The Radical Healing Power Of Somatic Sexual Wholeness Therapy
Content warning: sexual abuse
After my fourth and final session with Los Angeles-based somatic sexual wholeness provider Rahi Chun, he left the room per normal to let me dress. Instead of curling into a fetal position on the massage table as per usual, my body splayed languidly like a swath of cooling lava, legs akimbo.
I felt like a living embodiment of Gustave Courbet’s painting “Origin of the World”; it depicts a provocatively realistic vagina front and center on the canvas. Although I had come seeking a cure for my inability to orgasm, I now understood that orgasm was secondary, a glorious perk to what I really needed, which was to remember how to be fully present within my own skin.
How many go through life not feeling truly present in their bodies? How many know that something is missing? The radical new world of somatic sexual wholeness proposes the answer can be found in the vagina, wrapped within an intricate web of nerves.
I started my own journey toward healing my deepest sexual wounds in my twenties. Over the years I developed a keen intellectual understanding of my neurosis as well as a psychological framework to understand why I had the issues I did in the bedroom.
Because I was sexually abused as a child between the ages of 3 and 6 — when I had no means of comprehending what was happening to me — I displayed a host of unconscious effects. These manifested as troubling and lifelong behaviors; I struggled with intimacy, both physical and emotional, and consistently acted out the seduction/betrayal role — and I connected orgasm with shame, guilt, danger, fantasy, fear, and aberrant acts of sex.
I had never been able to be present enough in my body to have an honest orgasm with someone I loved.
In the groundbreaking book, A Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, a female survivor explains, “Being separate from my body robbed me of a lot of my life. Learning how to breathe, how to feel my feet on the ground, and how to be physically present have been essential parts of my healing.”
At 40, I finally felt ready to explore the effects of trauma on my body; I knew that it was important to heal physically, the same way I had done psychologically after years of talk therapy. I was now in a healthy relationship, yet my problems with sex remained intact. I knew I needed help, and was told by a friend that there were somatic sexual healers who might be able to aid me in this final chapter of healing.
I looked within my wellness community and found a man doing this kind of work in Los Angeles named Rahi Chun. Upon first reviewing his website I was titillated, yet skeptical. I learned that somatic sexual wholeness was an evolution of somatic sexual therapy.
Whereas traditional psychological talk therapy uses mind memory to bring up and explore painful clues from the past, somatic sexual therapy utilizes body memory; the idea is that healing takes place not only on a physiological level, but on a cellular one as well.
It also bypasses the ego — a person doesn’t need to literally remember a trauma for the body to remember or internalize its damaging effects. One need only be willing to stay present to any — potentially horrible — feelings that come up surrounding old traumas while the practitioner facilitates their letting go of emotional contractions represented in the body.
Somatic sexual wholeness, the website explained, evolves this practice a step further by including hands-on bodywork of a deeply sensual nature, including g-spot massage.
Fire alarms went off in my brain. In order to delve into this particular modality of healing I needed to be okay with having a stranger rub his hands all over my body and penetrate my body with his fingers? Taboo, yes. Frightening, yes. I struggled to imagine how this could possibly help me — my visceral reaction was to recoil at the very thought.
Determined to heal, I made an appointment anyway.
During our first intake session, I sipped herbal tea on Rahi’s couch as he explained to me in detail what we were about to embark upon together. He would first perform light acupressure to stimulate points within my body to increase the flow of sexual life energy. He would then give me a sensual massage designed to relax the nervous system, awaken my senses, and interconnect the energy channels. This was intended to arouse me, but not for traditional reasons.
He explained that while in a state of pleasure, there are 12 known hormones and chemicals that are released in the brain that in a healthy state of arousal are deeply beneficial to the body. But when the release of these chemicals is associated with past negative wiring around arousal, they can trigger traumatic emotions.
The key is to have you experience this process within a state of safely embodied presence so that your brain can rewire its connection to arousal while simultaneously releasing embedded trauma.
Furthermore, he said, in states of pleasure, the pain threshold in women increases anywhere from 50–104%. In eliciting arousal and this newfound threshold, one can reveal the areas of pain and numbness within the vaginal tissues and musculature rather definitively.
