What is somatic healing and how does it work? Karen speaks with three somatic-based professionals on different techniques. They discuss the possibilities for healing sexual trauma and getting back into your body.
Wild & Sublime Podcast Transcript
S4E3 | Sexual Trauma, Somatic Healing
Cassie Porter: Often, we’re not quite conscious of what our patterning is, and we’re not able to identify that verbally. But the body can really give us clues around what’s happening. And tuning into the body sensations and noticing, like, oh, I’ve got this brick in my belly, my heart feels heavy, my heart is pounding — like, bringing attention to those felt experiences can then kind of access unconscious material, and sort of get it those things that are stuck in the nervous system, so that they can become unstuck and flow through the body.
Elmo Painter-Edington: It’s the path toward self-attunement.
Karen Yates: Welcome to Wild & Sublime, a sexy spin on infotainment®, no matter your preferences, orientation, or relationship style, based on the popular live Chicago show. I chat about sex and relationships with citizens from the world of sex positivity. You’ll hear meaningful conversations, dialogues that go deeper, and information that can help you become more free in your sexual expression. I’m sex educator and intimacy coach Karen Yates.
This week, our panel discusses somatic interventions for sexual trauma. Keep listening. Do you want to connect with your partner more easily? Download my free publication, Say It Better in Bed! 3 Proven Ways to Improve Intimate Communication. Learn effective things to say and do, leaving the guessing game behind. Whether you’re in a long term relationship or hooking up once, you will come away with simple yet powerful ideas to boost your sexual communication skills. Go to the show notes or karen-yates.com to download your free guide.
You can still get tickets for our next show, Saturday, February 11th, at Constellation in Chicago, just in time for Valentine’s Day. We’ll have a great panel conversation with some of the regulars on this podcast, as well as vendors, demos, dancers, and more. Tickets can be purchased through the link in our show notes, or at Wild & sublime.com.
Hey, folks. Welcome. I am super stoked for this Patreon conversation about somatic interventions for sexual trauma. This episode came about because I decided, hey, I’m going to bring some very cool people together to talk about something I really want to talk about, which is all things somatic. And so, you’re going to be hearing from three folks who’ve all been on the podcast previously, but I am excited to have them back tonight to chat with each other. Cassie Porter is a somatic sex educator, sexological bodyworker, and body-centered counselor. Cassie, hi.
Cassie Porter: Hi there. Thanks for having me.
Karen Yates: It’s great to see you. Elmo Painter-Edington is a somatic psychotherapist and relationship coach specializing in relational trauma, grief, and pleasure. Hello, Elmo.
Elmo Painter-Edington: Hi, everybody.
Karen Yates: And last but not least, JoJo Bear, somatic sex and intimacy guide. Welcome, JoJo.
JoJo Bear: Hello. How are you?
Karen Yates: I am good. I’m good. I’m even happier to see us all here together. So, I’d like to go around before we start and just ask everyone what tribal lands are you on currently? JoJo, let’s start with you.
JoJo Bear: Yeah, I’m currently — I’m in Albany, California, which is near Berkeley. And the tribe is Aloni. The Aloni people.
Karen Yates: Thank you. Cassie, where are you?
Cassie Porter: I am on the lands of the Chinook and Multnomah and Clackamas tribes, otherwise known as Portland, Oregon.
Karen Yates: Awesome. Fantastic. And Elmo, where are you?
Elmo Painter-Edington: I am in Racine, Wisconsin. Peoria, Potawatomi, Meow, Miami, Hochunk, Kickapoo… And there is one more that I do not know how to pronounce. And I don’t — there’s some even some letters in it that I don’t recognize. So I’m not going to try.
Karen Yates: Yeah, I understand. Okay, thank you so much. And I am on the lands of the Council of Three Fires: the Ojibwe, the Odawa and the Potawatomi, colonially known as Chicago. So we’re talking tonight about somatic interventions, or somatic treatment for sexual trauma. Let’s first talk about a basic kind of understanding or a laying out of the most modern ideas around trauma theory, and basically how trauma imprints in the body. And I was wondering if anyone would like to just jump in and help the listeners understand what people are beginning to realize about trauma’s relationship to the party.
Cassie Porter: I can jump in.
Karen Yates: Right on.
Cassie Porter: So- I think the kind of most cutting edge framework to understanding trauma right now is polyvagal theory. And that is the framework that I use in all of my work. And it’s incredibly helpful to understand the nervous system, and how the nervous system impacts the body. Essentially, what polyvagal theory talks about is that when we are met with a threat or a perception of not being safe, it activates our autonomic nervous system. And our autonomic nervous system has three branches, and it includes responses like fight or flight, freeze, dissociate. And so essentially, you know, trauma happens when an event or occurrence just overwhelms the nervous system’s ability to cope. And essentially, someone just gets stuck in these kind of more problematic, less engaged, less connected, less grounded patterns.
Karen Yates: Would anyone else like to add on? Elmo? Yeah.
Elmo Painter-Edington: Yeah, stuck is absolutely the word for trauma. I think what’s important for me to teach folks is that fight-flight-freeze, and even fawn responses, are all good systems, and we need them and they’re all useful. It’s when they get overwhelmed, like Cassie was saying, and they get stuck. And we get caught in this vortex of them. And, you know, it’s like these rusty gears — like, oh, if I get into a fight response, it’s kind of stuck there. And it’s hard for me to get back out. So it’s basically like the smartypants brain kind of talks us out of completing the response, like if something scary happens, and the body wants to fight, or the body wants to run, and we say, No, I’m gonna shut that down, like some part of our brain. Because sometimes, like, if it’s not socially acceptable, or something like that, then this part gets thwarted somehow, or we’re in an inescapable situation. And we can’t do what we wanted, what the body wants to do at the time. So this kind of energy gets stuck there. And we get into these patterns that just happen over and over again.
