Have you ever had an experience with sex that triggered a reaction in you that you could not understand? For example, when your partner touches you in a particular way or part of your body that makes you completely freeze and then shut down? Maybe you are having a reaction just reading about this.
If this is your experience, you are NOT alone! It is much more common than you think. I know sometimes these experiences and feelings spiral out of control and you feel completely overwhelmed. I have been there in my own marriage. I was so anxious about having painful sex that I completely shut down…for 15 years.
Today I want to introduce you to Somatic Experiencing, a trauma resolution therapy I use with many of my clients that helps them regain intimacy with their partner. The concept of somatic experiencing, which was created by Dr. Peter Levine, is a process to help regulate the nervous system and bring it back into harmony.
The normal pattern for our nervous system is like a continuous wave that rises and falls. Let’s say that you’re home alone and all of the sudden you hear a door slam. Your body immediately gets activated; your heart rate increases, you start looking around sensing that there may be danger and your breathing gets more rapid. Your body is preparing to respond to the danger by fighting or fleeing. Then you realize that it was just the wind that caused the door to slam. Your body immediately relaxes and your heart rate and breath decrease. This is the normal activation/deactivation pattern that your body knows how to do to maintain nervous system stability.
Trauma disrupts the nervous system and causes it to be dysregulated, usually through over-stimulation. When we become over-stimulated, we can be flooded with intense emotions, such as fear, panic, and rage. This overwhelm compromises the body’s ability to react to the danger and we get stuck in one of two patterns; either a very high level of arousal (panic, anxiety) or feeling shut down, numb, and frozen.
The trauma can come from a variety of different experiences, from abuse to physical and emotional issues that overwhelm the system. When working with Somatic Experiencing, we focus less on the actual event, and more on helping the client’s nervous system learn how to regulate itself and rid itself of sself-protection patterns that no longer serve.
I have had issues with chronic UTI’s and yeast infections after having sex. This made me terrified every time my partner wanted to have sex because I knew that it would most likely end not with a blissful experience, but instead with me in the doctor’s office going through painful procedures. I found myself completely shutting down and not able to get aroused. This happened even when my partner and I decided to take intercourse off the table. It’s like my body was in control of the whole experience.
After being introduced to Somatic Experiencing therapy, I was able to release the fear and anxiety about having sex, and learn how to relax into arousal, bringing intimacy and pleasure back into our relationship.
Somatic Experiencing is just one of many different tools that I use when working with a client who is experiencing challenges around their sexuality. Trauma survivors benefit the most from this type of work, as do those who experience very high levels of anxiety or feeling shut down and numbed out with sex. I go more into detail about resolving sexual trauma in my new book,
Living an Orgasmic Life, (insert link here). If you need additional support in this area, check out the resources that follow.
Somatic Experiencing Resources:
Irene Lyon, a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, has a Facebook group of over 19,000 people called Healthy Nervous System Revolution. It is a free community that focuses on autonomic nervous system health. She also produces free resources in this group.
Healing Sex: A Mind-Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma by Stacey Haines, Cleis Press (2007)
In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness by Peter Levine (North Atlantic Books 2010)
Overcoming Trauma through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body by David Emerson & Elizabeth Hopper (North Atlantic Books, 2011)
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Boessel van Der Kolk (Penguin Books, 2015 Reprint)
Waking The Tiger: Healing Trauma by Peter Levine (North Atlantic Books 1997)
Recommended Trauma Therapies/Workshops
Somatic Experiencing, www.traumahealing.org for a list of certified practitioners in the US and internationally
EMDR International www.emdria.site-ym.com for a list of certified EMDR practitioners in the US and internationally
Smart Body Smart Mind, www.irenelyon.com A comprehensive online workshop for healing the nervous system with advanced SE practitioner Irene Lyons.