Pleasure for the People: Trauma and Revolution

Feel more pleasure with Emancipating Sexuality

It’s good to talk about the nuances of a pleasure revolution, in particular for those of us with sexual trauma.

It seems like pleasure should be the most effortless of human experiences, yes? After all, it’s the state or sensation we are taught to pursue relentlessly. The abatement of pain, and the enjoyment of pleasure is the promise of all marketing, no matter what the product being sold.

And yet pleasure can be complicated. Or maybe it always is.

What is pleasure? How do you know it when you feel it? What’s your capacity for staying with it? Can you bear it for hours? Do you let pleasure absorb deeply inside you, defining your embodied existence? Does pleasure validate your worthiness? Or, like most of us, do you gulp down the delicious meal, rush towards orgasm, or in other ways try to escape from feeling sustained pleasure?

I work with many folks with sexual trauma. I struggle to not let their heartbreaking stories become my normal; to allow myself to feel the impact of each and every violation of each client, without becoming swamped in despair.

The suck-ass truth is that for those of us with sexual trauma, we bear the burden of working through it. It’s not fair. It’s so not fair. And yet, without our own personal work navigating towards sexual freedom, we remain stuck in a sexuality that is not our full expression. And this is of course an okay choice, but it is not the one I nor my clients are making. We want pleasure.

For folks with sexual trauma history, pleasure isn’t always easy to feel. There may be numbness, lack of sensation, pain. Not only that, pleasure can be triggering to feel.
Pleasure can feel not good; it can be uncomfortable, unbearable, or the bodily sensations of pleasure may cause folks to disassociate away from their bodies. Sometimes it’s easily felt, but remorse, shame and guilt are lying in wait in the wings, as soon as pleasure is done. Sometimes pleasure brings up unwanted thoughts, memories or associations.
I sit with my clients through the weeks and months and sometimes years as they fight for their right to feel pleasure, and as they build their capacity to stay with it
Recently I went to hear the band Alabama Shakes at the Greek Theater in Berkeley. Brittany Howard belted out song after soul-wrenching song, no holds barred. This woman is so full-on, you just know she is born to sing, is here on Earth to bring this particular musical brilliance through her body and into the world. Holy fuck. Listen to this before you read the rest of this post, to have an embodied understanding of what I’m talking about.

While listening, it raised a question I’ve been feeling into ever since.  What is it to live in the world, completely dedicated to expressing the thing you are here to express? To give yourself completely to that thing? That even trembling with fear, flooded with overwhelm and suffering pain you just throw yourself into yourself, and pour yourself out again? To allow inspiration to have its way with you, and to focus focus focus your expression in the way that only you could ever do?

I am committed to developing my full erotic expression in this lifetime. There are moments when I am able to allow pleasure to completely ride me,  moments when my body exists inside of me!

But more often are the complicated pleasure moments. The times I’m using my strategies to stay present, to explore what’s possible in this body in this moment. The days where my libido caught a train to Detroit, or I’m distracted by the books I need to read for my lit review. Or I’d rather just get off quick and nap, than do the work of feeling deep pleasure.

My erotic practice is about practice. My erotic practice is about Practice. Like learning to shape a voice made for rock and roll, or hone muscles that can powerlift heavy weight, or learning the art of feeling the trauma of my clients and letting it move through me instead of getting stuck, I am devoted to my art of subtle, nuanced erotic feeling.

This is my pleasure revolution; to develop sensitivity to sensation, to develop the capacity for feeling, in the face of trauma that says ‘No, don’t feel. You don’t deserve it!’ or ‘It’s not safe to feel that!’

Through practice I’ve learned to fuck harder when shame strikes. To remain soft and open to receiving pleasurable touch when tears come. To speak hard-to-say truths in the middle of beautiful moments. To continue erotic energy when my partner is triggered. To receive erotic energy while I’m triggered. To pause, reset, and continue. To explore how to hold pleasure for a long, long time, through all the bullshit that comes up.

Almost all of my clients long for easy pleasure. Pleasure without tears at the end, or having to stop in the middle. Pleasure that doesn’t require explaining to one’s partner that the reason they can’t touch your left thigh has nothing to do with them, but could they please try and not? Pleasure that is just simple. However, that’s not the hand they are holding. Instead , erotic expression involves work and practice and willingness to experience the grief/rage/anger/sadness/numbness, again and again beyond boredom, ad nauseum. Trauma legacy.

And yet. I’m not totally convinced that complicated, hard-earned pleasure isn’t just a tiny bit more worthwhile. I’m not actually convinced that ‘easy pleasure’ and ‘deep pleasure’ ever coexist. It’s a revolution because it’s an overturning of the false dichotomy of the ‘haves’ who get pleasure and the ‘have-nots’ who don’t. Pleasure for the People!  Committing to full erotic expression after trauma is a seizing of personal power in the face of hegemony and shame.

