Rebel Health Radio

#25 Sexuality and Trauma 2

August 18, 2021 Patricia Worby
Rebel Health Radio
#25 Sexuality and Trauma 2
Show Notes Transcript

in this follow up to my first podcast where I raised the issue of human sexuality and its relationship to trauma, here I discuss why the emotional component is so vital to good sexual functioning.

In the light of polyvagal theory, we know that neurological (internal) safety is key to being able to function well sexually. Where mobilisation with threat occurs we cannot play, we feel too threatened, where immobilisation with fear occurs we cannot be intimate.

Sexual orientation or expression is along a continuum and many of us grow up with shame around this which inhibits good relationships until we come to  acknowledge our shame as a learned response to overwhelm.

I can be contacted on and (podcast) and now my group Emotional Audit Programme  on

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Patricia Worby 0:

03 Hi, everyone, its Patricia Worby Alchemy therapist here and another in my ongoing series of talks and reviews about areas related to trauma or emotional difficulties in life. Now, I'm a trauma therapist, I work with people who are suffering some form of long term consequence, as a result of things that have happened to them that haven't been metabolised. And one of the most common areas for trauma is sexuality. And it's an area that not many people work in, and not many people talk about. In fact, we're supposed to go through a childhood, we hear all about sex, we learn about it, in the sense of the biology of it, we learn absolutely nothing about the emotions related to having sexual experience as we become adult. And thus, we go through a lot of suffering, because we simply don't know how to negotiate the relationships. We don't know how to bear the ending of relationships, and how, in fact, our bodies are supposed to work and how we're supposed to function in a relaxed and mutually supportive way. And so it's a really interesting area that has this big black hole around discussion. And nobody wants to talk about it apart from the fact it's, it's in your face, everywhere you go. Sex is used to sell things, and it's just regarded as the sort of biological imperative. Nobody talks about the emotional impact of having awareness of your own sexuality. And here, I'm not talking necessarily about your sexual orientation, although that's, that's something I'm going to talk about maybe later on in this one, but I'm certainly going to cover it. I'm talking more about the sense of sexual feeling, having that response in your body, which, after all, is a should be natural. But in a sex obsessed society, it gets very distorted. And women and men are both shackled by these understandings. And certainly, for me growing up, it was a source of great shame that I didn't respond in ways that I was supposed to. And I didn't feel comfortable around sexual relationships. In fact, I didn't have one for a long, long time. And so it's, it's a source of great shame. And it's also something that we need to learn a little bit about, in relation to how our bodies operate. And now here, one of the most important understandings that is that it's an emotional connection, you can't have fulfilling sexual expression without emotional connection. You can obviously have sex without emotion, and many people do. But really in the longer term, in order to grow and develop as human beings, connection is what it's all about. And we can't have reliable connection if we don't feel safe. And so safety is such a key element of relaxing and allowing our bodies to respond. And it's very interesting when you look at the way the nervous system is organised. And I've talked about this in other videos, that polyvagal theory has taught us that our bodies can be in one of three states. And what we're looking for if we're going to have meaningful sexual or any form of emotional interaction, is to be in a sense of connection and flow. And this is often referred to as the social engagement system. It's your top level system, but it only comes on board when you feel safe in connection with someone you feel reliably and utterly safe physically. Because the next two levels are the sort of activation or mobilisation level, sometimes also called fight and flight. Now if safety is present, that becomes arousal. That's what sexual arousal is. It's that activation of your nervous energy, your vitality your own. But it has to feel safe in order to develop well and reliably and indeed to be pleasurable, otherwise, it just feels like a violation. And then the bottom level is the sort of immobilisation response which is of course, in safety, in the absence of fear, will be intimacy being held being really deeply connected with someone, but if you don't feel safe, then that is a frozen state of fear and dissociation and we see a lot of dissociative responses. In sex, and people don't even know that that's not how they should feel. It's how they've always felt. And that's how they respond. So the sexual response really is a combination of those three responses. And it's the intimacy which is the immobilisation, that needs the activation, as well in order to complete orgasm. So