Navigating Sexual Aversion

Triggers are powerful

Sexual aversion is a powerful somatic strategy for protecting oneself from unwanted sexual contact. In short, sexual aversion is a trigger state.  Triggers arise from experiences in our past in which our capacity in that moment to cope was overwhelmed. Triggers are, in effect, our brains and bodies caught in the past, although it can seem like the catalyst is in the present. Triggers always exist for a good reason, even if they have outlived their usefulness.

Our triggers can ask us to live small lives as we try to avoid being triggered. Sexual aversion is a trigger that can very much inhibit our expression of our sexuality. Shifting any somatic trigger is a process that requires commitment, attention, learning new skills, and practice.

It can become challenging when you want to have sexual contact with a partner and aversion is present. It is important to remember that the aversion has a reason for existing, and it comes from a wise place.

Impact on partners

Dealing with sexual aversion can have painful impact on you and your partner. It’s common for partners to feel rejected. It’s also common in couples dealing with sexual aversion for sex to become an area of high conflict, whether spoken or unspoken.

As with any somatic change, shifting sexual aversion requires a commitment of both partners to practicing a new narrative, new behaviors, and new choices. This means that both partners commit to finding a way through sexual aversion, together. It means that if as the partner of someone dealing with sexual aversion, if you feel rejected and shut down, you commit to your own work of tending those parts of you that are needing love and care.

What is healing? 

Rather than expecting sexual aversion to go away as part of a healing process, success entails learning to work collaboratively with your body, allowing all of the sensations, emotions and experiences to exist, without judgment.

Exploring the trigger of aversion in a safe, supported and structured manner can help shift the experience, with practice and over time. When healing trauma, it’s important to learn how to stay within a a neurological window of tolerance. This means finding the sweet spot in between your own neurological edges of not-enough and too-much activation.  This is where somatic learning can happen.

Somatic Commitment

Before beginning an in-depth exploration of a somatic trigger, it is helpful to establish the new narrative that you are shifting towards. This is called a commitment. A commitment is a powerfully-worded truth, written in the present tense, that names the somatic shape you are consciously creating. It is worthwhile to take the necessary time to create the most potent commitment.

For example, in the case of sexual aversion, a potential deisred shift might be having more choice and freedom in terms of your sexual expression. A possible commitment might be “I am a commitment to freedom in my sexuality.”  Using the phrasing “I am a commitment to…” creates an embodied statement.  The commitment statement becomes the new narrative you get to practice.

As part of the commitment process, it is crucial to know why you are doing what you are doing. This is the “for the sake of what”. In this case, it might sound like “For the sake of freedom, I am a commitment to self-compassion for my aversion trigger.”

Lastly, the conditions of satisfaction are worth enumerating. “For the sake of freedom, I am a commitment to self-compassionate exploration of my aversion trigger. I will know I have achieved this when I am consistently kind to myself when I feel averse, and allow myself the full range of my humanity.”

Practices to explore and shift aversion

After you create the new narrative, the next step is to consider the practices that support the new narrative. Triggers make us feel like we have no choice, and it is powerful to begin to reclaim our choice as a practice.

One choice might be how we engage with ourselves around our aversion trigger. Do we speak harshly to ourselves? Do we blame our partners? Do you give yourself permission to make a decision based on the amount of bandwidth you have in the moment? Do you move towards or away from the trigger?

The great thing about aversion is having opportunities to try different practices, notice what happens, and collect data. The following is a collection of practices and choices you can experiment with when your sexual aversion trigger gets tripped!

Acknowledge what is

Acknowledge what is happening, preferably out loud, perhaps even to your partner. Acknowledging what is is a powerful practice of being with truth. Shame often tries to silence this needed acknowledgment. Having an agreement with your partner ahead of time that you will share with them when you feel the aversion trigger can help them take it less personally, and be more available for loving support and connection.

Create Safety

Often people with sexual aversion have had experiences with unwanted sexual contact. Re-establishing personal boundaries and an internal, felt sense of safety is absolutely necessary.

