We put our vaginas through a lot. Smear tests. Tampons. Dildos. Drunken interactions with other people’s fingers. Ill-advised sex with people we regret. There’s a lot that goes on ‘down there’ – and that’s before we even think about the trauma of childbirth.
As a result, your vagina could be secretly holding onto some ‘emotional baggage’ from events you weren’t fully comfortable with. Which could be reducing your capacity to enjoy great sex.
Before you cart me off to an asylum, think about it like this. Our bodies are more in control of things than our arrogant minds might think. Muscle memory means we get better and stronger at sport. Physical instinct takes over and floods us with adrenalin so we can run fast when we’re in danger.
But the flipside is our bodies can hang onto events and trigger responses without our minds really understanding why. If you practice yoga you’ll be familiar with the concept of emotions being held in the body. But think too about panic attacks – our bodies responding to a situation as if there’s a physical threat.
The same goes for sex. The most extreme version of this is Vaginismus – a condition where your vagina tenses up to such an extent that sex is painful, or even impossible. Anyone unlucky enough to have experienced this knows only too well that the body can be more powerful than the mind.
“Any tissue in the body can hold emotional energy”, explains Catherine Hale, a sexological bodyworker who works in London and Devon, “and this includes the vagina”.
“The majority of people don’t have a particularly great sense of their own boundaries – they’ll find themselves enduring touch that doesn’t feel ok without having either the vocabulary or the confidence or to say no. Or their nervous system will take them into a place where they can’t respond verbally”.
This, it seems, is applicable to anything from an unpleasant smear test to sexual abuse.
“Let’s say we have a really negative sexual experience – we got drunk and somebody had sex with us. We didn’t really say yes to it. The next day we’re feeling ashamed and distressed about it. That energy of shame will get locked up in the body unless we really process it at the time”.
According to Catherine, any trauma – be it major or minor – that we didn’t process fully can limit our ability to feel the feels… down there.
“The body can create a sense of contraction – it’s like an armour. When we’re contracted, we restrict the blood flow to a certain area so we can’t feel as much. We limit our capacity to feel pleasure. And we can’t think our way out of that”.
So what can we do about this?
The answer, it seems, is to get more in tune with our bodies. To find ways to release trauma and get more conscious about the way we have sex.
“For a lot of people this is really new. We live in a society where most people are disembodied. We’re rewarded from behaviour that comes from the mind, not through the body”.
Catherine is passionate about breaking this cycle. She works with women to support this process – the most hands-on way being ‘yoni mapping’ to understand what feels good and where issues might be stored. She cautions, however, that this intimate work is a “big deal” and should only be explored with a properly trained practitioner, to avoid causing additional trauma.
For an easier access point, she recommends starting with some reading. “I’ve got loads of great books listed on my website – my favourite is Women’s Anatomy of Arousal by Sherie Winston. Or you might try a workshop – be it on Tantra or conscious sexuality – or there are festivals focused on this too”.
The great news is this work may unlock previously unknown levels of pleasure.
“It creates a sense of personal empowerment. For a lot of women sex is something that’s done to them. By re-mapping our erotic landscape we can claim back what is rightfully ours and access everything.”
And by “everything” she means the parts of our undercarriage we might have unwittingly switched off. If you find you only orgasm from the clitoris you might be missing out on pleasure from the g spot, “an area that can store a lot of rage for women” – or even (gasp!) the cervix. “For a lot of women that area is a no-go zone – but it actually has the potential to orgasm”.
“Being able to come back in and reclaim these spaces is key for women to be able to have a healthy relationship with their sexuality” Catherine concludes.
“There’s nothing wrong with just engaging with the clitoris to orgasm but it’s a bit like going into a restaurant and saying “can I just have the peas”. Why would you do that when you can have so much more? I like peas – peas are great. But let’s have an omelette with them. Let’s have a crème brûlée”.
Perhaps it’s time we put down our bags and ordered the full menu.
Catherine Hale is a sexual shamanic practitioner, empowerment coach, a Certified Sexological Body-Worker and a TRE (Trauma Release Exercises) provider based in Totnes, Devon and London, UK.