That said, choosing full erotic expression as a trauma survivor takes the time it takes, and maybe that time is never. I’m not the pleasure police. It is a valid choice to focus self-expression in totally different arenas. There is no ‘should’ about feeling anything. Just choices about where we choose to place the limited resource of our attention. Living a life of hedonism and pleasure happens to be where I choose to rebel in the face of my trauma and upbringing.

Would I have committed my life to this personal and professional exploration of reclaiming pleasure without sexual trauma? I’ll never know, but I doubt it. My pleasure is earned, hard-won. It’s my art. It’s my practice. It’s my connection with self and partner and the Divine.

And truly, not today, but some days, pleasure really is effortless

If this speaks to you, please leave a comment below.

Your Body Remembers

“I wish my body would just cooperate.” Mila says, deep frustration in her voice. “I’m having fantastic sex. Why can’t I cum?”

We’re sitting in my office, having a conversation we’ve had several times before. In fact, it’s a conversation I often have with my clients.

They are angry about something that their body is or is not doing, something that is preventing them from experiencing intimacy in the way they want. It might be not being able to come, or not being able to stay present during sex, or not being able to speak to tell their partner what feels good. Perhaps they physically block themselves from experiencing pleasure, or can only orgasm by themselves and never with a partner.

In every case, there is a disconnect between what the person wants and what is actually happening in their body.

What my clients usually come to understand is that there is a profound wisdom in the responses that our bodies have. These responses have developed over time, in reaction to the experiences we’ve had in our bodies. Our history is stored in our bodies.

“Is your body feeling safe enough to orgasm?” I ask Mila. Her eyes flicker away from mine, and her foot taps nervously, answering the question without words. She blurts out, “We’ve never processed our breakup.”  Mila recently started sleeping with her ex-girlfriend of ten years ago, and is hopeful for a reconciliation.

“But that was so long ago. Why would it stop me from cumming now?” she asks. She doesn’t like my answer: “Your body remembers.”

Mila’s situation is not unusual. She’s processed the painful breakup in therapy. She understands what happened between them. She has mentally forgiven her lover for leaving her. But until our painful and traumatic experiences are processed on a somatic level, body symptoms persist.

Her mind has moved towards healing faster than her body. Her body is reminding her to be cautious, to take her time, to build emotional trust with her lover (probably including processing their breakup) before surrendering bodily control (i.e. having an orgasm.)

Part of becoming a skillful, well-integrated human means attending to all the parts of ourselves, especially those bits we avoid.  Focusing our attention on our wounds with the intention of healing means acknowledging the adaptive survival mechanisms we have embodied. It means seeing how our bodies express old survival skills, even when our minds have decided that those skills are no longer relevant to our current situation.

“Healing trauma, rather than  avoiding or managing it, is  possible through a somatic approach. Many people try to “understand” what happened to them, or “put it behind them” but to truly feel at home and safe again, connected to yourself, others and place, takes healing the experience through your psycho-biology. The body remembers and will continue to react from trauma, until this  is processed through the body/mind/spirit.” ~Staci Haines

In order to have the sexuality you want, your body must feel safe. If your mind and your body are at odds, there is no felt sense of safety.

What is safety?

A feeling on the inside, when I know I have the power to take action on my own behalf. Safety stems from knowing deep in our bodies that we can take skillful action to serve our needs.

How do I start to feel safe in my body?

Assuming that you are physically safe, beginning to practice a collaborative relationship between your mind and your body is where somatic healing starts. My body begins to feel like a safe place when:

  • I make consistent, loving choices that support my needs for food, rest, companionship, movement and work.
  • I am kind to myself inside my head, and stop thinking that I need to be mean to myself for motivation
  • I give my body all the time it needs to reorient to a new way of being (as opposed to pushing my body to accept change on some predetermined timetable)
  • I recognize that my body remembers and processes at a different (and usually slower) speed than my mind
  • I take a systematic and somatic approach (as opposed to a cognitive one) to address and renegotiate trauma that is held in my bodily tissues
  • I practice trusting the information that my body relates to my mind
  • I believe that my body is deeply wise
  • I give up my story of brokenness, and trade it in for one of healing and integration
  • I recognize that muscular contraction in the body is valuable information, and that “Just relax” while well intended, misses the point.
  • I allow my body to drive, rather than my cognition.

All of these tenets are available to you for free, right now.

