If you and your partner are thinking about marriage counselling, you might be wondering if, how, and when the topic of sex will come up. Most couples beginning marriage counselling are terrified of the thought of having to talk about their sex lives with a complete stranger. Other couples might be seeking help specifically because they want to talk about their issues with intimacy. The more difficult cases are where one individual wants to discuss sex, but the other would rather crawl into a hole.

Some Clarification: Marriage Counselling versus Sex Therapy

Marriage counselling is not the same thing as sex therapy. Marriage counselling takes the whole marriage, with all of its varying problems, into account. Couples who want to focus specifically on sexual issues will likely be advised to see a psychologist or sexologist who has specialised in physical intimacy and sexual dysfunction. As sex therapy is considered an area that requires specialty training, not all psychologists are equipped with the skills or knowledge to help couples with sexual problems. Furthermore, some therapists may be just as uncomfortable talking openly about sex as their clients. Whether your psychologist has the experience, training, and confidence to discuss sex with you during marriage counselling will depend on the individual therapist, and may be a question that you want to ask before choosing a psychologist.

The IF: will sex come up?

Whether sex comes into the conversation will depend on the couple and the therapist. There is no set of rules that dictates what topics are covered in marriage counselling, as each couple is unique and requires a personalised approach. For example, if a couple attends therapy to resolve a specific issue that is unrelated to their sex life, their therapist might find it unnecessary to raise the issue of sex. So, sex may never come up, which will come as a relief to many couples. Other therapists prefer to take the whole relationship into account, even if the couple initially comes in with the purpose of reviewing just one aspect of marriage. As sex is a part of the whole, some therapists consider it vital to discussion, and will certainly bring it up.

The HOW and WHEN: at what point during therapy will sex be mentioned?

If you are going to talk about sex during marriage counselling, it’s unlikely that your psychologist will broach the topic on your very first session. If you want to talk about it, then go ahead and bring it up at any point, but if you’re hesitant, that’s okay. Psychologists understand that it can be an uncomfortable topic, especially during the initial sessions when your therapist feels like a stranger to you. It’s most likely to come up after the first few sessions, when you feel comfortable enough to be honest and open with your therapist. If your therapist is the first to bring it up, they will do so with tact and sensitivity. Initial questions about sex usually regard satisfaction and frequency, and it’s up to you and your partner whether you want to delve into the issue with more depth.

Before you start marriage counselling, there is no certainty as to whether the topic of sex will or will not come up during sessions. If this is something that is worrying you – either because you really do or really don’t want to talk about sex and are unsure of how this correlates with your therapist’s approach – don’t hesitate to phone and ask directly. Remember also that it is fully within your rights to be honest with your therapist and to tell them (politely) that you’re not ready to talk sex with them, or that you would rather not talk about it at all. Louw Alberts welcomes your questions about sex in a relationship.