Being safe means having the capacity to act on one’s own behalf. Safety is an internal felt experience that folks with trauma rarely have as embodied experience. Part of the return to sexual sovereignty is coming to trust that respect for one’s own boundaries will be honored. Choosing to not participate in unwanted sexual contact affirms a sense of self-trust.

As the skill of saying no is practiced and learned over time, while learning there may be mistakes. It’s possible to start a sexual activity feeling a yes, and then have that change, but not be able to extricate oneself from the situation. In this case, it is important afterwards to acknowledge what happened, and one’s role in it, with deep compassion for the learning process. Self-compassion is deep safety.

Make a choice

Make a choice about the best way to take care of yourself, right now. That may mean leaving the situation. That may mean getting curious about your experience. The choice you make depends on how resourced you feel in that moment, and how willing you are to do the work at that moment. Realizing you do have choice is powerful, in and of itself.

If you choose to take care of yourself by leaving the situation, follow your impulse of what will establish a sense of safety. How can you act on your own behalf? Acknowledge the power of that choice, and honor the setting of a physical spatial boundary. Track what happens somatically as you come back to center. What physical sensations do you note?

Support the contraction

If you choose to take care of yourself by getting curious about what happens next, start by supporting the contraction. Supporting the contraction means  physically, emotionally and energetically giving yourself permission for what is. This may mean tensing the muscles of your body where you feel something happening, or moving your body into a protected shape.

Stay with the contraction as long as is necessary, or as is interesting. Pay close attention to what is happening inside.  The practice of somatic awareness means learning to place your attention on the inside experience of your body. This is a crucial embodiment practice.

As you support the contraction, you may begin to lean into the physical sensations you are experiencing. You may choose to name each, and express it aloud. You can also note emotions that may be present. If there are any stories that come, note these as well. Be on the lookout for the guardian emotions like anger and rage. Pay particular attention to the deeper emotions such as grief, powerlessness, and helplessness, naming each.

Staying present with yourself, affirming that whatever is being felt is just fine to feel. It’s interesting to pay attention to how our nervous systems return to regulation after being disregulated. It’s interesting to note how we come back into our bodies if we have disassociated. All of this is important somatic information; there’s no way to do it wrong. It just is.

Practice the new narrative

It’s also useful to practice the new narrative when you are not triggered. This can mean saying it to yourself, writing it down and putting it places where you see it, or any other creative means of reinforcing. Practicing when not triggered can support remembering the new narrative when you are triggered.

Imaginal practices

Practices using your imagination can be powerful. An advanced practice is to practice feeling attraction and desire for your partner, when they are not present. Start by placing your attention on your own body, noticing what you are feeling. Finding a place inside that feels neutral or positive is a good place to anchor. Allowing your attention to be on your own genitals, noticing what you feel or don’t feel.

Next, pendulate your attention to an imaginal gesture/thought/movement involving your partner. Finding the right gesture or thought is important: find something that is positive, and has a slight erotic charge. It could be something you are doing to them, or that they are doing to you. Importantly, Pay attention to staying well within your window of tolerance as you safely explore erotic content involving your partner in your imagination. With this practice, it is very important to not force or bully yourself into making anything happen.

Move your attention back and forth between your own body, and the imaginal erotic thought concerning your partner. Notice what happens. There is no “right” outcome from this practice, just allowing yourself to imagine your attraction and desire, while noticing what happens in your body, and staying safe, all at the same time.

Ultimately, it takes time and practice to shift deep-seated somatic responses. It can feel like no progress is happening, which can frustrate you even further.  A wise teacher said “To change everything, start anywhere.” I recommend keeping a log or journal of what you try and experience each time you find yourself in the midst of your trigger. Remembering to do even one thing differently can begin to shift the entire system. In reflecting on the experience in your journal, you can acknowledge the work you did, thus validating your practice.

Get professional somatic support

Additionally, having skilled and compassionate support is helpful. Erotic coaches, guides and even wise friends can assist you as you direct your somatic education. “In its purity, somatic education is self-initiated and self-controlled. However, somatic education has emerged during the twentieth century as a procedure whereby this internalized learning process is initiated by a teacher who stimulates and guides the learner through a sensory-motor process of physiological change,” writes Thomas Hanna in Clinical Somatic Education.

