Spoiler – Healing sexual trauma is not just about getting a yoni massage, seeing a sex coach, buying a jade egg or going to a sexuality workshop!
Full Disclosure: I am not a Trauma Specialist
Although I have some basic trauma education and experience, and over the last 10 years have regularly worked with women who have experienced trauma, I’m not a trauma therapist or specialist and don’t profess to be one.
However, I often refer clients onwards to trauma therapists.
In my work, if someone is clearly in a state of active trauma, I won’t work with them and will refer them onwards to a trauma therapist.
If, through our work together in coaching, education and bodywork, it becomes apparent that a client would benefit from trauma therapy, I’ll also refer them onwards to a trauma therapist.
I also see trauma therapists myself and I’m currently training in trauma-related modalities.
I regularly see a trauma-trained therapist, and have a huge fascination with this world.
I am currently enrolled in a trauma therapy training and two embodiment / body-based trainings that work with trauma on some level, so I look forward to be able to support people with trauma more directly at some point.
Wait a second, what even is trauma!?
Trauma is such a ‘loaded’ word huh?
It often sounds so intense… but trauma isn’t always huge, it can be super subtle too.
Without getting too technical, as there are many layers (and again, I’m not a specialist), my understanding is that trauma comes from developmental experiences or ‘shock’ experiences, where part of our response to that event / series of events (for whatever reason) was to create a kind of hold in the nervous system, one that impacts us on some level.
So as you continue reading, please remember that wherever I use the word ‘trauma’, I’m referring to trauma within this context – a nervous system hold or clench that impacts us on some (maybe really tiny) level.
Trauma is tricky because it’s often hard to recognise…
The thing is that often we don’t know we have this trauma, or these patterns of clench / hold / nervous system activation.
We’re usually unaware of the ways it impacts us as we move through the world. Trauma can be hard to recognise, to the untrained eye.
The situation is that most people have some kind of background trauma stuff going on.
The culture most of us live in creates, enables and supports trauma in many ways.
Generally though, across different fields, there’s not a clear consensus on what trauma is and how it presents.
Most of the commonly held beliefs about trauma come from the more severe situations of PTSD, or major trauma, people who are highly traumatised.
There’s not really a widespread conversation about how developmental or complex trauma can arise and how it might present in high functioning people.
There are some general events / situations that commonly result in trauma responses though.
Everyone will process trauma differently depending on many factors, but some of the more common situations / events that often result in trauma responses are:
- Sexual abuse / rape
- Child abuse (in any form)
- Birth (especially births that didn’t go according to plan)
- Accidents / falls / injuries
- Surgery / medical intervention
- Domestic violence
- Any form of physical / psychological / emotional abuse
There are also many lesser acknowledged (yet common) situations / circumstances that may result in trauma responses.
Some of these are:
- Shame (religious or otherwise)
- Overriding your own boundaries
- Destructive relationship patterns
- Being continually criticised
- Basic medical procedures like pap smears or dental work
- Chronic stress patterns (can be both a symptom and a cause)
- Pushing yourself in work / study / with a massive project
- Living or working in a high noise environment
- Having a douchey boss / annoying authority figure in your life
- Chronic lack of rest
- Not being emotionally met as a child
- Unsupportive living conditions
- Social isolation / loneliness
(and the list goes on…)
OMG, confusion, right!? How do we know if we have some kind of trauma response? Well, it’s complicated…
Here are some signs of potential trauma patterns:
(Note: these can also be completely unrelated to trauma!)
- Inability to talk about certain subjects
- Avoiding eye contact
- Avoiding expressing emotions / repressing emotions generally
- Chronic tension in the body
- Talking really fast
- Speediness in general
- Emotional outbursts disproportionate to the situation
- Disconnection / pushing away loved ones support
- Anxiety / fear
- Lack of self worth
- Struggling to make decisions
- Feeling disempowered
- Difficulty concentrating
- Total overwhelm
- Brain fog
- Self sabotage patterns
- Withdrawal from the world
(and that list goes on too!)
Yeah, pretty wild huh!? Do a bunch of those sound familiar?
According to this understanding of trauma, it means that someone quite high functioning, who struggles with (for example) low self worth, background anxiety and stress levels, always keeping busy (isn’t that lots of us!?!?) may in fact, be experiencing some symptoms of trauma and could benefit from some trauma therapy or specific support related to the nervous system holds causing the symptoms.
Trauma therapy isn’t just for people with PTSD, as we’ll explore shortly.
Ok so that’s the (very) basic trauma stuff. What about sexual trauma?
