As a Somatic Sex Educator, one of the main topics that I focus on with my students is unwinding sexual trauma. Whether they are unwinding from the systemic trauma of a sex negative culture, the trauma of a personal experience of sexual assault or abuse or something in between, the truth is that most people experience some form of trauma around their sexuality.
As a culture, our understanding of trauma is beginning to broaden and shift. We are coming to understand that trauma is actually not so much about an event itself but the stuck energy that it creates in the nervous system. We are coming to realize that every nervous system carries a different story which means that any given event can land as trauma in one nervous system and not in another. An additional challenge that we face is that we have pathologized the natural ways (crying, shaking, screaming, laughing, sleeping) that our organisms have evolved to release trauma and resolve this stuck energy.
We are living in an age where we are beginning to see the thawing and crumbling of generations and generations of internalized trauma and the ways that it has become incorporated into the very systems by which we live. One could say that having Trump as president is like a giant magnifying glass into the festering wound of violence, sexism, racism, bigotry and fear that are all symptoms of unresolved trauma. Through the #MeToo movement, the Kavanaugh hearings and all of the many rich dialogues that have ensued, we can agree that this wounding is out in the open now and the question is, what do we do with it?
A common hesitation that my students have before beginning the work of unwinding sexual trauma is that once they begin to let the light into these places there is no going back. They cannot un-see what has been seen. Often times, people have built entire identities and patterns of relating around their traumas and the thought of losing that is more terrifying than staying stuck. Who would they be without it? Many people fear that they will be left feeling lost and empty.
My teacher Caffyn Jesse writes, “We all set limits on the quantity and quality of pleasure we can embody. Limits to pleasure are ubiquitous in a culture that shames sexuality and fails to teach us how to honor and celebrate erotic energy. Sexual wounding becomes embedded in the body’s tissues and responses. Somatic Sex Education can assist you in expanding the pleasure that is possible. This expansion has physical, emotional, mental and spiritual components.”
Often times a person comes to know their traumas by bumping into the invisible electric fence they have built around experiencing pleasure. Sometimes it has been there for their whole lives and they have done such a good job at avoiding it that they forgot it even existed. Perhaps being shamed for touching their genitals at 3 years old was all it took. From that vague moment in their childhood memory, they marked that particular pasture as dangerous and inaccessible and have avoided it ever since.
This is where the concept of pleasure activism comes in. Pleasure activism goes beyond dismantling the traumas into a place where life can take hold and begin to thrive. Pleasure activism invites us to clear a path back to that overgrown pasture and keep clearing it again and again until we can dismantle the fence and step inside. Pleasure activism invites us not only to identify and reclaim the hijacked parts of our bodies but also to systematically fill the spaces that remain with content of our choosing.
The Japanese practice of Kintsugi or “Golden Repair” is the art of repairing broken pottery with gold. The philosophy is that the broken parts do not need to be hidden but tended to, elevated and celebrated. To fill the cracks with gold, makes them even more valuable than the parts of the pottery that have not been broken. When we begin to notice the parts of us that may feel broken, it is a sacred opportunity to choose gold to fill the cracks and rewire the nervous system in profound new ways to feel good about feeling good again.
In a culture that shames and discourages pleasure and even profits off of us feeling broken and insecure, it is not enough to simply “allow” pleasure.We are what we practice so it becomes a subversive act of reclaiming and practicing our own pleasure so that the body becomes a trustworthy compass as we move towards creating the world we would like to live in.