Your Pleasure is the New Wellness Program for Women
Whenever something seems new, we are uncomfortable. We want others to try things before we try them. We might even want evidence, especially if the offering feels 'controversial' in someway. I have been student and a teacher of Somatic Sex Education "Sexological Bodywork" for ten years. For the past eight years, I have been preaching that this work is a part of a wellness program for women.
Here is your study about the impact of Sexological Bodywork on the wellness of women. We believe that it is the first of it's kind.
"Exploring Erotic Potential: Research Findings Regarding Sexological Bodywork at a Women's Back to the Body Retreat, and Perceived Impact"
Dr. Betsy Crane, Elise Becher, MD, MEd, CCPC, Kaci Mali, MEd Widener University
As presented at the 2019 AASECT Conference themed: Let the Body Rejoice: The Interplay of Sexuality Education, Sex Counseling and Therapy
The conference was held in June of 2019 in Philadelphia, PA and I was able to fly in to be present for the preliminary unveiling of the research findings to date. Though not yet published, the news is good.
I cannot present the entire study here, and will be sharing more in person at upcoming Back to the Body events, and the research team is working on publishing a paper, AND this is what I can share here to be best of my ability. The presentation including many quotes from the women, it was too much to put here, but this will give you a taste of what is to come in the months ahead.
With Back to the Body Staff and the Opening Participants with body art.
Why is this research important?
Because pleasure is important. Female pleasure is important. And, there is a gap in what is researched in female pleasure and its potential impact on a woman as a whole.
Outside of sex toy shops, porn, and alternative sex communities…sex is taboo. And, good sex education, beyond the high school health class is non-existent. Perpetuating further shame and disconnect.
To my knowledge and Dr. Betsy Crane and her research team’s knowledge, there is no research being done on this emerging body of work, sexological bodywork.
Why Back to the Body? What made us so special to be researched?
Well, not toot my own horn, but I will. Back to the Body is pretty special. It is an immersive experience unlike any others. And, though each retreat is unique in its location and settings, it is a repeatable container that I have created. A container of sisterhood and being just safe enough to have a comfort zone busting experience around your sexuality. Because it is so repeatable and has thought to the curriculum we teach and the offerings we explore at each retreat, it can be studied across many retreats knowing the results are not based solely on THAT retreat experience, but are attainable for YOU, yes YOU, at each of our retreat offerings. That’s pretty special.
A few of the elements we are particularly proud of:
A safe container, no competition, there is enough for all and sisters can have your back, regardless of it that is true for you in your past. Safe containers allow for taking risks, knowing you are safe to do so.
Our locations are carefully curated to include a setting that enhances your sensuality experience. Good food, optional excursions to explore the area and additional offerings like embodied photo shoots and yoni de-armoring.
Bodyworkers are part of the community we create. From the moment women walk into the opening circle, take part in workshops, participate in morning movement, eat their meals, to the moment the circle closes, the masculine is present in a way that is healing and affirming.
This is Back to the Body…YOUR body, so the emphasis is on how you see your body, all parts. And, we want you to go home knowing your genitals are there again. Your power, your turn on, yup…all that is woven into the immersion experience. Remove obstacles and barriers to your pleasure.
The sexological bodywork sessions are a complimentary offering daily at each retreat. For 90 minutes each day, you get to have a conversation with your body, to dance and to play, with the support of a bodyworker. And, trust in that assigned person who will work with you during the full retreat is important.
One way touch is really a big deal! When do you, as a woman, get to have one way, not for your partner, only for you, at your pace, at your direction, feeling into your body, learning how to breath and listen to your body, kind of touch? Never. This is it. It is not bidirectional. You are not pleasing another person. Your focus is only on YOU.
And, because our bodyworkers are trained, curated carefully, and stay fully clothed, fully professional, you get to heal and learn about your body in a way that no health class book has ever offered. You set the goals, the boundaries and ask for the feedback you need to know more about your own vulva owner’s manual, and beyond.
Several themes emerged from the qualitative data of interviewing more than 100 women* and the quantitative data of the surveys each woman took:
IMPORTANCE OF SAFETY AND THE CONTAINER
CONNECTING TO SELF AND OTHERS
FEELING ACCEPTANCE AND PERMISSION
EXPLORING AROUSAL AND PLEASURE
TRANSFORMATIVE LIFE CHANGES
Feeling connect to one's own body -- Many women experienced a whole new way of being in touch with and experiencing their own bodies after attending a BTTB Retreat---as if a switch allowing them to experience the world in a more physical way had been flipped on.