(Or trauma related to the sexual organs)
I’ve worked with women who have some form of sexual trauma for the last decade.
I don’t work specifically with unraveling the trauma pattern, though.
Why? Because I’m not trained to.
Sexual trauma can come from one-off specific events that can be pin-pointed and/or from a series of cumulative events.
Here are some examples of experiences that may result in sexual trauma responses:
- Sexual abuse / rape
- Challenging birth experiences
- unhealthy sexual patterns in relating
- feeling dishonoured sexually
- having sex when you don’t want to
- engaging intimately when intoxicated
- having sex without foreplay
- having sex that’s too hard or fast for what your body wants
- having the kind of sex that you don’t actually like
- feeling regularly pressured into sex
- feeling like your partner isn’t present during sex
- having your own obsessive goal focus during sex (and missing the present moment connection)
- overriding any of your sexual boundaries
- generally feeling like your sexual desires / needs aren’t heard
- being with a partner who disconnects during sex
- going to sexuality events where there’s a lot of sexual contact and the space isn’t held well enough
- Body image challenges
Then there are all the things that aren’t sexual but impact the pelvic space and therefore sexuality – any medical procedures related to the pelvis, birth, miscarriage, abortion, pap smears, falls / accidents…
….And so on (there are so many layers to all this!).
How might we know that we have some kind of sexual trauma?
Well, like all this stuff, it’s a bit nebulous to talk about… but here are some general potential signs that you might have some sexual trauma patterns:
(NOTE: these might only present sometimes and don’t necessarily mean that there’s trauma, they could be related to something else entirely…)
- You avoid sex generally
- You only want to have sex when you’re drunk
- You only have sex when your partner wants it
- You find it almost impossible to initiate sex
- You’re scared of getting sexually rejected
- You’ve felt sexually misunderstood with most partners
- You avoid foreplay generally / you rush through foreplay
- You avoid penetration generally
- You need lots of conditions to be met to be able to enjoy sex
- You have pain during sex
- You struggle to relax during sex
- You avoid sexual relating generally
- You avoid relationships generally
- You feel shame when talking about sexuality
- You feel like your sexuality is dirty
- You feel like there’s something wrong with you, sexually
- You cringe when other people mention anything sex-related
- You’re always focused on orgasm as the goal of sex
- You only want to have sex with the lights off
- You need sex to happen in one particular way every time
- You’re completely in your head during sex
- You feel numb in your body during sex
- You dissociate from your body during sex
- You’d be perfectly happy to never have sex again
- You find it hard to feel pleasure and sensitivity during sex
- You find it challenging to ask for what you want
- You’re highly sexual but you don’t really enjoy the sex
- You notice you’re just having sex to feel wanted / loved
Phew! Mmm yeah, soooo many familiar experiences there (at least for me!).
How about you?
So maybe there’s some sexual trauma stuff there for you (or someone you love!).
If that’s the case, what can you do to ‘heal’ it?
Lots of things can support the process of resolving sexual trauma, for sure.
Again, I’m not an expert and this is not an exhaustive list, but here are a few general important factors in navigating trauma.
See if it’s currently possible to (at least temporarily) remove yourself from potential triggers.
Firstly, it’s important to do your best (within your current capacity) to remove yourself from the situation that is resulting in a trauma response, if it’s possible.
For example –
If you’re feeling really weird about having sex when your body says no, but you keep having sex when you’re not up for it (because your partner wants to) it’s going to be more challenging to address the trauma pattern there.
If it’s within your current capacity to set a boundary with your partner and make an agreement to only have sex when you’re truly open for it, that’s a big initial step to avoid being constantly reactivated.
Create nervous system nourishment (as much as possible!)
Trauma is related to certain restrictive patterns in the nervous system.
So what can you do to nourish your nervous system?
All the basic daily life stuff helps:
- Gentle movement
- Regular sleep patterns
- Less screen time
- Slowing down
- Taking responsibilities / work off your plate
- Not creating more stress / tension / anxiety in your life generally
- Eating nourishing food
- Less alcohol / caffeine
- Checking your vitamin levels / hormones
- Taking your supplements (if they help)
- Spending quality time with loved ones
- learning how to rest well
(and so on…)
Find practices / approaches to support you.
Here are some approaches I’ve personally found to be powerful:
NOTE: These are not specifically ‘trauma-healing’ modalities, but practices or modalities that can be supportive for a dysregulated nervous system.
- Restorative yoga (created for nervous system support and deep rest).
