History of Sex Therapy Part 1

couple holding hands

Therapy for sexual problems is recorded in China as far back as 3,000 BCE, and later in ancient India, Greece and Rome. Counselors of these early millennia used manuals, spells, anaphrodiasics (that subdued the libido), aphriodisiacs (that revved it up), and tantric yoga (which prolongs the sex act).

In the 1800s and early 1900s, sex therapy in the Western world mostly consisted of discussion among scientists. Sexologists Henry Havelock Ellis and Alfred Kinsey began researching human sexuality in the 1920s and ‘30s. Their work was controversial, but also broke new ground.

Through the 1950s, counseling for sexual challenges focused on controlling what were considered deviant behaviors at the time (such as homosexuality and too-frequent sex). William Masters and Virginia Johnson changed all that late in the decade, introducing couple’s therapy and behavior intervention. They brought sensate focus exercises, which invite participants to be present “in the moment” into common use.

Masters and Johnson also used cognitive behavioral therapy (talk therapy). Their influence was so great, the pair are considered to have transformed our knowledge of the sexual response.

Dr. Helen Singer Kaplan adapted some of Masters and Johnson’s ideas for her outpatients, and introduced medications to the practice of sex therapy.

In the 1970s, Jack Annon created the PLISSIT model (Permission, Limited Information, Specific Suggestions and Intensive Therapy) that gave counselors a structured approach to follow.

The 1980s saw the heightened use of performance-improving medications, specifically for male sexual dysfunction.

Then in the 1990s came:

  1. penile injections
  2. drugs such as Viagra
  3. antidepressants (for their side effect of delayed ejaculation)
  4. hormone therapy for both sexes
  5. dilators for treating vaginismus (pain during intercourse)
  6. surgery to increase the vaginal opening and treat vulval pain

For more on the History of Sex Therapy, see History of Sex Therapy, Part 2.