How is Somatic Sex Therapy Different to Traditional Sex Therapy?
Somatic sex therapy is referred to by different names, such as somatic sexology, sexological bodywork, tantric bodywork or somatic sex coaching. There are some variations but they all have one thing in common: the focus is on what is happening in the body, and the mind-body connection. This differs to the more traditional sex therapy, which is a talking only modality which focuses on the mind alone.
Somatic literally means ‘relating to the body’. Somatic sex therapy can be done alone or with a partner. One of the main differences to a traditional talking only session is that clients can ask practitioners to give them touch, either to a clothed or naked body. Please note that professional bodyworkers and sex therapists will never push you to take off your clothes or receive touch. Trained practitioners will move at the client’s pace, which may mean initially just talking in sessions. Even in this case, the talking is still different to traditional sex therapy, as clients will be verbally invited to notice and connect more with what is happening in their bodies.
There are many instances where it can be beneficial for clients to receive touch. For conditions such as premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction or anorgasmia working with a hands-on practitioner can make a big difference to just talking about these, which is often not enough to resolve the issue. Similarly, waking up the nerve endings in the skin through a combination of touch is not possible to do with talking alone.
What are the 3 Main Areas of Somatic Sex Therapy?
When the body doesn’t feel safe it is difficult to relax and enjoy pleasure. In many instances, it is not enough to cognitively tell yourself that you are safe – this will not release the tension by itself. This is because the body holds implicit memories, which are unconscious and automatic, meaning that if the body doesn’t feel safe it will react to defend itself. This may be by tensing or speeding up to prepare itself for the perceived danger, and can happen despite your best efforts to relax and calm down in a given situation.
Somatic bodywork is a trauma-informed modality. According to the government’s Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, trauma results “from an event or set of circumstances that is experienced by the individual as harmful or life threatening”. Practitioners who are trauma-informed are trained to recognise the symptoms of trauma, and work in ways that will avoid re-traumatisation. Working in a way that feels as safe as possible to the client is a key consideration. This is important in helping clients who have had adverse and frightening experiences to learn how to feel safe enough to be able to enjoy pleasure, sex and relationships again, or sometimes even for the first time.
One way in which practitioners will help you to feel more relaxed in your own skin is by teaching you ways to regulate your own nervous system. Another way is by helping clients to develop skills of identifying and expressing where their boundaries are, so they are in consent with any touch that they are giving or receiving.
RE-CONNECTING WITH THE BODY
Another important area of focus is the development of mindful embodiment. This means being aware of what is happening both outside and inside of us. Exteroceptors are the traditional five senses of touch, smell, hearing, sight and taste. Becoming more in tune with what is happening around us can help to be more ‘in the moment’. Interoceptors are sensory receptors that receive stimuli from inside the body, and help us to be more in tune with what is going on inside of us. It is common for people to be in a state of dissociation for most of the time, meaning that they are not really ‘here’ and aware of what is going on outside or inside themselves.
As Steve Haines, the founder of TRE College says: “if you can’t feel you can’t heal”. This is why an important aspect of somatic therapy it to help clients to be able to feel and tolerate difficult emotions and sensations. This is done slowly and over time for it to be a safe and effective way of working. Building sensation is like training a muscle – it gets stronger with regular practice over time.
Sometimes parts of the body can feel numb to the touch and somatic sex therapists help clients to re-connect those parts by building the amount of sensation they are able to feel. This is done by using different techniques such as the type of touch, breath and the use of movement. Clients are also coached on how to develop mindful touch – for use on themselves and on others.
RE-CONNECTING WITH PLEASURE & YOUR DESIRES
Once the body starts to feel safer and clients know how to regulate their own nervous system, this opens the door for focusing on feeling more pleasure and sexual fulfilment. At this stage, clients are helped to learn to notice what their desires are. These include knowing what kind of touch they want to give or receive, or sometimes what their fantasies may be.
It is often the case that people may not know what they like or want, in which case they are helped to get in touch with their desires through gentle enquiry. The process can involve letting go of shame around sexuality, which in turn paves the way for greater intimate and emotional connections to be made with self and others. Conscious communication is part of this process – learning to speak about our desires, as well as learning to talk in a way that is more likely to lead to being heard and understood by others.
I offer bodywork and somatic sex therapy sessions in Yorkshire / Teesside (TS12) and London (Bermondsey SE16) to individuals and couples. Please contact me for more information or to book an appointment.