Because a woman’s erogenous zones require anywhere from 20–45 minutes of arousal to become fully accessible and sensitized, the full body massage serves as a prelude to the inner pelvic release, expanding this process of relaxation and pleasure.
“The pleasure also serves to reveal a person’s ‘pleasure ceiling,’” he continued, “which reveals where and how a client is preventing herself from experiencing greater depths of pleasure. There is almost always a past hurt or wound that prevents a greater surrender to trust. This expansion of bodily pleasure can reveal that effectively.”
One of the main reasons Rahi engages the full body in sensual massage before the inner pelvic work is to retrain the entire body in its sensitivity to function as an erogenous zone. Because the body’s seemingly disparate parts are interconnected, the greater the container for pleasure grows, the greater one’s ability to receive pleasure in life grows.
Rahi explained that before anything transpired, he would ask my permission to position himself on the massage table with me. Consent would play a key role in the process of reclaiming my own power with boundaries and in communicating that my body and well-being were the main driver of the session. He explained that with gloved hands, he would begin my “vaginal mapping,” feeling inside my myriad internal corridors for places of numbness or pain that would signify pockets of frozen trauma or repressed emotions that may or may not be sexual in nature. This would also identify places where pleasure might be fully accessible already.
“Through this mapping process,” he said, “a past trauma that has bypassed the conscious and often limbic brains, now gets re-visited, but in a safe container where all three parts of the brain are online again.” These parts are: the conscious brain, the limbic brain (which invites emotions of that trauma but not the trauma itself), and the brain stem responding involuntarily to arousal/pleasure. This is the same brain stem which produced the involuntary response to the fear/panic or overwhelm in the first place.
“My understanding is that the nervous system remains in a state of contraction,” Rahi continued. “It doesn’t realize that the past trauma is in the past as long as it’s still contracted.” Once a “dual awareness” occurs, however — where one can experience the sensations and feelings related to the past trauma, but remain fully present and feel a safety while experiencing this — the nervous system can expand again and un-freeze. The conscious, limbic, and brain-stem together conclude that this trauma is no longer happening.
He finished by telling me that when the occasion arose where I would feel this happening — the actual confrontation of my trauma — we would then proceed into the process of Pelvic De-armoring. In this exercise, Rahi would explore different areas of the vagina. First the clitoral area to find and release any trauma related to the pudendal nerve and then the g-spot and anterior areas to find and release any trauma related to the pelvic and vagus nerves.
I would feel whatever came up and instead of running from it or attempting to stop it, I would look into his eyes to keep me in the present and go through cycles of discharging breath, in which I would breathe deeply focusing into and upon the sensations of discomfort.
He added that the liquid crystalline structure of the condensed tissues that make up the prostate (on both men and women) is known to hold past emotional memories. It is largely due to the numbness there from these past unresolved emotions that so many women have never experienced their capacity for full body orgasm. The g-spot massage was an effective way of tackling this area.
According to Rahi, I am not alone — many suffer from repressed hurts, stories, and traumas held locked within their vaginas.
Some of the issues that result from this holding in of healthy expression or “armoring” of repressed traumas include: problems with body image, communication, boundaries, and trusting the inability to experience orgasm; the unconscious blocking of pleasure; anxiety or aversion to touch; pain caused by “pelvic floor guarding;” vaginismus or vulvodynia; shame relating to fetishes or any other physical desires; problems with arousal; lack of desire or lack of pleasure sensation; sexual addictions; the de-sensitization and numbness of areas that are designed for pleasure and joy; and even unresolved feelings around mother or the feminine in general due to enforced repressed sexuality in the culture of the childhood or adult home environment. Oftentimes, those with these issues have unresolved experiences with sexual abuse, breast cancer, or negative relationships.
I could easily understand through my own red flags why somatic sexual wholeness presents a hearty dose of provocation — it requires a great deal of trust by the person being healed and a great deal of provided safety by the practitioner.
