Therapy goes under covers

SEX, allegedly, ranks high in the mind of most adult Britons at any one point in the day. So why are we so incredibly bashful when our personal experiences are less than perfect.

By Debbie Watson

SEX, allegedly, ranks high in the mind of most adult Britons at any one point in the day. So why are we so incredibly bashful when our personal experiences are less than perfect.

In the light of a recent TV series on this very issue, Debbie Watson visits Relate and finds out about a specific sexual therapy service.

IN thousands of bedrooms across the region, every night, a staggering toll of marriages are falling apart. Curiously enough, society has never been more open about its discussions of the 'unmentionable'. We talk to youngsters, talk as teenagers, talk with work colleagues – all about sex.

And yet, when it comes to the events beneath our own duvet, we Britons are astonishingly tight-lipped.

In fact, tight-lipped would be okay and discretion is hardly to be criticised by any outsider, but experts think we're actually taking our silence far too far for our own good.

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They claim, that according to various pieces of modern-day research, sex problems are actually remaining a shamefully undisclosed secret behind the doors of numerous British boudoirs.

Be it pride, ignorance or fool-hardy tolerance, all too many couples are 'putting up' with sexual concerns that they essentially need not suffer at all.

Such is the incidence of sex-related difficulties in our relationships – be that marital or otherwise – that specific targeted therapy is now widely available for those who seek to use it.

"The assumption that the majority of couples do have perfect sexual relationships is simply just not true," said Relate counsellor, Liz.

"In fact, there is a huge number of people out there who know they have an issue, but would rather not mention it.

"It might be killing their relationship, but they don't seek the ways to put it right."

Liz, who has worked at the Ipswich branch of Relate for eight years, is also one of the organisation's dedicated psychosexual therapists.

Calling on her experience as a relationship counsellor, she is able to present a much-needed and more specific service, which she claims is now a valuable resource for many.

"Where normal counselling deals with the basic dynamics of a relationship, the psychosexual therapy acknowledges the fact that sex can indeed play a big part in a domestic problem."

She said: "It addresses specific sexual problems and finds ways for a couple – or even an individual – to work through them to the benefit of their relationships.

"It is a facility which is more important than many people would realise. In fact, I would say that most couples will have some sort of sexual problem at a point in their relationship."

According to Liz, these 'problems' can take on various faces – some of which have been featured in the plot of the much-liked programme, Sex in the City.

Certainly, if an individual has suffered sexual abuse, or recalls a bad initial sexual experience, counsellors believe these factors can potentially impact on a subsequent sex life.

Said Liz: "Some of the reasons for sexual dysfunction are relatively obvious, but besides the

harrowing ordeal of abuse, it might also be low self-esteem, the consequence of age, or perhaps because of a specific drug that one or other partner is taking.

"In most cases we are able to find a way of understanding a cause, and we can then begin tackling the problem.

"We are certainly not trying to do a medical job – and in many cases we have people referred here by their GP – but we can deal with a psychological factor where that is having some effect."

Initially, clients who attend Relate, for whatever reason, will invariably find themselves talking about sex. Even when they have not contemplated the implication of their bedroom behaviour, counsellors believe that when it is brought out into the open, it can often play an important part in problem-analysis.

"We always talk about sex early on," said Liz. "It's an important part of a relationship so it has a place in any therapy we are doing.

"If we do then decide that the couple or individual requires psychosexual therapy specifically, then we will carry out an assessment programme, and follow this with a treatment programme.

"Clearly, to treat a sexual dysfunction we need to be sure that the relationship is reasonably good first – if necessary, sorting that out would be our first step in the whole procedure."

Although Liz is unable to go into specifics of the therapy programme, she explains that most couples see a counsellor like her for around 12 weekly sessions, with home 'exercises' in between.

The couple – or the individual – will usually attend another meeting some time later to see how the process has gone, and whether it has made a big difference to their lives.

In most cases, as internal research by Relate has recently shown, clients will find an improvement in their sexual

relationship and in their original problem.

"We work with the couple just as long as they want us to," remarked Liz. "We'll always look at their main relationship first to ensure that the communication lines are well and truly open – giving us more chance of success.

"I would say that it is definitely a very successful therapy, so long as there is no medical reason for the dysfunction. If that is the case, it's something the couple need to take up with their GP."

Liz accepts that a lot of couples first initiate a meeting at Relate with some embarrassment and cynicism about dealing with their sex lives, but she says it is a problem that is quickly overcome.

"The goals of solving the issue are far too important to let embarrassment get in the way," she said. "Most couples realise this very quickly and it is important that they do, because there are too many dangerous implications of letting sexual problems go unsolved.

"There are a lot of couples out there having difficulty with sex and they might just end up giving up altogether.

"In those cases, the potential is that one partner may decide to look for sex elsewhere and may begin an affair. It is putting an unnecessary end on a relationship which might otherwise have been very good."

She added: "Sex, at the end of the day, is important to our relationships, no matter who we are or how old we are. This service should stop people from hiding their problems under the carpet.

"It should deliver a lot of happiness back in to the bedroom and in to a couple's life."


Relate's service recently featured in the TV series, Better Sex on BBC2.

The service, although still seemingly undiscovered by so many couples, was first created by Relate in 1974.

Recent research showed that 93 per cent of both men and women who completed PST said that their sexual relationship had changed for the better.

Relate's clients range from 16 to 79 years old.

Relate is the biggest trainer of psycho-sexual therapists in the UK.