27 Mar
2009

Marvin and Caroline are an example of a couple who are likely to benefit from sex therapy. Marvin, a 53-year-old executive for a large corporation, has been married to Caroline, his second wife, for almost eight years. They have a strong, caring relationship and always thought they communicated quite well. When they went for help they were supportive of each others’ needs and able to talk about their concerns. They wanted to improve their sex life together.

Marvin first noticed a problem after he and Caroline had been together for five years. “Almost overnight I stopped getting erections. It started out, it would just go soft quickly. Then, in the space of about two months, nothing.” Until this happened Marvin and Caroline had been enjoying, in her words, “a very full sex life.”

Marvin went to his doctor, and tests revealed no physical problem. The erection difficulty continued, and after several months Marvin’s physician recommended that he go to a sex therapy clinic at a nearby university. Their experience is just one example of sex therapy. Other therapists proceed with treatment differently.

Marvin and Caroline entered a structured, medical school-based sex therapy program which lasted for three months. Follow-up visits were available after they completed treatment. Each week, they had a session with their two therapists, a man and a woman. (The male-female sex therapy team is based on the ideas of Masters and Johnson. But recent research suggests that a single therapist—male or female—may be just as effective. And certainly, many successful therapists work alone.)

Thorough tests had found no physical cause for Marvin’s erection problem, so that part of the process was finished. Marvin and Caroline filled out questionnaires. They answered questions about their past and present sexual habits and about how they felt about certain types of sexual behavior. Then they were interviewed separately and the therapists discussed their answers in detail. In addition, the therapists obtained even more medical and personal information.

Some interesting facts emerged during the couple’s discussions with the therapists. Marvin realized his body was sending him a message: He was very uncomfortable about on-the-job developments, and said he was under a lot of stress. “My problem coincided almost exactly with a job change I wasn’t happy about.”

Upset about his work situation, Marvin had begun drinking heavily. He had been a social drinker for many years, without suffering any apparent ill effects. But as his unhappiness at work increased, his alcohol consumption did likewise. Obviously, adding large amounts of alcohol to this already-pressured situation just made his erection problem worse. But it wasn’t until he entered sex therapy that Marvin realized the extent of his self-sabotage.

Therapy helped him make these connections. But it did more for the couple. It improved their communication.

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