Sexological Bodywork

Deepening of Daily Practice

In 1948, as part of the largest study of human sexuality ever undertaken, Alfred Kinsey found that nothing “has had more influence upon present-day patterns of sexual behavior than the religious backgrounds of that culture." (Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, p. 465) Kinsey’s data showed the least sexually active males were Orthodox Jews, devout Catholics and practicing Protestants. When folks speak about this restrictive influence of religion on our American society, they often say we live in a “sex negative” culture. Although the source of this cultural wounding is traditional religious morality, it has so permeated our culture that we all suffer the effects. One of the most common results of living in this sex negative culture is being taught as children that masturbation is immoral and unhealthy.

Kinsey called the stigmatizing of masturbators a form of sexual abuse:

“Millions of boys have lived in continual mental conflict over this problem. For that matter, many a boy still does. Many boys pass through a periodic succession of attempts to stop the habit, inevitable failures in those attempts, consequent periods of remorse, the making of new resolutions–and a new start on the whole cycle. It is difficult to imagine anything better calculated to do permanent damage to the personality of an individual." (Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. pp. 513-514)

Constricting Pleasure

The major physiological strategy for avoiding sexual feelings that result in shame and guilt is to place one’s attention outside of the body. We actually learn to limit all types of sensations, not just excitement and bliss.

Physiologically, excitement is defined as a gradual increase of neural firings in our nervous system. Enjoyment is defined as a gradual decrease of neural firings. Pleasure is the interplay between both excitement/arousal and enjoyment/bliss. The vast majority of westerners receive no education in accessing and savoring pleasure. (See Isa Magdalena’s short but brilliant explanation of this dynamic here.) In fact, we are conditioned to avoid accessing states of excitement and states of bliss. We are all familiar with the statements of this anti-embodiment education: “Quiet down," “Sit still," “Keep your hands to yourself," “Don’t breathe fast, you’ll get dizzy," “Don’t touch yourself down there”.

The Genital Hole

If enjoying sexual pleasure is a mortal sin or shameful act, how do children and pubescent teens deal with the resulting trauma? Many young folks learn to stop feeling their bodies. They disassociate; they learn a form of self-castration. This abnegation of feeling creates what Almaas calls “the Genital Hole”:

”(The Genital Hole) is the experience of the genital area as a dark, empty hole, with no anatomical parts. The individual feels and sometimes envisions a lack, an absence between the thighs. The experience can be very definite and clear, with the boundaries of the hole clearly demarcated. It almost feels like a physical experience, even though the individual is always aware that the hole is not physical."

Most somatic sex educators and body-based psychotherapists are painfully aware of the numbers of individuals who have numbed out their genitals and surrounding tissues. Of course, this numbing process is mostly unconscious. Some people numb out completely and experience little or no feeling in their genitals. Other folks experience only a mild disconnect or constriction of the genitals. The Genital Hole is a cultural syndrome, but our personal experiences vary greatly.

Thomas Hanna, founder of the field of somatics, calls the Genital Hole experience “sensory motor amnesia."

Sometimes, the Genital Hole is first experienced as chronic pelvic pain. Untreated, chronic pain can then lead to physical numbness. Chronic pelvic pain and numbness are pandemic in our time. Here is one description of how chronic pelvic pain evolves, from the excellent book A Headache In The Pelvis by David Wise, Ph.D. and Rodney Anderson, M.D.:

“We have identified a group of chronic pelvic pain syndromes that are caused by the overuse of the human instinct to protect the genitals, rectum and contents of the pelvis from injury or pain by contracting the pelvic muscles. This tendency becomes exaggerated in predisposed individuals and over time results in pelvic pain and dysfunction. The state of chronic constriction creates pain-referring trigger points, reduced blood flow, and an inhospitable environment for the nerves, blood vessels and structures throughout the pelvic basin. This results in a cycle of pain, anxiety and tension which has previously been unrecognized and untreated."

Educating Sensation

Many of the issues that we as Sexological Bodyworkers will encounter are related to the Genital Hole. Lack of physical sensation, checking out emotionally during sex, boring and routine sex lives, pain during arousal, guilt and shame, the need to fantasize or watch porn to become aroused, and many other erotic roadblocks are often indicators of genital numbness. Another indicator may be the inability to have any memory of good sex. An individual may remember the participant(s) but not the feeling states.

The tragedy of the Genital Hole is that most individuals are not even aware that they have a diminished capacity for feeling pleasure. The numbing of the neurology of the genitals and surrounding areas is almost always unconscious. Mindful masturbation educates by focusing the placement of attention on physical sensations rather than going away from the body via fantasy or imagery. Those that seek out sex education are often ready to experience a fuller range of sexual feelings and possibilities. Learning to savor sensation is the antidote to the Genital Hole.

The most telling window into the experience of the Genital Hole is examining how we masturbate. How we touch ourselves to enjoy sexual arousal is directly related to our personal embodied beliefs and conditioning about sexuality, pleasure and our genitals. Almost all individuals learn to tense their bodies when they masturbate. This physical script is often formed around the time of puberty and can create a lifetime physiological pattern that limits feeling. Some somatic coaches call this an addiction. No wonder many folks report that masturbation is boring, shameful, or unrewarding. An astonishing number of individuals masturbate unconsciously and without much awareness of the body.

What are the results of masturbating mindfully? What happens when we start paying attention to the feeling states of our entire body as we become aroused? How can we begin to unlearn chronic constrictions and thaw out years of genital numbness? Can masturbation foster a sense of creativity and freedom? Is it possible that by changing the way we masturbate, we can change the way we experience our entire bodies?

Here are four ways to relax chronic constrictions during arousal:

1. Get aroused–then do stretching, yoga or dance while keeping yourself in an erotic state. If you start to lose your sexual arousal, stop stretching or dancing, focus again on building arousal and then go back to movement.

2. Receive a Sexological Bodywork session or an erotic massage from a lover where the giver works on relaxing and awakening the muscles while you masturbate. This process calls attention to areas of tension and pleasure.

3. Practice mindful masturbation in a hot bath where the heat helps relax the muscle constrictions. Some folks find it impossible to get aroused in hot water because their arousal needs to be supported by muscle tension.

4. Repeat the same stroke ten or fifty times while paying attention to the nuance of the sensation. This practice often takes us into deep awareness. This is a pleasurable form of the Buddhist vipassana meditation.