Don't Want to Talk to Your Therapist About Sex? Now, There Are Apps for That
Nope, it's not just you — many women are hesitant to talk about their sex lives with their therapists. And while no one's saying you have to disclose everything that goes on in your bedroom, your sexual and mental health are more intertwined than you might realize. For example, 2020 research connected higher levels of sexual satisfaction with lower levels of anxiety and depression.
The problem is, even if you are comfortable talking about how your sex life is affecting your mental health, many mental health professionals aren't trained specifically in topics of sexual wellness — and may not feel like it's in their wheelhouse to bring up.
That's where new sexual wellness coaching apps come in, bridging the gap between your sexual wellness and your mental health, and providing a safe space for you to address your concerns with virtual sex coaches specifically trained in everything related to sex, relationships, and intimacy.
Whether you want to talk about performance anxiety, body image, or a lack of communication with a partner (to name just a few examples), a virtual sex coach can help you set goals that'll make you feel better and more comfortable in your sex life.
Here's your guide to digital sexual wellness coaching and how it might change your mental outlook — and your sex life.
Why Sex Coaching Apps Are Gaining Major Traction
First thing's first: These are a lot of sexual concerns that would be worth working through with a therapist who has specific training in sexuality, says Casey Tanner, MA, licensed clinical professional counselor, certified sex therapist, and creator of The Expansive Group. But those types of therapists, like Tanner, are few and far between. The Journal of Clinical Medicine even acknowledges that there is a lack of trained mental health professionals studying and working with clients on both sexuality and mental well-being, which we know are connected!)
But if you're not comfortable discussing sex with your therapist (especially if they're not a CST, or certified sex therapist), and you have some specific sex concerns, coaching might be for you.
So what is a sexual wellness coach? Basically, it's someone who's trained specifically to talk you through anything related to sex and your relationships, especially the one with yourself. Working with a sexual wellness coach is kind of a truncated version of therapy that's more specific goal-focused — say, for example, you want to make more time for pleasure, or want to explore a new position with your partner, or introduce a new toy into your sexual repertoire.
Your sex coach might be certified by a sex coach training program like the Somatica Institute, or might be a certified sex therapist or counselor by AASECT, the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists. (Tanner recommends checking out AASECT's website if you want to connect with a sex therapist outside of a sexual wellness app.)
Or, you can go the app route with subscription sexual coaching apps, like Coral, Ferly, and Rosy, that connect you with skilled pros and make it easy and discreet to get your sex questions answered. "Apps like this give people a sense of belonging and put the technology and access right in front of the patient," says Kimberly Evans, M.D., an ob-gyn who specializes in sexual wellness.
These apps give you options in terms of the format in which you'll get the coaching or info (with live coaching or self-paced modules, solo, partnered, or group coaching, in some cases), so it suits your comfort level. Don't want to chat face-to-face or at a designated meeting time? Coral allows you to post judgment-free discussion questions that will be answered by their team of sex therapists. Looking for more of a group vs. couples environment? The app Ferly offers group sessions led by a sexual wellness coach for members to come together and share their experiences. And if you're going solo with your sex coaching, the app Rosy personalizes their entire therapy-technique-based wellness plans to your sexual goals and supplies you with "homework" or exercises to work toward those objectives.
Can Sex Coaching Apps Replace Actual Therapy?
Short answer: No. Sexual and mental wellness apps aren't meant to replace therapy and coaching, Tanner says, especially if you're in a mental health crisis or working through complex relationship issues like abuse. These apps are more a tool for self-growth for people who may not want to make the full financial and time commitment to therapy, according to Tanner.
They can also enhance the work you're already doing and fill the gap between weekly therapy or coaching sessions (since you likely don't have 24/7 access to your mental health professional). For example, you might supplement therapy by using some of the exercises and modules on the app as homework assignments. "It's not uncommon that I would suggest a client engages in sexual mindfulness via one of these apps in between sessions as a way to decrease anxiety around orgasm or pleasure," Tanner says.
