As a sex educator, I’m committed to providing accurate, non-judgmental information to support people to have the healthiest, happiest sex lives they can. I can teach concepts related to consent, anatomy, or pleasure “how-to’s.” All of that is vitally important culturally as most of us did not receive adequate—or any—sex education growing up. But at a certain point I realized that something was still missing. If a person doesn’t know what YES feels like in their body, what NO feels like in their body, providing the definition of consent is only so helpful. If someone is too overcome with shame to look at their own genitals in a mirror or to allow a lover to see their genitals during sexual interaction, teaching them the words to describe their “parts” or how those parts work isn’t enough. And that person can’t experience their full capacity for pleasure, their most authentic and joyful sexual self while bearing the burden of their shame. I can tell a person how to safely engage in anal sex or how to give a great blowjob, but if that person has a history of trauma that limits their ability to feel sensation in general, not just sensations of pleasure, or that makes it challenging or impossible to stay in the present moment during sexual activity, pleasure how to information is useless.
This is where somatic sex education comes in. In somatic sex education, I create a safe container for clients to rebuild or deepen their relationship with their bodies, to become more embodied, as we would say in somatic practice. One of the early pioneers in the field of somatics is Alexander Lowen, a US psychotherapist who is perhaps best known as the creator of a form of body psychotherapy called Bioenergetics. Lowen is quoted as saying, “You are your body.” To make this clearer, I like to say that most people in the US today are pretty disconnected from our bodies—we tend to think of our body as a stick that carries our brain to meetings. But truly our body has its own intelligence—we’re hearing more about this in media and conversations as neuroscience confirms what somatic pioneers like Lowen and his teacher Willhelm Reich figured out decades ago. For example, you’ve probably heard people talk about the “gut brain.” Our brain and our body are in constant two-way communication. The vagus nerve is all the rage right now in trauma theory and neurobiology. Vagus means “wanderer”; it’s a cranial nerve that connects the brain to stomach, intestines, heart, lungs, ears, esophagus, uterus, and more. But the significant thing I’d like to share is that 20% of the vagus nerve is brain to body communication. 80% of it is body to brain communication! If I'm not listening to my body, I'm missing out on a lot of information! I’ve always been an intellectual person, and I LOVE my brain. For me, embodiment is not about denying or rejecting my brain. It’s about rebuilding my ability to hear what my body is telling me so I have access to that wisdom, in addition to the wisdom of my mind. I like to think that when I’m in touch with my body AND my mind, we’re an unstoppable team!
So how do you build that connection with your body and what does that have to do with sex?
The first thing we do is slow down and start noticing what our bodies are saying. Sensation is the language of the body, so we literally slow down and feel what is happening inside our body. We call this somatic awareness. Since we’re talking about somatic experiences, this might be more easily understood in our bodies, not in words, so let’s just do it right now. If I bring my attention into my body and just see what I notice as I write this…I’m aware of an achy feeling in my sacrum (because I've been sitting too long), a pulsing sensation in my throat and mouth, and tension between my temples. Now you try! Just bring your attention into your body and see if any sensation comes to your awareness. Take your time. What do you notice?
That's where we start. The more we practice, the more we notice, the easier it gets. And from there we NOTICE what's happening in our bodies when working to resolve a sexual concern. We become truly able to feel our boundaries in relationship, and that embodied knowing allows us to express or defend our boundaries with more ease and clarity. Somatic awareness gives us CHOICE. When we can feel in our bodies what we desire sexually, how we want to be touched, we have now made it possible to have the kind of sex we want to be having. And since in the act of cultivating our somatic awareness, we have actually begun to increase our capacity to notice, to FEEL, what is happening in our bodies, we have actually increased our capacity to experience pleasure. So not only do we now have the option to ask for the touch we want, but when we get it, it feels even more pleasurable than it would have before.