Lastly, seeking expressions of sexuality that feel good to you and your partners. Often, when sexual energy is blocked in one area, like a river it finds its way around the obstacle. Where are you creatively expressing? Where are you sensuously enjoying? Working in collaboration with sexual triggers can require great creativity.

It’s a both-and approach: choosing not to live as small as the trigger requires, and simultaneously honoring the current truth and capacity of the body. It’s also true that we all limit ourselves with our habits and beliefs about what we define as sex. Can you and your partner be a team in exploring creative outlets for sexuality, that may look really different than either of you imagined?

In review

  • Create a somatic commitment statement, complete with for-the-sake-of-what and conditions of satisfaction.
  • Acknowledge and name what’s happening as soon as you become aware
  • Honor your own boundaries: Choose to not engage in unwanted sexual contact
  • Honor what’s working: where are you expressing your sexuality?
  • When triggered, assess your capacity in that moment, and make a choice about how to best take care of yourself
  • Notice sensations and emotions as they emerge whatever you choose
  • Offer yourself kindness and compassion for the experience
  • Keep a log of your practice experiences
  • Have support for your somatic learning
  • Be available for surprising expressions of sexuality between you and your partner that might not fit in the box of what you thought sex was!

If you or someone you love is experiencing sexual aversion, help is available. Feel free to reach out to me at http://www.emancipating-sexuality.com for support.

 

*I want to acknowledge the work of Meredith Broome, and Joseph Kramer, in informing this post.

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No matter what, I choose to feel it

I emailed this week with a young man living in Northern Europe.  He was curious about his sexuality, and because of a physical disability, did not have much experience.  Because of his location, he did not have much access to sexuality support.  He had found me on the internet and reached out so bravely, across the many miles that separate us.

We exchanged several emails, and had set up an appointment time to meet via video conferencing.  He was clear about what he wanted to work on.  In a confirmation email, I reflected back to him what I heard him saying he wanted.  He had asked me what my suggestions were, and I suggested a particular way we might work together.

The next email I received was him cancelling our appointment.  He wrote that actually he was learning all that he needed via watching videos, and no longer required my services.  “Hmmm.”  I thought.  Usually, when things are going well with new clients and we are moving towards our first session, it’s normal for them to have some fear that comes up.  Sometimes they write to me and confess their worries.  But rarely at this stage do folks cancel.

What was going on?  My intuition said that fear, repression and shame were at work.  That this young man got hit hard with some shame backlash when I reflected his desires back to him.  I was invested in working with this person; his commitment to prioritizing his sexuality in spite of the tremendous obstacles he is facing had earned my respect.

I wrote back, and asked him if shame and fear were present for him, and if that was why he had changed his mind.  I asked him to be in touch if he ever decided that he really couldn’t learn everything he needed to know about sex from watching videos.  His response staggered me.  He wrote that he had realized that his priority was to get his life in order.  That he had spent enough time working on his sexuality for now, and it was going to take at least ten years to get his life situated, and at that time he might again focus on sexuality.  And that he doubted very much he’d ever be in touch.

radicular_painI nearly cried. Ten years?? What would happen to this tender impulse towards pleasure after ten years of denial? What would happen (or wouldn’t happen) neurologically to him?

A strong belief I hold in this work is that we must live in the bodies that we have, right now. That sensation and feeling aren’t something that ‘someday’ are welcome, once the body we have is right, once the situation we have is right, once the partner we have is right.  Sensation and feeling are the currency of being human; we must be diligent in our pursuit of the experience of actually living in our bodies. 

There are so many reasons to not feel, to disassociate, to leave or forget or numb this experience of the human body. Choosing not to feel is always a viable choice. However, it is a choice that comes at a price, and one of which we want to be very aware.  When we choose numbness over pain, or denial over reality, when we turn it down or push it down or drown it out or anesthetize, when we leave our bodies… the price we then pay is in how difficult it is to return, once we are ready. It is possible, of course, to return to sensation and feeling and pleasure.  I am living proof. But oh the time it takes… and the effort.  It can be quite daunting to return to embodied life when we’ve been away.  And ten years???