But aside from accessibility to therapy, there are also other benefits of using a sexual coaching app. Maybe you're looking for community and to feel like you're not alone in whatever sexual wellness concern you have. "It wouldn't replace therapy altogether if you have other things you choose to work through mental health-wise," says Lyndsey Harper, M.D., an ob-gyn and the founder and CEO of Rosy. Apps like Rosy are, however, giving people the correct language and education around sexuality to understand more about their own sex lives. "We do replace the silence and shame that currently looms over women's sexual health," adds Dr. Harper.
And on that note, sexual wellness apps don't replace a visit to your gyno's office either, particularly if you have sexual health concerns. If physical pain is an issue during sex, this shouldn't be the case — you should see your doctor first, Dr. Evans says. "Adjusting hormones or ensuring that there are no pelvic masses or other organic causes should come first. Then, after medical clearance, it's okay to use apps and interact with counselors to ensure the patient is getting this much-needed therapy," says Dr. Evans.
Want to give it a go? Here are three apps to try:
If you want to dip your toes in the water of sexual wellness coaching, there's Coral (free to download, $60 for an annual premium content subscription). On the traditional app, you won't meet one-on-one with a therapist, but you can take fun "would you rather"-type quizzes, educate yourself with modules on topics like orgasms and types of desire, or do guided meditations for body confidence. Then, if you (or you and your partner together) want that individualized attention, you can join Coral Coaching, which will zero in on intimacy and sex within your relationship. You have the choice to work with a coach for issues like postpartum intimacy or navigating a different sexual desire than your partner through on-demand text conversations, weekly phone or video calls, or both.
Ferly (free trial or £400, roughly $525 for a lifetime subscription) has similar options in that you can move through the coursework solo or guided by a coach. The program in general is based on Mindfulness Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (MCBT), designed with MCBT and sexual health expert Lori Brotto, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, ob-gyn professor, and executive director of the Women's Health Research Institute. MCBT combines mindfulness and meditation practices with traditional Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which focuses on noticing and reframing anxious or depressive thoughts.
A couple ways this is used in the Ferly app is through guided audio practices like "body mapping," which draws on mindfulness, CBT, and bodywork to help people connect with their physical bodies and rewire their own thoughts about pleasure, especially if they're recovering from trauma, explains Anna Hushlak, Ph.D., co-founder and chief scientist at Ferly. "Both Billie Quinlan, Ferly's co-founder, and I are survivors of sexual violence and have had to go through this journey firsthand in rediscovering our libido, reconnecting with our bodies, and learning how to feel more sexually confident again," Dr. Hushlak says. Some of the most important self-guided coursework Ferly provides is a course for trauma survivors, built with Tanner, and a course for improving body confidence with Stella Stathi, a somatic therapist who specializes in body image, eating disorders, and body neutrality.
Rosy ($10/month, $50/month, and $150/month membership options) is also rooted in CBT techniques. Once you take a comprehensive quiz about your own sexual wellness, it'll set you up with a personalized sexual wellness plan and, if you choose a Premium membership, a one-on-one sex coach who can help you work through anything from anxiety around sex after the pandemic, to how to initiate sex with a partner more frequently, especially if depressive thoughts might be affecting your libido.
"CBT principles are infused into Rosy in several ways: In our personalized wellness plans, we offer users the opportunity to examine their thoughts on a daily basis and examine the changes in mood that are tied to these thoughts," says Dr. Harper. That's what the guided mind-body exercises and reflective journaling piece of the wellness plan is for. The other part is coaching. "In group and individual coaching, the coaches are trained to help attendees identify problematic or negative automatic thoughts and examine other ways of looking at current challenges," a key component of CBT-based therapy, if you work with a mental health provider trained in CBT.
The bottom line:
If you're working through trauma, anxiety, depression, and ongoing relationship issues, meeting with a therapist or other mental health counselor might be the way to go. But if connecting with your partner and being intimate after something like eating disorder recovery is something you also want to work on, try a sexual wellness app in conjunction with therapy. Or, if therapy is inaccessible or feels unnecessary to you right now and you want to foray into sexual self-growth another way, test out a sexual wellness app. What you want from your sex life could be right at your fingertips.