BECOMING AWAKENED TO ONE'S SEXUAL SELF -- Retreat participants spoke of having been dead or asleep before a BttB Experience. A common comment centered around the transformation from experiencing none to almost no arousal in their daily lives to being turned on much or most of the time after.
"The retreat completely burst me open! I went from having no sexual desire to now being turned on and hungry for sex almost everyday. That means I now feel sexy and sexual in my body all the time. I am aware of it. I like it not only because it's fun and invigorating, but because it's empowering."
BONDING/FORMING FRIENDSHIPS -- While it wasn't true for all participants, a high percentage remarked upon how remarkable it was to experience the rapidly formed and very deep bonds with other participants that grew out of the shared experiences in the safety of the BttB container. A large number reported forming long-lasting friendships of a deeper and more authentic nature than they experienced in most of their previously existing relationships.
FEELING ACCEPTANCE AND PERMISSION--Knowing and Accepting bodies/genitals --Women reported coming home with a deeper understanding of the beauty and capacity of their bodies and a much greater level of acceptance and appreciation for their own forms in their current state. They described learning to let go of wishing some body part were different, embracing their bodies as they are, many of them for the first time in their lives.
RELEASING SHAME--The retreats offered many participants the opportunity to shed long-held negative and limiting beliefs absorbed from cultural messaging and picked up during previous experiences, sometimes many decades earlier during childhood. For some women, releasing the burden of carrying these beliefs was described as life changing.
OWNING OUR SEXUAL SELVES--Many of the women experienced profound shifts in the extent to which they felt empowered to take ownership of and responsibility for their sexual experiences. They described operating with a degree of agency around their sexuality that was completely new to their lives.
EXPLORING AROUSAL AND PLEASURE--Women spoke movingly about learning about arousal, that it takes time, and that it can be something to relax into and enjoy for itself; they didn't need to "chase orgasms." They also talked about awareness of other women's pleasure, and the "permissioning" that provided them.
ON THE TABLE: EXPERIENCING BODYWORK- Participants talked about meeting via skype with the bodyworker with whom they would be working with at the retreat, to discuss goals and other info about themselves. At retreat they wore a light robe to start. Slow sensuous massage enabled experience and arousal. What happened depended on what women wanted; may include sex toys and kink. Validation of their body and their sexual response was key.
KNOWING AND ASKING FOR WHAT I WANT- Participants shared that one of the biggest impacts of the retreat was learning what they really enjoyed sexually and wanted, and didn't want. This translated into the challenge of asking for what they wanted, both on the table and at the retreat and once they got back home. They were also more aware of how to pleasure themselves, and not rely on a partner for that.
GREATER SEXUAL EXPECTATIONS- Having learned what they want led to changes in expectations for their sexual lives. This sometimes created challenges with a partner back home as husbands and partners varied in openness to this change. Some chose to pursue non-monogamy and kink communities.
TRANSFORMATIVE LIFE CHANGES- A number of significant life changes were reported after returning home, such as greater professional assertiveness, leaving jobs, changing careers, moving to a new area, getting a divorce, finding new partners, and having an overall stronger sense of self.
HEALING FROM PAST TRAUMA/HURTS- Many participants commented that the somatic components of the retreats helped them heal from past hurts, trauma, abuse, or negative experiences in ways that traditional talk therapy previously had not.
EXPENDING SENSE OF SPIRITUALITY- Some women reported having spiritual experiences during their bodywork sessions such as seeing colors or a higher being. They also reported incorporating erotic spiritual rituals into their daily lives.
MANIFESTING AUTHENTICITY/AGENCY- Finally, many women told stories of going home and presenting their truest selves to the world in an unapologetic way, embracing their ability to own, change, and create a life full of pleasure.
-Women attending these retreats reported positive effects related to: Arousal, sexual self image, body image, feelings about genitals, sexual assertiveness, sexual satisfaction, and experience of sisterhood.
I think the important thing I want you to know. These are normal women coming to retreats. Normal women, like you and me, wanting to connect to their bodies. It is possible.
- This work is controversial and research- based knowledge is needed to inform discussion on ethics of hands on work
*Over 100 women surveyed, resulting in a 45% response rate n=64 for the past participant surveys, 35% response rate, n=35 for the pre- and post-retreat surveys, and a 56% response rate, n=21, for the individual interviews. This number may change with future publishing due to consent retrievals still underway.
Stay tuned for more to come with this emerging work.
I hope there is something here for you.
Pamela Madsen is the author of Shameless: How I Ditched the Diet, Got Naked, Found True Pleasure...and Somehow Got Home in Time To Cook Dinner and creator of Back to the Body: Sensuous Retreats for Women. Her work can be found at www.backtothebody.org
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Betsy Crane is available for questions at firstname.lastname@example.org