- The Non-Linear Movement Method (Michaela Boehm’s embodiment method that I’m currently training in)
- Gentle freestyle movement generally, to let your body unravel slowly
- Spending time in nature / in water / amongst the trees / in fresh air
- Receiving loving, nurturing touch – whether through seeing a very tuned-in massage therapist, just cuddling with a loved one, or whatever else works.
- Self compassion – meeting yourself with deep compassion and care.
- Embodiment practices generally – using movement, touch and breath to become aware of your physical, emotional, mental and energetic landscape, to come into the present moment.
However, if you’re in an active state of trauma (ie. finding it hard to function in daily life), I recommend seeing a trauma therapist.
If you’re in a state of active trauma, I personally recommend seeing a trauma therapist, before trying to make lots of overwhelming changes in your life.
This is different to seeing a sex coach, doing an online course about sexuality, or even having a Yoni Mapping Therapy session (more on that soon). I’m recommending that you have sessions with a body-based trauma therapist, multiple times.
There are people who specialise in tracking how your body and nervous system is responding in therapy, and can support you on many levels to resource yourself so that you’re functioning better in daily life.
Not just seeing a regular psychologist (as they often don’t have body-based tools), but people who have actual body-based training in trauma. Sometimes they may have more clinical training in psychology or psychotherapy too. There are various therapists around with this kind of training. Many of them are Somatic Psychotherapists or Somatic Experiencing Practitioners.
These practitioners usually prefer to work with clients over a period of time, because working with the nervous system needs to be gentle and slow.
Pushing and forcing release doesn’t reliably work. Going for big cathartic experiences doesn’t reliably work. Slower is faster, in this sense.
Even if you’re not in an active state of trauma, you may still like to consider seeing a trauma-informed therapist.
I’ve been seeing trauma-informed practitioners semi-regularly for a couple of years now. First a body-based psychologist, then a body-based psychotherapist, some sporadic Somatic Experiencing Practitioners…
And now I see a therapist who is a magical winning combination of the three! (I know! He’s a unicorn and his books are pretty much full.)
Why do I see a trauma therapist?
Do I have some super intense, massive trauma to deal with?
Nah, not really.
Is trauma the reason why my body shuts down sometimes, or I get anxious about certain topics, or I avoid dealing with important things or I keep myself busier than I need to be?
Definitely, yes. No question.
I’m high functioning… but I’ve also got shit to deal with.
I avoid managing my life to the level that it needs to be managed. I’ve got some self-sabotage patterns that impact my capacity to create what I want to create. I went through a pretty intense break up last year. My father died 2 years ago and I’m still navigating some heavy grief stuff there. I moved to the city from the country, away from a big part of my support network.
So yeah… there’s definitely trauma stuff there to work with in therapy!
Trauma-informed therapy isn’t just for people suffering from PTSD.
It’s suitable for most people.
You don’t even need to know what the trauma is, or exactly why you’re responding like that.
It’s not about the story, it’s about exploring how it affects you, and how you can support yourself moving forward.
What about yoni massage? Or sexual healing workshops? Or Yoni Mapping Therapy?
If it’s sexual trauma, shouldn’t I work with it directly?
As wonderful as these approaches and modalities are (and trust me, I’m in full support of this kind of work and created a whole modality around pelvic bodywork for women!) they are not, I repeat, not trauma healing modalities.
You also need to be super discerning when choosing a practitioner / facilitator – because many of them have almost no understanding or awareness of trauma.
Yoni Massage, sexual healing sessions or sexuality workshops might be suitable for you if you have some past trauma that isn’t massively impacting your ability to function day to day (like most people!).
They are not suitable if you’re in a state of active trauma (ie. struggling to function, feeling generally unstable, the trauma is significantly impacting your daily life).
Yoni Mapping Therapy – Why it can be supportive (but still isn’t a substitute for trauma therapy!)
Practitioners of Yoni Mapping Therapy – The Bliss Method (who I’ve trained personally) are not trauma therapists, but they have basic training in trauma-informed practice and trauma first-aid.
They know how to approach things if a client has a trauma response in a session, and how to guide the session to minimise the potential for trauma responses to arise. They know not to accept a new client who is in an active trauma state.
Yoni Mapping Therapy is an experience of having someone guide you through your pelvic space with no agenda, and an intention to simply support you to discover your own body, to enquire into your inner world and explore what’s there with curiosity and respect.
There is lots of purely anecdotal evidence to suggest that Yoni Mapping Therapy has been supportive for women who have previously experienced trauma related to their sexuality.
