It's Normal to Have Sexual Feelings for Your Therapist (But They Should Never Have Sex With You)
Do you want to have sex with your therapist? It’s not a question that’s asked out loud very often. Though it seems taboo to talk about, having sexual and romantic feelings toward your therapist is actually something many people experience. Though a therapist should never have sex with you, having romantic feelings isn’t weird or unusual at all. Therapists learn about this possibility while they’re in training, and there’s even a term to describe it: erotic transference.
“Erotic transference often happens,” Andrea Celenza, Ph.D., an expert in sexual boundary violations, told The Mighty. “[Erotic transference] is when the patient begins to develop or does develop romantic and sexual feelings for the therapist.”
Is It Normal to Want to Have Sex With a Therapist?
If you’ve felt attracted to your therapist or even wanted to have sex with them, it’s a normal part of the therapy process for some people. It may show up in a number of ways, like feeling sexual desire, thinking romantically about your therapist in or out of session, craving physical contact, or wondering if your therapist would want to be with you.
There’s no shame in having these thoughts or feelings. Though it can also feel confusing, it makes sense if you’re experiencing romantic feelings toward your therapist. Sometimes you may be attracted to a therapist of a different gender than you’re typically attracted to. For many people, sexual attraction stems from feeling deeply seen by their therapist.
“You can open up to the therapist more, perhaps more than you’ve opened up to anybody,” Celenza said. “You find at every turn more and more understanding, and so that is what is seductive, that is what makes you fall in love with the therapist. It’s really about understanding and the capacity to be seen.”
Should I Tell My Therapist I’m Having Sexual Thoughts?
Your impulse may be to hide romantic or sexual feelings toward your therapist. However, you can and should disclose these thoughts and feelings. Therapists know this happens sometimes, and good therapists are trained to respond with compassion while maintaining appropriate boundaries. Sexual attraction may be a sign you’re making progress in therapy.
“The client should tell the therapist because it is a very positive development,” Celenza said of clients who experience these feelings. “It is the emergence of their desire and that is something to examine.”
It’s also normal if the attraction feels painful. It can signal you’re missing intimate connection in your other relationships and may bring up feelings of fear, disappointment, expectations of being let down and anger, among others. A sexual, romantic or even friend relationship with your therapist should never happen. Even when you know this, it can feel rejecting when your therapist says no.
“It’s a long process of disappointment, actually,” Celenza said. “[Therapists] have to very gradually keep saying no to the action, but saying yes to the feelings and to the understanding.”
Should I Have Sex With My Therapist?
Under no circumstances should your therapist have sex with you — ever. Therapists can have sexual feelings toward clients too, but those thoughts or feelings should never be acted on. Having sex with a client is a major boundary violation, deeply unethical and, in some cases, illegal. “There should not be any sex in therapy,” Celenza emphasized.
Even if you think an intimate relationship with your therapist would feel good, it will only do harm. Just like a relationship between a student and teacher, a relationship with your therapist has an inherent power imbalance. “The power that the therapist has is tremendous because you know so much about the client and the client doesn’t know anything about the therapist,” Celenza said.
Unfortunately, unethical therapists do exist, and they may try to act on sexual feelings, either yours or theirs. Experts believe about 9-12% of therapists violate a sexual boundary with their clients. If your therapist does initiate a romantic or sexual relationship with you, you can report the therapist to your state’s licensing board. Seek out loved ones or even another therapist who can help you with next steps and provide support.
Keep in mind your therapist is 100% responsible for maintaining an appropriate relationship, which should never include sex. Your therapist also should not cross this boundary after you have ended the therapeutic relationship. The power imbalance doesn’t disappear when the therapy stops.
It’s normal to have sexual thoughts and feelings about your therapist as part of your treatment process. When you talk about these feelings openly with an ethical therapist, they can help you understand what’s happening and help you move forward. And when it’s painful to know you can’t ever act on your romantic feelings, you’ll probably find in the end that what you’re looking for isn’t your therapist.
“In the end, patients… don’t really want the therapist because the therapist is someone they don’t even know. They want their fantasy of the therapist,” Celenza said. “That’s what they have to figure out and examine. That’s what the therapy gives them the opportunity to do.”
Header image via Christopher Lemercier/Unsplash