There is a not so secret, underground of sexual healing for women happening now in the United States and around the world. Let's face it; sex may run us and it may very well be the gateway for us humans to be whole, creative and happy. Sex is also complicated and hard to to navigate. It's the one part of us that is very difficult to isolate. Blame it on our wiring. Sex is physical, emotional and psychological. And especially for women with constantly shifting bodies and societal pressures, sexuality can be a land mine
Given that sex is such a charged and vital part of our identities, I am amazed that after centuries of analyzing, opining and investigating, we still do such a lousy job supporting and educating people around their relationship with their sexuality.
I know that now, but when I was in the midst of my own sexual discovery, I had no idea that what was plaguing me had been plaguing women throughout recorded history. My story is not so unusual. I didn't know that when I was in it. One day I woke up and said, "What's wrong with me?" After 20 or more years of an enviably successful marriage, I felt disconnected and broken. I overate, overworked and found all sorts of ways to sublimate an unnamable yearning that governed almost every minute of every day. In another time, oh, say, Ancient Greece or Victorian England, the professionals would have said I had a bad case of "Hysteria."
I wasn't sure what to do. Countless years of talk therapy ran me smack into a brick wall. Something had to give. The more I thought about it, obsessed really, the clearer it became that I needed to feel beautiful in my body. I wanted to feel sensually alive, sexually vibrant. It had been so long since I had connected to that part of me that I completely forgot it was there. Yet that desire, once I could name it, bubbled to the surface and refused go back into hiding. Instinctively, I reached for touch.
I didn't set out to 'cure' symptoms -- the allegedly usual things that afflict mid-life women like low libido, pelvic pain or wildly uncomfortable intercourse. Instead, and far more common, I was seeking to understand my own sexuality and connect with my body. I fell through some kind of a wormhole into California sex therapy history circa 1960's, '70s and '80s. I got naked and began a journey into the land of somatic (a.k.a. "Body Based") therapy. I climbed on a massage table and got touched -- everywhere. I looked in the mirror at my most private parts. I talked about my buried, 'shameful' desires. It was terrifying, explosive, healing, fabulous and occasionally funny. I discovered that I didn't need fixing at all. What I needed was help and guidance figuring out my sexuality, allowing in pleasure and finding fulfillment. I found out that by being seen and honored when I was my most vulnerable, allowing a trusted professional who asks for nothing except to hold my most intimate self was life-changing.
I certainly didn't have any clue that I tumbled onto the remains and resurrection of what was known in the 20th Century as "Humanistic Sex Therapy." Before that, it was called other things.
What I was doing stretches as far back as Ancient Greece in "the medical literature." The Greek physician Galen (c. 129-c. 200), historically, one of the most influential writers on medical subjects, tackled the subject of women's unmet sexual desire and pronounced it a disease. He coined the term "Hysteria" (Greek for "Suffering Uterus") to describe the anxiety, irritability, sexual fantasies, pelvic heaviness and excessive vaginal lubrication in sexually deprived or particularly passionate women. In other words, these women were suffering from sexual desire unfulfilled! He coined the term "Hysteria"
Moi? Sexually deprived? Particularly passionate? Me and how many more! Just raise your hands. We're legion.
His prescription was sex! He often recommended genital massage to be done by midwives. Jump forward several hundred years and "Hysteria" is still with us and doctors are still treating the disease with hands-on genital massage. The occupational injury to their wrists that many doctors suffered in this time-consuming treatment spurred George Taylor, M.D. to invent the vibrator in 1869.
Here we are again -- with the culture beginning to get interested in humanistic body based experiences. It never really went away. It just went underground (except in Northern California) where it had been percolating away. And that's where I found it in 1992, with my own 'hysterical' exploration of sexuality. It was there, in the land of the Golden Gate Bridge where a breed of practitioners known as "Sexological Body Workers," or Somatic Sex Educators were born.
These somatic sex educators are certified in the state of California, have a professional organization and standards of practice. They provide hands-on (one way touch provided while fully clothed) therapeutic full body touch for clients with the purpose of supporting them to find a healthy relationship with their bodies and their sexuality through touch. Programs to certify Sexological Body Workers can now be found throughout Europe.
The humanistic model of supporting people in their sexuality has almost vanished, but like a species on the endangered list, it is beginning to resurface.