And if having an embodied relationship with your body and your sexuality sounds fabulous to you and you’d like more support, hey, this is what I do. I help folks live pleasurably in their bodies and relationships. Drop me a note, and we’ll set up a time to chat and discuss how I can help. 

 

 

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.

Sexual Trauma Release Therapy

Peter Levine, founder of Somatic Experiencing

I heart Peter Levine.

If you don’t know his work, check out this youtube video on Sexual Abuse.

You could also pick up his book Waking the Tiger.

 You can also read my blog posting on how I’ve experienced the Somatic Experiencing work.

I am super excited about the direction my work is taking, in helping survivors of sexual trauma and abuse to reclaim their bodies and sexualities.  Please take a minute and go here to check  out my healing sexual trauma work on my website.  What do you think?

My warm, safe hand, reaching out to other survivors

Yesterday in honor of National Coming Out day, I came out as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.  In response, I received a lot of love and support.  Breaking silence is an interesting thing.  Many people read that blog post, and since statistics show that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys will endure sexual abuse before the age of 18, it seems like a good idea to follow up what I wrote yesterday with some more information.  I want to be able to have conversations without shame or stigma, and bring something silenced into the clean, sweet sunlight.  I want survivors to be able to pursue the healing they need, without dehabilitating shame that impacts their relationships, self-esteem and sexuality.  I’m feeling more and more called to this work, especially for queer, fat, trans- and gender fabulous folx.

The statistics being what they are, and the number of readers being what it is, I feel certain that there were many survivors who read my blog yesterday.  This post is for them, the brave warriors who are walking into the labyrinth to reclaim what is theirs, and dealing with all the fear, terror, humiliation, shame, embarrassment, and other emotions that come once this work is begun.  It’s true, you could choose to live your entire life without naming this for yourself, without facing the demons that haunt you.

Okay, here’s some information I dug up in my research.  (Sources are at the end)

Many people have sensory/body memories of abuse.  If the abuse happened when they were very young, they may not have words around the body sensations.  Many survivors experience functional amnesia, especially if abuse occurred before age 5.  Physiological responses to particular triggers are common, and inexplicable when a survivor has no conscious memories.  The season, time of day, quality of light, certain sounds or smells and a plethora of other sensory stimuli can trigger body reactions that seem totally disconnected to the actual environment or situation.

Trauma often manifests in the body as extreme cold, numbness, lack of sensation or sensory amnesia, such as not really being aware of certain body parts, even though cognitively someone knows they have that part.  People often are so accustomed to lack of sensation, that they are unaware of it.  Think about it, if you were color blind, and no one ever caught it, would you know you were?  It’s like that.  If I have an area of my body (pelvis and hips are super common) that is not feeling a full range of sensation, how would I know? (Just sayin, there are ways to figure this stuff out, but that’s another post.)

Relationally, CSA can have a huge impact.  Many survivors find connecting sex and intimacy problematic.  They can have both, just not together.  Diassociation during sex is common.  This means that the person checks out… it can mean their awareness leaves their body, or it can pull really tightly inside.  Either way, it’s not present and engaged with the partner.  Partners tend to get pretty testy about this stuff after awhile.  And boundaries, as I wrote yesterday, become really murky; physical, emotional and energetic.  Yeah, forget about boundaries!

Maybe I’m not saying anything this morning that you don’t already know.  I think my intention is to give permission to survivors to begin to acknowledge their experiences, without taking on a whole shitload of blame, shame and self-recrimination.  The good news is that there is a way back from the trauma.  Healing is totally possible.  Hell, if I’m doing it, I bet you can too.  Bottom line is I’m not willing to give it that much power anymore.  I’m driving now, thank you very much.  Not it. 

Here’ s a list of symptoms that is pretty good: I didn’t write this, I copied it from Carol Boulware.

What Are The Affects Of Sexual Abuse?

Being in your body

  • Do you feel at home in your body?
  • Do you feel comfortable expressing yourself sexually with another?
  • Do you feel that you are a part of your body or does your body feel like a separate entity?
  • Have you ever intentionally and physically hurt yourself?
  • Do you find it difficult to listen to your body?

Emotions

  • Do you feel out of control of your feelings?
  • Do you feel you sometimes don’t understand all the feelings you are experiencing?
  • Are you overwhelmed by the wide range of feelings you have?

Relationships

  • What are your expectations of your partner in a relationship?
  • Do you find it easy to trust others?
  • Do you find difficulty in making commitments?
  • Even though you’re in a relationship, are you still lonely?
  • Is it hard for you to allow others to get close to you?
  • Do you find yourself in relationships with people who remind you of your abuser, or you know is no good for you?

Self-Confidence

  • Do you find it difficult to love yourself?
  • Do you have a hard time accepting yourself?
  • Are you ashamed of yourself?
  • Do you have expectations of yourself that aren’t realistic?

