READING

Book review: New Directions in Sex Therapy

Book review: New Directions in Sex Therapy

There’s a great new book out about sex therapy which draws on all kinds of perspectives to present an alternative way of working with people who have sexual difficulties.

New_Directions2

I’ve reviewed the book over on Network Magazine.

The request from Network magazine to review New Directions was a timely one for me. The book raises issues that are very much alive in my world of UK sex therapy at the moment, as well as in the American and Canadian context in which most of the contributing authors are writing.

In some ways the book’s subtitle is more accurate than the main title because it presents a genuine alternative to standard thinking in sex therapy. Rather than providing one possible newdirection, it gives us a much-needed critique of existing ways of understanding, and working with, sex in the therapy room.

The backdrop to this, for those who aren’t familiar with sex therapy, is one of increasing categorization and measurement of sexual problems, and medicalization and individualization of treatments. Several of the contributors to the collection set out a history of sex therapy which began with Masters and Johnsons’ attempts to determine a sexual response cycle across all humans; continued with the delineation of different “sexual dysfunctions” in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM); and culminated in a post-Viagra rush to pharmaceutical and physiological solutions and randomized control trial tests of their effectiveness.

The authors in this edited book share a skepticism toward this standard approach to sex therapy and a supreme discomfort with the underlying assumptions about sex. Instead of categorizing sexual “dysfunctions” (such as “erectile disorder” or “female orgasmic disorder”), contributors suggest that any sexual experience (including erections, orgasms, or their lack) will have very different meanings for each person, related to the relationships and wider culture in which they are embedded. Therefore instead of “treatment” of problems with specific medical or behavioural interventions, the therapeutic task becomes one understanding clients’ experiences and what they mean for them. Read more…


Meg-John Barker is the author of a number of popular books on sex, gender, and relationships, including Queer: A Graphic History, How To Understand Your Gender, Enjoy Sex (How, When, and IF You Want To), Rewriting the Rules, The Psychology of Sex, and The Secrets of Enduring Love. They have also written a number of books for scholars and counsellors on these topics, drawing on their own research and therapeutic practice.

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