Is Sex Coaching a Scam?

How to spot a coach who can’t actually help you…and one who can.

Over a decade ago, I had an internet friend who would have been the perfect target for a sex coach’s marketing campaign.

He and his girlfriend tried something new in the bedroom one night. Right as things were really heating up, though, his penis gave out on him.

“I wanted to continue so badly—but my buddy,” he confessed behind the cloak of online anonymity, “apparently wasn’t into it.”

And then, the unthinkable happened for a healthy dude in his late 20’s. The next time he and his girlfriend tried to have sex, he couldn’t get erect again. Then it happened again. And again. Soon, he couldn’t even get it up to masturbate.

“My dick is broken,” he wrote, devastated. “I think I have to see a doctor.”

Seeking Help for Sexual Dysfunction

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We can all agree that people in my friend’s position need to see a doctor. If there’s a medical reason behind someone’s inability to get erect (or wet, or feel sexual desire, or have an orgasm), they should know.

In a huge number of cases, however, doctors find no medical reason behind these symptoms. If these patients are lucky, there’s a pill for their problem. If not, their doctor hopefully (but not always) refers them to a sex therapist with availability.

“It’s all in your head,” they’ll explain. “Go talk to someone about it.”

But absent a referral, sex therapists can be incredibly hard to find—and expensive. There are only 910 sex therapists in the US, for example, leaving just 18 per state. Most do not offer online sessions, leaving many Americans stranded far from reasonable driving distance to their nearest therapist.

Meanwhile, 1 in 3 people experience sexual dysfunction at some point in their life. The demand for help is huge, and not every case of sexual dysfunction requires a therapist to resolve.

Sex Coaches Fill the Gap, But Not Without Issues

Photo by SHVETS

With sex therapists in short supply, it’s no surprise that sexuality professionals who aren’t licensed in therapy but are experienced in resolving sexual dysfunction have stepped up to meet demand.

And it does happen. All over the world and across time, people who aren’t licensed in therapy have helped others overcome mental blocks to sexual function and satisfaction. You only have to look at a few internet forums about becoming orgasmic or increasing libido for evidence.

But not everyone finds a community-sourced solution. Understandably, those who continue to struggle look into sex therapy and sex coaching and quickly note the difference in things like cost, availability, and insurance coverage. They rightfully wonder whether there are reasons why coaching seems more accessible.

There are.

Problem 1: Sex Coaching is Unregulated

Like personal training, sex coaching is an unregulated field. This means certifications or licenses aren’t required for someone to call themselves a sex coach. Anyone can don the title and open a practice without any training or experience at all.

Without regulating agencies, how can people be sure that a sex coach is qualified to help them? Many look for a sex coach certification, but that just brings us to a second problem.

Problem 2: Certifications Aren’t Accredited

Even certifications aren’t a guarantee of quality in sex coaching. Again, like personal training, the certifications available are backed by businesses and professional organizations—not accredited universities like the ones sex therapists attend to get licensed.

Obviously, this leaves people who are looking for help with their sexual dysfunction to do the work of sorting through their options—a less than ideal situation.

To help determine whether a particular sex coaching offer is a scam, let’s start by inspecting the certifications available and the types of people who apply to them.

Inside a Sex Coach Certification Program

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A few years ago, I chose to pursue a sex coaching certification for a few reasons:

  1. To continue my lifelong journey of pursuing ongoing sex education.
  2. To gain a credential that would offer a sense of authority to my writing about sex.
  3. To do something different and help people directly rather than just writing all the time.

Everyone has different reasons for applying to certification programs, of course. I’m just sharing mine as an example. Once inside my program, for instance, I realized that my peers included healthcare professionals, teachers, spiritual leaders, dating show celebrities, and people from all walks of life.

What You Should Know

In typical internet-nerd fashion, I’d researched available certification programs extensively before choosing the one I went with, and learned a lot along the way.

Here are a few things that I think are important to know if you’re leery of sex coach certifications:

