Health Ministry Panel to Recommend Regulation of Sex Therapy

Complaints to the ministry comparing the field to prostitution has reinforced the need for regulation.

Dan Even
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Dan Even

The state should regulate the sexology business - the treatment of sexual problems - recommends a committee appointed by the Health Ministry to study the sector. Sexology treatment in Israel, which embraces many methods including surrogate treatments utilizing sexual contact between patients and practitioners, is completely unregulated with no licensing or regulation.

The committee's recommendations, reported in the Israel Medical Association's journal, will be presented soon to the director general of the Health Ministry. Among the recommendations are restricting sexology therapy to only licensed physicians, psychologists and social workers - and only to those who have passed an approved course of study, apprenticeship and licensing exam in the field under Health Ministry supervision and regulation.

Surrogate therapy - practical instruction for those suffering from various types of sexual dysfunction - is mostly carried out in Israel by female practitioners with male patients. The field has been severely criticized in the past, with no rules or regulations, and has often been compared to prostitution - including paid sexual acts.

A large number of complaints by the public to the ministry has reinforced the need for regulating the field, especially in the area of surrogates. In most countries surrogate treatments are not regulated, but the International Professional Surrogates Association is acting to promote such training and regulation.

The Health Ministry's legal department recently recommended first formulating professional rules for practitioners based on the committee's recommendations, and only later to advance legislation on the matter. Legislation will be necessary to institute licensing requirements and budget for supervision and enforcement of the new rules.

The committee was headed by Dr. Yoram Lotan of the ministry's licensing division and operated under the auspices of the ministry's National Council on Mental Health. The committee determined which treatments could be provided by licensed sexologists, including "treatment of sexual dysfunction with a physical or mental cause, including dysfunction of sexual desire, arousal, erection, orgasm and pain or pressure related to sexual relations."

The committee would allow both public and private sexology practice. Licensed practitioners would have to be social workers with a masters degree and experience in mental health or family matters, clinical psychologists or doctors with a speciality in psychiatry, urology, gynecology, endocrinology, family medicine or pediatrics. In addition, they will have to pass special training including ethics, diagnosis and treatment. They will also have to put in a two-year supervised internship with a minimal number of certain types of treatment, and pass licensing exams at the end of the process.

The ministry estimates there are about 100 sexologists with the appropriate training who will be allowed to continue practicing, mostly based on recommendations from the Israel Society of Sex Therapy, which functions as a voluntary umbrella body for Israeli sexologists. In addition, the ministry estimates there are about another 100 practicing sexologists without proper training, including surrogates.

"Until now, there have been no mandatory rules for the practice of sex therapy, including surrogate treatments practiced by a small number of sexology practitioners," said Dr. Lotan. "This is part of a broader process of the Health Ministry to regulate various health professions, for example psychotherapy. There are people in Israel without any professional background who have become sex therapists, some of whom have even become surrogate therapists. Sexology therapy is a profession, and as long as the rules for working in the profession are not specified, it is impossible to complain about these therapists. The ministry is acting to regulate the entire sexology field so it will not take place in the dark," said Dr. Lotan.