Trauma is real. And for every step we’ve taken away from our deepest knowing and feeling of ourselves, that is one step we must take when we return.  10,000 steps going away =  10,000 steps coming home.  (By step I mean energetic movement away from our core, and please forgive the ableist language.)

We don’t even know what we don’t know.  We don’t know what we don’t feel. If we numbed out at a young age, the amount of sensation we feel is our ‘normal.’  We may not even consider that there is more to feel, more to know.  We may conclude our sexual situation is “good enough.”

I feel so hurty-in-my-heart about shame and the ways it impacts our ability to feel and be close.  I so wish I had a magick pill to send to that young man. I wish him all the best, and I send him the knowing that eventually, Eros DOES call us home.  A thing is not cooked until it is, and no one’s process can be rushed.  And yet. The quiet suffering of sexual repression on this planet is a constant dull roar in my ear. I cannot forget.  I am in service to Eros emancipated. And this is a prayer, that the road be open and easy as we all move away from shame, and  towards erotic wholeness.

If this resonates with you, please leave a comment below.

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Participating in a Revolution: A Trans Guy’s experience at Geography of Pleasure (Guest Post)

(The following is a Guest Post by Roman Rimer, describing his experiences at the Geography of Pleasure: Embodiment for Trans Guys workshop. Enjoy! ~ Pavini)

After the Geography of Pleasure workshop I was able to talk about the experience ad nauseam, maybe even brag a little bit, to my inquiring cis-gender friends.  Finally, a place where I felt at home. 

When it came time to write about what feelings came up all the words I piece together seem slightly off, empty.  Perhaps this goes back to the adage that writing is the loneliest profession.  By contrast, participating in a workshop with family members you never knew you had, feels to be quite the opposite. Feeling part of a larger group is huge, especially if it doesn’t happen often.

Trans Love

Warm, safe spaces exist everywhere; they’re just not always open to everybody.  My first impression when I entered the space was that I was welcome, and not just because I was helping other people sign in.  Often I feel I have had to be on guard, even when I am in familiar places with people I know.  Quite often those most “comfortable” elements in my life have at points turned threatening.  When I find myself in a new space, I am safe.  I do not have to worry about where I will go next and I can be fully present.

There are too many themes covered in the workshop to fully process, and I’m sure with time a few moments will pop up when I am least expecting it; perhaps they will provide guidance for that particular moment and it will make sense.

A concrete reminder for me was how important human touch can be.  Well-meaning touch is not always easy to come by, consent is only occasionally addressed, and at moments in my life I have wanted to fully separate from my body.  I imagine if we were taught at a young age to establish and respect boundaries, how the human race could start to heal itself.  Even when in relationship(s) I constantly crave human touch and to receive it in such a loving way as it was in the workshop was a much-needed gift.

I enjoyed the exercises in which we were placed in smaller groups, either two or three of us.  In one we allowed the other person to touch us, told them where, how much pressure to apply.  In the groups of three we asked our partners to remove article(s) of clothing.  It was something that on the surface so simple, yet while enacting it felt incredibly empowering.

The actions that many take for granted, are usually much more weighted with trans folks.  Perhaps it was because we all knew what it was like, maybe the safety quashed all fears. From talking with other folks I identified that I, too, have felt my body at times was stolen from me, misidentified, physically harmed, attacked with words.  

Us transfolks must love our bodies more than anyone could understand, we have held on to our bodies through everything.  And what a better way to treat our bodies than to allow them the tenderness from others?

I’d forgotten how satisfying it was to be around ones brethren. While it wasn’t my first time with a group of solely trans-masculine folks, it was the first time in a while.

I’d imagine for many trans folks we’re constantly surrounded by cis people, often well-meaning, but still for lack of a better word, at times, horrible. I constantly find myself in a teaching role, as I find that tends to be one of the more hopeful ways to reach out to people.  Being able to talk about my relationship with my body and not take on that role, is something I really value.