  • Not everybody gets in. There is an application process for every certification program I came across. They ask for things like formal education, the sex ed you’ve received, your publications in the field, sex-focused communities or organizations you’re a member of, and how your life experience has shaped your understanding of sexuality. Don’t demonstrate at least a solid foundation of sex-positivity and sexuality knowledge? They’ll recommend some resources and suggest you re-apply later.
  • Programs are therapist-backed. The vast majority of certification programs I came across were built and/or overseen by a licensed sex therapist. While sex coaches aren’t earning psychology degrees, they are learning skills that licensed sex therapists find valuable. In fact, many therapists seek sex coach certification themselves to supplement their therapy rather than seek another license.
  • There’s no disillusion that coaches are therapists. The very first lesson in my certification course was “What is a Sex Coach?”, and guess what—sex coaches are not therapists. This was broken down and revisited repeatedly throughout the course, especially in the “Sex Coaching Ethics” lesson. If a prospective client is struggling with mental health issues or sexual trauma, an ethical sex coach must refer that person to a therapist.
  • The courses take time. It took me over a year to complete my self-paced course. If I had really put a lot of time and effort in, I might have completed it in six months. There were about 20 units on things like reproductive anatomy, sexual psychology, porn, kink, nonmonogamy, LGBTQ+ issues, and more. I wrote reports on field trips to sex toy stores, strip clubs, sex clubs, and BDSM dungeons. I gave a final presentation to my peers on gender and language. A lot of time and energy goes into getting certified.
  • They’re an investment. The cost of programs I found ranged from $3,000 to tens of thousands of dollars. While the work required to graduate ensures that no one’s simply “paying for a piece of paper”, the financial investment is worth noting. It’s also worth nothing that certification programs have a lower barrier to entry when it comes to the investment of time and money, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Not every knowledgeable sexuality professional or coach has access to the funds and support to pursue a doctorate. The lower cost of certification also usually means lower costs for clients seeking help for sexual issues.

All that being said, not every sex coach is certified, and not every sex coach has to be. I’ve met many sex coaches who aren’t certified who I feel are more experienced and knowledgeable than myself due to a background in sex club ownership/management, providing mediation for nonmonogamists, leading LGBTQ+ support groups, or having experience as a sex worker.

Not being certified doesn’t necessarily make a sex coach less qualified. It’s up to prospective clients to dig into a sex coach’s background and determine if they’re a good fit.

What to Look For in a Sex Coach

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If you’re looking for a sex coach and worried about being scammed, here are a few things that can help you separate those qualified to handle your issue from the rest:

  1. A paper trail. These days a paper trail is likely digital, but there should still be one. Look up any qualifications a sex coach lists. Are the certification programs real? Do they have evidence of their experience in the field? Are there reviews of their work from others? Do a little digging.
  2. Specializations. As you look over the coach’s website, content, email blasts, social media, or wherever you find their information, look for what they specialize in. Do those specialties include your issue? If not, they might be a qualified sex coach, but not a good match for you. Avoid coaches with little or no information about what they can help with.
  3. Tailored responses. Send a brief email or message asking, “Hey, I’m dealing with ______. Is that something you can help with or can you refer me to someone who does?” They should respond within a few days with an answer that makes it clear they read your message.
  4. Trust your gut. If something feels off or scammy, move on to another sex coach that resonates better. It’s okay to ask questions if you’re feeling unsure. If the answers you get are unsatisfactory there are plenty of other coaches out there to choose from.

When Sex Coaching Isn’t Right

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A sex coach isn’t right for you if you’re dealing with untreated:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • trauma response
  • eating disorder
  • other mental disorders
  • medical issues
  • medication issues

If you need to talk to someone to process traumatic sexual events, a therapist is better equipped for that. Body image & sex coaches do exist for anyone struggling with sexual self-confidence based on their body, but ethical coaches draw the line at attempting to treat eating disorders.

Sex coaching is great for people in relatively good mental and physical health. A coach helps clients like this identify the sources of their issue, make a personalized plan to work towards resolution, and stay accountable to the process.

Think of sex coaching as similar to having a personal trainer, but for sex. With a knowledgeable and compassionate person on your side, you get the guidance, encouragement, and accountability you need to get the results you want.

For those comfortable talking with others about sex, a sex coach may never be necessary. If you can talk things through and brainstorm solutions with people you trust—I’m genuinely happy for you!

In fact, that’s what my internet friend did all those years ago. Before going to a doctor for his erection issues, he tried some ideas pitched by the internet community we were in. After a few weeks of ignoring his penis and not trying to use it during sex, his erections finally returned on their own.

When Coaching is Right

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Ever heard the saying, “Can’t see the forest for the trees”? People are sometimes so deep in their problems that they can’t see the whole picture. A coach can describe the picture while standing on the outside, and point clients in the direction of resolution and satisfaction.

Sex coaches provide a compassionate listening ear to people’s most intimate issues. They also provide a neutral perspective in sexual issues affecting partnerships. Their hope is to transform their clients’ lives so they can be happier, healthier versions of themselves.

Coaches don’t want to waste time telling you information you could find with a web search or figure out on your own with a workbook. Good coaches want to actually help you overcome whatever you’re struggling with and get to a place where you no longer need coaching.

I coach because I care. I’m heartbroken that our education system failed so many people when it comes to sex, including me, my friends, and my family. I’m determined to fill the gaps and help people learn how to embrace pleasure.

We are all born capable of having transformative physical experiences with our bodies, yet for many of us this ability is muted by sex-negative culture and inadequate education. I just want to give people their pleasure back. If you want your pleasure back, consider reaching out so we can talk about it!

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Published by Shannon Burton

Sex educator and writer by day, poet and flash fiction author by night, I occasionally manage to get out of the house to enjoy New Orleans as it's meant to be.

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