In any field, it is typically common for individuals with academic credentials to take precedence over those with fewer or none at all. This is true when people apply for jobs, obtain clients or get sourced for articles—their titles change, despite doing the same work as colleagues in their field with "fewer" credentials.
This is a recurring theme within psychology. Whether it's a life coach with a doctorate or a social worker with a master's degree, what often truly differentiates therapy practitioners has more to do with their methodologies and the bureaucratic infrastructure in which they work.
The gist of sexology
Jennifer Litner, a licensed sexologist, family therapist and founder of Embrace Sexual Wellness in Chicago, said sexology is a broader term including many types of sexual health practitioners.
"A sexologist is someone who studies human sexuality on an academic level and also in practice," Litner explained. "To become a sexologist implies that you not only have advanced training and degrees in sexology but a level in clinical practice."
This means "sexology" is the umbrella academic term for individuals who work in the field of sex therapy.
"In my work as a sexologist, I've also done research as part of my doctoral program," she continued. "I teach other emerging sexuality professionals; I've been on a few medical review boards."
Sexologists, including Litner, generally hold one or more advanced degrees. A less traditional path to working in the field is an online course, such as Therapy Certification Training, based in Miami Shores, Florida. The training requires 150 hours and costs $7,000, with an additional $700 deposit at the time of enrollment. There are other ways of becoming a trained sexologist that don't require certification.
The benefits of a sex coach
Kiana Lewis (she/they), who runs the Instagram account @healingisimperfect, identifies as a "pleasure mentor," which allows her to redefine the potential stigma and transactional feel of the title "sex coach" to something that aligns more with her approach to sex education and healing. Unlike a sex therapist, Lewis doesn't technically offer mental health services per se, despite how much she may help clients with their mental health.
What it boils down to is who covers what. Lewis can't accept insurance, so it is much harder to retain clients for a longer period of time because an insurer can't cover their co-pay. It is challenging because people generally know what a therapist is, but the world of coaching is still ambiguous to many, and it is harder to make a selling point for something that has less social credibility.
Lewis admitted this side of the process is frustrating, but it doesn't prevent them from doing an intentional and effective job in helping their clients grow. As a sex educator and sex worker, they apply their lived experience and background to how they approach their work with clients.
"We don't always start with sex and we don't always end with sex," she explained. "We can talk about gender identity or expression, sexual orientation and sexuality, sex with partners and solo sex...it is specific to each client."
Some clinical therapists with credentials might choose to work as a coach to have more variety in their practice. One example is Heather Shannon, a licensed clinical counselor and sex therapist who is certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT).
"I have credentials but I choose to operate as a coach because there's a lot more flexibility and freedom in that," explained Shannon, who is based in Puerto Rico. "With therapy, you're not really doing an educational program or you're not working with anyone unless it's medically necessary. The area of sex and relationships blends itself very well because a lot of the diagnoses aren't covered by insurance."
Picking either role comes with trade-offs. If you operate as a coach, you can work with whomever wherever because there is no licensure or jurisdiction, but with credentials, you may have more security in obtaining clients because they feel more confident in your expertise.
An expansive field
Each person in the field has their own special concoction of how they approach their work, and while some may have more credentials than others, it doesn't necessarily signify that they're more effective for you. To learn about other sexual health practitioners, take a look at the Sexual Professionals Series at Embrace Sexual Wellness. To learn more about training certifications, AASECT can guide you.