Though most of us were meeting one another for the very first time, I felt as though we’d known each other forever.  Coming from different walks of life, different generations, family dynamics, occupations, we fit together like puzzle pieces, the individuals so strong yet together creating something even more magnificent than us all individually.

 “The space was sacred there’s no doubt about it. I could feel the spirits of our transancestors and those who have yet to be born, all there with us.  Those who have been silenced helped give me the strength to speak.  It was as though as soon as we formed a circle a spark was lit, igniting an everlasting flame, warm enough for all of us.”

The workshop the previous three days was a mindfuck in the best way possible.  Imagine, always feeling like an outsider, feeling misunderstood, always wary of how much to disclose (if at all), the idea that many people might not get it, or their reactions could be harmful, even dangerous. And suddenly I was in a place where not only was it safe to share, but it was encouraged, and others spoke their truths, let their fears out into the air.  Suddenly, I felt less ashamed of my own struggles.

Often I feel as eager to cover up as I am to shed my layers.  Growing up in the States, feeling ashamed of my body, nudity, sex. While it was never hard for me to find my voice, it was always hard for me to trust it. The workshop provided the trust, part from within the community and building it within ourselves.

The day after the workshop I had an improv class.  I was still recovering, emotionally.  Thoughts zoomed across my mind.  How comfortable I’d felt, while battling through recurring memories of trauma over and over again.  In class there were about fifteen of us and I looked around thought, holy fuck, I’m the only trans person here.   Improv is known for “gender role reversal” if anything this drama therapy helped me figure out my identity.  Though I’d known most of these folks for months, and was out as trans to maybe a third of them, I instantly missed my kin.  Though it was only in my mind,  I felt I stuck out as the lone trans thumb, and I instantly missed those bonds I’d just formed.

I like the idea that everyone is trans, only some of us have realized it.   Perhaps this meeting was for those of us with the courage to move forward.  After feeling shamed by the medical community, by family, friends, all these aspects of my life I could trace back to deciding to live openly and authentically.  Once I came out I couldn’t quite go back.  And as exhausting as I am by the constant teaching, It’s worth it.  All the people about to have kids, for all the people who may not have given transphobia a second thought.

Nothing has made me happier than the friends who have since given birth acknowledging gender can very much be placed on children before they are ready to express who they are and they need to check their own beliefs before imposing them on their children.  And to meet other trans folks at this workshop who were parents themselves gave me quite a lot of faith in the next generation.  

And while it may take cis-gender people a while to catch on, I believe it’s possible.  Once they get close enough to our fire, they will see the warmth, the camaraderie that elevates us all once we accept ourselves, and by proxy each other.

I mentioned the importance of a warm space and there is no way I could omit the hot food.  It might not seem like much to some, but I am always grateful to have a hot meal in a warm space.  I still feel quite privileged even with trauma I’ve endured.  Since transitioning my housing situation has been more uncertain than not.   It’s all connected.

And while I would never give it up, or change anything, it’s clear the price I’ve paid to live an authentic life.  To not have basic needs met, or at least a given, I’ve put myself at risk. Knowing where I will be at a certain time, knowing I will be fed – is a huge thing.  It shouldn’t be and everyone should always have these basics covered, but by seeing once more how “outsiders” or rather, folks who don’t subscribe to a certain, limited way of being, exist, my empathy has grown and flooded from me.  It’s easy to see we’re not alone.

To know that although we went through this all alone, we were finally able to be there with each other.   There’s something that only we can give each other.  And that was remarkable.  The scariest part is in thinking that we are all alone.  The Geography of Pleasure workshop proved nothing could be further from the truth.

~ by Roman Rimer

Revolution happens when trans-masculine people invite pleasure into their bodies, just as they are.

bridge-to-tunnelI dip my pen into the blood of my heart, and begin to chronicle the myriad of thoughts, sensations, feelings, body epiphanies and erotic somatic learning that happened this past weekend.

It is only now, four days out, that I can bring myself to write of the beauty, the heartbreak, the joy, the community and the exquisite pain that was the first Geography of Pleasure: Embodiment for Trans Guys workshop.