Rahi suggested I read Naomi Wolf’s seminal 2014 book VAGINA to learn more about the vagina’s role in overall health. Upon a Google investigation, I came across the popular electronic newsletter “Brainpickings,” in which writer Maria Popova summarized Wolf’s book as:
“a fascinating exploration of the science behind the vastly misunderstood mind-body connection between brain and genitalia, consciousness and sexuality, the poetic and the scientific. What emerges is a revelation of how profoundly a woman’s bodily experience influences nearly every aspect of life, from stress to creativity, through the intricate machinery that links biology and beingness.”
Intrigued, I read the book. In it Wolf talks about her own experience, in which her sex life lost vitality shortly after a physical injury to her back. Her inability to experience her orgasms as the dynamic and colorful forces of bliss they once had been unnerved her enough to start researching the workings of the vagina. She found that the vagina was not only a vital means to sexuality, but also maintained a scientifically-corroborated connection to the brain, which actively manages and directs our quality of life. In short? When the vagina is damaged or not operating optimally, life is not experienced at one hundred percent.
It all seemed unbelievable. But within my first session with Rahi, the process proceeded like clockwork, exactly as he had stated. During the sensual massage, I found myself growing very uncomfortable. My mind, aroused, immediately wanted to flee. But I remembered what Rahi said about being present; I allowed myself to simply receive. I realized just how reliant I had become on the concept of fight or flight in my life when I felt another’s hands on my body.
When Rahi finally placed his fingers inside of me, I felt an extreme wave of nausea roll through my body as he made contact with one particular area. My entire body grew increasingly warm and heavy as if an iron blanket had been placed upon my pelvis and I found it hard to breathe. I told him what I was experiencing and he instructed me to look into his eyes and mentally remain in the room.
It was extremely difficult. I felt as if my arms were being held down by an invisible perpetrator and I started to try to make intellectual sense of what I was feeling, wondering if I were indeed re-experiencing some of my past sexual abuse. Rahi urged me not to go into my brain, to not to try and understand or remember the trauma from the past, but to simply breathe deeply into the experience and stay present, which I did.
As uncomfortable as I felt, I followed his direction and then something remarkable happened. My body started to shake as if charged with an electrical current; I felt the heaviness slowly lift from me with every breath as Rahi’s fingers remained firmly poised on the spot of my emotions’ conception.
After a few minutes, the electricity dissipated and I felt light and depleted. Shortly afterward, he closed our session by leaving me alone in the softly lit room to recover. I curled myself into a fetal ball and started to weep. I knew I had released something.
In my second session, it was evident that something had changed within me on a cellular level. Now I felt nothing but extreme pleasure in the very same spot that in the prior session had seen a release of trauma. I had physical evidence of the work’s success and I was amazed. By the third session, I had moved on from releasing trauma to now being able to simply feel pleasure and to stay present as I did so.
Before my last session, Rahi assigned me some homework. He asked me to record in a journal all those moments in a day when I felt present within my body. He asked me to take baths lit with candles and to touch myself often, focusing on the sensations without interruption from thought. He asked me to start recognizing the small everyday moments and how I felt within them.
I started to really feel the breeze. I started smiling at people in the grocery store. I found that I was no longer walking through my life trapped in my mind, but rather actively participating in my life.
One afternoon I started to fall asleep while re-reading passages of VAGINA.
The window sash in my bedroom was slightly ajar and the sun’s rays came in to bathe me in warmth. In that flimsy place right before dreaming, half awake and half asleep, I had a sudden memory of being a little girl looking out another window from my childhood home and admiring the wind lightly tousling the trees. A vivid emotion sprang up through my heart, in which I recalled how it felt to know the world was my oyster.
This memory took place long before I was sexually active, long before the world started laying on its expectations of me as a woman, long before I was told who or what I was supposed to become, and long before I had built up my own suit of defenses. It was before my forgetting. In this moment I was that little girl again and she was me. There was no longer any separation.
I had come to understand that my personal problems with sex were merely a door through which I would find my personal liberation and a return to my embodied femininity — the healing of which would be key for all things in my life, not just my relation to a partner.
Naomi Wolf wrote about it. Gustave Courbet painted it. Now I am living it.
Lead image: flickr/Christina M