrarily forever.
- Sex therapy sessions are not cheap. Most good sex therapists cost US$150-200 an hour — and that’s for a video conference. But what you get for that is someone who’s attended many, many courses, and has a lot of counselling experience. Dr. Anya has a PhD, for example.
- Sex therapy isn’t professional psychological work. Psychologists have different qualifications. There’s overlap, but don’t expect that kind of analysis from a sex therapy.
Every session, we’d start with a quick meditation, and then it’d start how you’d expect therapy to start — generally “How you’ve been doing”. Of course, the focus would be on sex, but we’d also consider the emotional backdrop.
Then, during teh course of the conversation, she’d offer some advice on how to think about things, think of some reading materials she’d send to us, and then give us some “homeplay”.
The homeplay would be exercises that might involve reading / writing, but would also involve physical activity. The point of the exercises would be to help us think about communication and touch differently.
The goal of sex therapy, for us anyway, was really to re-frame how we talk about sex, and how to think differently about communication. I thought, as a relatively “modern man”, that I had a separation between how sex should be according to movies and porn, and how it really is. But I still had old shibboleths that needed tearing down, like the idea that sex must be spontaneous, that certain things are romantic and certain things are not, that you can’t plan it, that it’s only fun with new people when there’s tension, and so on.
Finally, it should be stated that Dr Anya does of course cater to many couples outside the heterosexual paradigm, if you’re concerned about that at all.
Aftermath — What We Took Away from Sex Therapy
The one thing that was most surprising about finishing a course of therapy with a sex therapist was how much more comfortable we’ve become talking about sex not just between ourselves or with a therapist, but with friends.
I don’t mean talking about sex in a graphic way. I just mean talking about it like the way we talk about other aspects of our lives, like work or friendships. Definitely women seem (anecdotally) to be able to talk about it more, and men less, but many of us probably could stand to improve on this.
I’ve come to realise that everyone has their own journey and hang-ups. I’ve had friends who are open about talking about it, and I was always fascinated by them. I’m glad to know that I’m on the journey to being more like them!
I don’t mean to say that sex should take some abnormally large part of our lives. It just is a part of our lives, and shouldn’t be hidden away and shunned — just acknowledged as normal and accepted.
That’s probably the best part of having spent all that money on sex therapy. My one regret is not having found Dr. Anya or someone like her maybe twenty years ago!
So if you’re thinking about doing it — yes, it’s expensive, and many good therapists are booked out. But sex therapy is still cheaper than many of the things it might help prevent — like a break-up after getting frustrated that sex isn’t working in your relationship.