I believe this is mostly because of the slow, gentle, loving, respectful, nurturing approach to this part of the body. We also bring attention towards what feels good / spacious / relaxing or peaceful.
If someone has been through sexual abuse, that abuse is an experience of being taken from, disrespected, being non-consensually touched and violated, not treated like a whole human who is worthy of honouring.
What we do with Yoni Mapping Therapy is almost the opposite. It’s an experience of being given to and respected, with your full embodied consent, being touched with absolute honouring and reverence.
It’s about having your pelvic space cared for on a deep level, really giving nurturing attention your whole body and to this part of you (when we’ve often had experiences that weren’t nurturing!)
Many hundreds of clients have told me how ‘healing’ the Yoni Mapping Therapy was for them, and how it helped them to rewire their relationship with their pelvic area and sexual selves.
Many women told me they found it more effective than the traditional talk therapy they’d been in for years. So yes, it can definitely be a support for women who have experienced trauma. However, it’s not for everyone and it’s still not a trauma healing modality.
Yoni Mapping Therapy alone will not heal sexual trauma, full stop.
In other news…
On jade eggs and crystal wands:
Buying a jade egg or pleasure wand will not resolve your sexual trauma.
Using a jade egg or pleasure wand as one part of your general embodiment practices may be supportive to nourish your body & nervous system, which may in turn lessen the impact of the trauma.
Jade eggs alone (or pleasure wands or crystals or whatever) will not heal sexual trauma, full stop.
On sexuality workshops:
Going to sexuality workshops will not resolve your sexual trauma.
In fact, I’ve been to lots of workshops where I felt forced into certain states or experiences and I walked away with more trauma to deal with.
These spaces are often not held in trauma-informed ways.
If you’ve previously experienced trauma, but you’re in a fairly functional space, some sexuality-related workshops might support you to connect with your sexual self in a healthy way, which might support your nervous system and help to rewire your response to sexuality, as well as deepen your knowledge and experience.
However, sexuality workshops alone will not heal sexual trauma, full stop.
On seeing a sex coach / sexual healer / bodyworker / kinesiologist / reiki practitioner / yoni massage therapist:
People who are trained as coaches, bodyworkers or reiki healers are not trauma therapists and hence are not trained to support you to unravel trauma patterns in your nervous system over a period of time.
Do not trust any ‘coach’ or bodyworker who tries to offer you trauma therapy.
They may be able to support you to create a healthier relationship to your body or your sexuality, which may, in turn, nourish your nervous system and create space around the holding pattern, which may, in turn, support you on your journey of addressing the trauma… but it is not trauma therapy.
I’m a sex coach myself and I’m all for it… but sex coaching / bodywork / healing alone will not heal sexual trauma, full stop.
On trusting celebrities / influencers with no experience:
Isn’t it ridiculous that we put celebrities (or people with a large following) on a pedestal, regardless of their actual embodied experience, training or capacity to support people?
It’s such a classic instagram thing and it’s a bit alarming sometimes. Instagram is amazing, but also dangerous.
There are people out there with zero training, experience or professional background in sexuality-related stuff, giving dodgy AF sexuality advice (and ALSO charging for it!).
Be aware of taking advice from people just because you love their aesthetic, or the way they present their life, or it appears like they have a great sex life (especially advice that’s trauma-related!).
Don’t be afraid to ask about someone’s training or experience before buying sessions or courses through them.
There’s usually a reason people don’t list their background or training on their website – because either they don’t have much training or their training is unrelated to what they’re teaching.
In conclusion, trauma is complex AF.
Let’s leave the sticky stuff to the people who’ve spent years studying and practicing it, shall we?
Yes, most trauma-informed therapy has a long way to go in terms of working with sex positive approaches, and therapists will definitely need to address their own sexual issues in order to truly serve their clients.
I’ve had clients who’ve had bad experiences in therapy when the therapist was judgemental of their sexual choices, or just simply not educated enough on the topic of sex but giving sexual advice. There are many layers.
I’ve personally loved being able to refer my coaching or bodywork clients to trauma specialists, as I know that I don’t have all the answers and my clients would often benefit from seeing a therapist who is well-trained in trauma AND a sex therapist / sex coach who can support them with limiting patterns / beliefs / education about sexuality.
Phew. I think that’s it for now!
(This was originally posted on Facebook but I made it an article after so many people suggested it.)
The image above is an infographic created by sexual & birth trauma specialist, Nisha Gill.
Nisha made the image for educational purposes to convey the complexity of working with trauma. As you can see it refers to many more layers to those I’ve mentioned in this article.
You can find Nisha’s amazing work at her website here.