you actually have to have an interplay of those levels in order to respond well and reliably. And a lot of people don't understand that feeling unsafe is not necessarily the partner you're with. It's not necessarily what's happening in that moment. It can also relate to past experience, which hasn't been metabolised in your body. And thus, as far as your body is concerned, isn't over and this person, if they have any resemblance to someone who has made you feel overwhelmed or unsafe, can trigger that or the environment can trigger that. And so this whole raft of inputs to your brain can change your nervous system responses, and a lot of the clients I see have had issues with sexual expression because of that, because they've got this weight of traumatic memory in their bodies that gets triggered even by people that they love and care for, and have been married to for years! And so in order to unravel that, we have to go back to the past experience that hasn't been dealt with, as far as the body and your limbic system is concerned, which is holding on to it as a current ever present now. And so the area of sexuality then is where trauma often shows up. But it's never discussed, it's never talked about, we're assuming that in all other areas of your life, you can be affected, but sex is just assumed to be this biological function that goes on without any training, without any learning on the part of yourself as you grow, how to interact with another person, this entirely missing from our education system. And it leaves us in a place of deep insecurity. And this lack of communication that we have around the sexual experience is desperate and desperately needed but missing, and even in therapeutic circles, very few people talk about it, which I find absolutely astonishing. So how about if people get honest and say, actually, it's not been easy for me, it's, it's not been an area where I felt relaxed or easy, then we can actually start to find out what's going on in their bodies, when when they get intimate with someone and explore the sense of safety or unsafety the feelings in your body which are telling you what, what is perceived as happening, because trauma is not about the reality, it's about your perception of reality. And that's a construct based on the past. So it's just a very important area. And I want to touch upon shame as well. Because body shame can really affect our sexual response. Obviously, if we feel bad about ourselves if we feel that we're worthless or hopeless, or useless, which, by the way, is a very common belief amongst many of us from our childhoods, where we were maybe given that message, then it's very hard to be free and open and relaxed when we're having a sexual experience. And, indeed, if you grow up feeling wrong, or bad or different from everyone else, that's a strong perception of shame. And it was certainly my experience growing up because if you're not heterosexual in this world, then you often get the message that you're not good enough. And certainly, if you have parents that want that normality for you, and you don't actually feel that's true for you, or perhaps you're transgendered, and you don't feel like you fit in society, then that sense of difference or otherness, perpetuates itself through these desperately sad feelings of being wrong, or somehow outside of what's perceived to be normal life. And yet, sexual difference is part of humanity. It's been here for 1000s of years. And you know, even down not just to the choice of partner but how you express yourself sexually is a very, very broad range, and thus there is no right or wrong in some certain sense. And so growing up with those messages has to be gently dismantled. In order to express the true authentic nature of you, whoever you are, however you express yourself, and that can be asexual doesn't have to be sexual. But even having that stance of asexuality is an expression. And so we have to get a little bit more honest with each other, and how our bodies respond or don't respond in certain situations and start having those conversations, both as individuals, but also, as therapists, we need to talk more about this. And I'm going to be following up with some conversations with colleagues of mine who have certain experiences and certain understandings that I think will help build upon this understanding.

So being different, if you like is is nothing to be ashamed of. But that's what our society teaches us. And we need to break down these barriers and just notice that everyone has an individual expression, and start to love our bodies and start to love ourselves and truly seek meaningful connection, however, that is expressed. Well, hope you enjoyed this short piece. This is number two in my series on sexuality. And next time, as I say, I'm going to be discussing it with a colleague who has also got some very interesting views on this. So do look me up I'm on and I'm also now on and http:

// which as you can see here is a programme that I'm running for group work for people to harness their natural, authentic healing mechanisms to overcome past experience. So look forward to hearing from you take care everybody bye for now.

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