Sexuality

  • Do you enjoy sex?
  • Do you find it difficult to express yourself sexually?
  • Do you find yourself using sex to get close to someone?
  • Does sex make you feel dirty?
  • Are you “present” during sex?

What Problems are Caused by Sexual Abuse?

Major Sexual Symptoms of Sexual Abuse

  1. Difficulty with becoming aroused and feeling sensations
  2. Sex feels like an obligation
  3. Sexual thoughts and images that are disturbing
  4. Inappropriate sexual behaviors or sexual compulsivity
  5. Vaginal pain
  6. Inability to achieve orgasm or other orgasmic difficulties
  7. Erections problems or ejaculatory difficulty
  8. Feeling dissociated while having sex
  9. Detachment or emotional distance while having sex
  10. Being afraid of sex or avoiding sex
  11. Guilt, fear, anger, disgust or other negative feelings when being touched

Major Long-Term Medical Symptoms of Sexual Abuse

  1. Insomnia
  2. Vaginal or Pelvic Pain
  3. Eating Disorders
  4. Headaches
  5. TMJ syndrome
  6. Low back pain, chest pressure
  7. Erection problems or ejaculatory difficulty
  8. Asthma
  9. Dizziness/fainting
  10. Self harming/self-mutilation
  11. Chronic physical complaints

Major Long-Term Psychological Symptoms of Sexual Abuse

  1. Anxiety
  2. Panic Attacks
  3. Low self-esteem
  4. Stress disorders – PTSD
  5. Personality disorders
  6. Substance abuse
  7. Self-abuse behaviors

If you are dealing with recovery, and want some support, try calling here:  National Sexual Assault Hotline 800 -656-HOPE

http://www.aaets.org/article120.htm

http://rainn.org/get-info/effects-of-sexual-assault/adult-survivors-of-childhood-sexual-abuse

http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/wwwfiles/ph/media/media/TPH-409.pdf

Thriving Resilience, Radiant Sexuality and Recovery from Childhood Sexual Abuse

Breaking Silence

From an email I wrote to one of my parents today: “I have made a commitment to myself to acknowledge and come to acceptance of the story of my body and my sexuality.”

I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. 

For many years, I had experiences in sexual and intimate connections that baffled me.  My body would react in ways I did not understand.  Weird triggers suddenly made me pull away, deep inside.  I had many bodily sensations that seemed out of context to the situation.  Nightmares about hidden, dirty places haunted me my entire life.  Disassociation became an art form.  Projecting ‘perpetrator’ stories onto lovers was a strategy to avoid intimacy.  I shut down my sexuality, in attempts to deny the truth of my body.  I attempted to avoid healing, since it was so terrifying.  My demons were familiar, and if not beloved, at least steadfast and reliable.  Trust confounded me in relationship after relationship.

I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

And here’s the thing: healing is my great work.  It’s my personal work, and it’s what I’m able to give to this world.  Holding the idea that I was the most fucked up person in the world was comforting.  And surrendering to knowing that’s not true has been really fucking scary.  As long as my Shadow was enormous and unlovable, I didn’t have to engage with being worthy of receiving love.  I didn’t actually have to trust anyone enough to let myself be loved, imperfectly.

You’ve been reading my thoughts about boundaries and intimacy.  I believe we all live in a sexually traumatic culture, and probably most of us struggle with these.  And personally as a survivor, boundaries and intimacy are particularly hard-won.  In these posts, you’ve seen my will in action, as I go back and reclaim boundaries and  intimacy as my birthrights.  Action arises from will, and will from Desire.  Desire comes, of course, from our bodies.

This personal reclamation of sexuality and Desire as a survivor is a political act of deep courage and resistance.  I WILL be joyously and outrageously a sexual being, enjoying the full potential of my sensual and sexual nature.  I WILL take back my body, and learn all the stories, secrets and teachings it holds.  I WILL live radiantly, gloriously and pleasurably in this perfect body.

What I didn’t write in my email this morning was that not only am I coming to acceptance, I am coming to fucking gratitude for all that my body has endured.  I am so grateful for all the healing I can allow myself to do, not just for me, but for you too.  In spite of silencing shame and loneliness, the loss of loved ones who can’t show up for my process, and soul-numbing childhood abuse, I thrive.  I FUCKING THRIVE! Resilience, simply said, but with a radical twist.  Here it is: I’m so grateful I get to come home to my body.  It’s all the sweeter for having been gone.   

It’d be totally awesome if you’d take a second, and give me a high-five below in the comments or by liking.  It’s pretty vulnerable to write this.  I’d also love to hear if you THRIVE too.