Here’s what I notice: my heart aching mightily with the openness we created together.   I find my heart expanding into love and joy, and contracting into fear and anxiety, in a regular pattern.  I find I want the rawness and intensity of the workshop space in my everyday life.  It is hard to return to dishes, kids, and regular life.

How can I describe how the electricity in the room as we smashed paradigm after paradigm? How to write of the power of claiming our rightful erotic space, as humans who live on a trans-masculine spectrum? How can I describe the utter suffering that the people in this circle have endured, that has impacted every aspect of their lives? And how can I describe the fierceness and righteousness of watching the erotic call each of us home to our bodies, just as they are in this moment?

Truly, I cannot.

But what I can describe is the feeling of success I have as a facilitator of a crucible that created demonstrable transformation for participants. People looked different when they left.  They felt different. They felt like their context around pleasure, their bodies and their relationships had shifted so much that it was difficult to articulate. They spoke again and again of feeling a sense of safety that they had never in their lives felt.

I knew the workshop was going to be potent, but I really had absolutely no idea to what degree we would change everything.

One of my favorite reflections comes from workshop participant Jun C:

“I came in feeling like I had nothing to offer. I now feel like I have everything to give.

“I feel like I finally found the kind of community and connection with other trans-masculine people that I’ve been looking for that I couldn’t find for so long.

“I had initial reservations coming in (didn’t we all?)  I thought there was a very likely possibility that it was going to be some hokey new age-y type thing that usually strikes me as being disingenuous, devoid of real substance, with a false type of enlightenment. I don’t know yet how to articulate the sparkle magic that happened, but I’m so glad I was there.”

This workshop arose from a vision I had of a room of trans-masculine people, working together to banish shame, craft community, and communally welcome into our bodies the pleasure that heals trauma, brings sensation to numbness, and replaces fear with joy.  And this bold vision actually happened.

As a facilitator, my heart grew larger and larger with each story, each sharing, each time I sobbed with the hurt we have all borne. The scars I saw this weekend, (and I saw many,) denote a strength and a resilience, a determination to live in our bodies and to be truly ALIVE, without apology.

Perhaps I will write in greater depth about the specifics of what we did, but for now, I am basking in the delight of a heart full of passion for continuing and growing this work.  We  have already been invited to Portland, New Mexico, Toronto, Minneapolis and the UK.  You’ll be able to track our progress at http://www.geographyofpleasure.com.  I’ll be posting participant written reflections on my blog, as well as spoken reflections on our website and youtube. Stay tuned!

Our dream is for every trans-masculine person in the world has access to pleasure and embodiment, in the body they are in, RIGHT NOW! 

Pleasure and Embodiment for Trans Guys

bridge-to-tunnel

REGISTRATION RATE

Geography of

Pleasure!

Register now.  

Feb. 21-23 in San Francisco

“Geography of Pleasure” is a workshop for those of trans-masculine experience who are curious about exploring their bodies. Did your trans body come with a user guide to optimize your pleasure? Together, we write our own.

In this highly interactive workshop, conducted by trans-masculine facilitators, you get to deepen your understanding of the unique and diverse capacity your trans male body has for pleasure. 

Art, Anatomy, Touch, Ritual and Conscious Play are the ingredients. This workshop focuses on the entire body and is held in a container that is playful, safe and reverential. All of the myriad decisions trans masculine people make about their bodies in regards to surgery and hormones are honored.

The trans-masculine facilitation crew includes:

Dr. Liam “Captain” Snowdon.  Captain is a trained sexologist and international professor of Sexological Bodywork.

Pavini Moray, M.Ed.  Pavini teaches erotic wellness, intimacy technology and somatic sex and trauma renegotiation.  Pavini is a Sexological Bodyworker, activist and educator on fire about pleasure.

Dr. Ari Zadel.  Ari is a trans physician with a passion for serving trans youth populations.

Dallas Maynor. Dallas is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Somatic Psychology at CIIS.   He is dedicated to accessibility and social justice work.

Register now.