Karen Yates: Yeah, it’s actually like a groove in the brain. It’s actually a real groove in the brain that gets created. Jojo?
JoJo Bear: I’m loving what I’m hearing already. You know, everything that Elmo and Cassie said was great. And I’m loving it. And I mean, and I just, I appreciate there’s also that part of a person’s experience when — I’m sure we’re going to talk a little bit about things we can do for folks when they’re going through this type of situation. But what’s unique about it is how it gets so embedded into our thoughts, and how we start to — how I start, or how we start to create situations where it gets so, like, imagined. Right? Everything could be a threat, and yeah, a big way to help folks is to really allow them to notice what’s actually, really happening in the body.
Karen Yates: Yeah, absolutely. I’ll also chime in with this to elaborate on polyvagal theory. You know, the vagus nerve runs from the brain down through the body, and it branches off, and that’s that that’s the polyvagal part of it. The Latin. You know, this branching off into many areas. And when trauma happens to people, it can affect the ability to speak, the vocal applications, because that nerve runs through the voice, you know, the voice box and the breathing. You will see sometimes shallow breathing with people; it will affect digestion a lot of times; people with trauma can have IBS, irritable bowel syndrome. And it even reaches to the very top, in female-bodied folks, the top of the cervix. I don’t know, JoJo, do you know where the vagus nerve terminates with male-bodied individuals?
JoJo Bear: I should know this. Maybe another sexological bodyworker can answer this! [laughs]
Karen Yates: Right. So beyond, say, a triggered response, you also can have with folks just ongoing issues in those areas of the body. Let’s talk a little bit about working somatically. Well, we’re going to talk generally, and then we’ll get into each person’s specific areas of expertise. What are the applications, or what does it look like to work with a client somatically?
JoJo Bear: For just a regular civilian, a person that doesn’t know anything about somatic — Soma meaning “of the body,” — anything that’s involving embodiment, right? So if you’re listening to this, you know, and you think it’s a fancy word, it just means your body. Working with the client means — you know, if you have a conventional therapy session with a therapist, which is great, there’s a lot of stuff that may come up. You might get triggered; you might freak out, you might have a lot of feelings, and then the session is over. Sometimes, the difference between maybe conventional therapy and then working with someone that’s a somatic practitioner — and there’s a various number of ways you can practice somatically. It could involve just real subtle movements of the body: standing up, taking deep breaths; it can involve touch; it could evolve one-way touch, two-way touch. So there’s a lot of ways that you can incorporate getting folks to get into their body. And also like, teaching just real subtle, small, practical things that folks can take. So if they go into flight or fawn — which as Elmo said, that is a really good thing. We need these things to survive, right? It’s just part of who we are as creatures, right? But we get to offer all these like valuable tools, and a toolbox for folks when they’re experiencing this in their home, or in a club or with a partner. And they get to like, really resource. And so I think what I would say is that it’s how to resource your body. Does that make sense?
Cassie Porter: Yeah, yeah. And I just want to say, I totally resonate with everything that you’re saying. And what I would add is that it’s bringing the body into the process as also a source of information. Because often, we’re not quite conscious of what our patterning is. And we’re not able to identify that verbally, but the body can really give us clues around what’s happening. And tuning into the body sensations and noticing, like, ok, I’ve got this like, brick in my belly, my heart feels heavy, my heart is pounding. Bringing attention to those felt experiences can then kind of access unconscious material, and get it those things that are stuck in the nervous system, so that they can become unstuck and flow through the body.
Elmo Painter-Edington: It’s the path toward self-attunement.
Karen Yates: Absolutely. I’m also thinking that we are extremely thought-focused in this society. We are an analytical society, and pretty much we don’t live from the neck down. I mean, we do — you know, we are exercise addicts. I’m kind of speaking culturally, you know. We think that, you know, exercising is being in the body. But actually it can even further keep us from the body, if we’re caught in a cycle of sort of compulsive exercising. But that said, I think a lot of times people think they can think their way through issues in their lives. But it does need — I mean, of course, I am completely 100% biased, I need to say that right now. I’m trained somatically as well, so this is a pretty skewed conversation. But you know, eventually the body needs to be brought into and integrated with the changes that are happening mentally, and sometimes the body leads, can lead that shift. So with that all said, I really want to hear about the various modalities everyone is engaged in. And Elmo, why don’t we start with you?
Elmo Painter-Edington: Yeah, sure. So I do somatic experiencing. I’ve been doing it since 2016. The primary intentions of somatic experiencing are to support regulation of the nervous system and to help process resolution of post-traumatic stress reactions, whether they’re symptoms or patterns; and also help folk, like I said before, self-attunement. Attuning to themselves. You know, like we’ve all been saying, like Cassie said, and JoJo said about just how to listen to yourself. And there’s this really important step in somatic experiencing therapy, is getting to authentic “no” and authentic “yes.” And like what that feels like in your body, and how you can know and strengthen your intuition to listen to yourself. And that helps, especially trauma survivors, when there can be a self-trust rupture. Sometimes in trauma that happens a lot. I see folks a lot who are like, How can I trust myself again? And getting into the body and listening, learning how to listen to it, and learning how to read red flags and green flags in situations. And people can help strengthen that and feel into what that feels like. But yeah, attunement is really important in this therapy relationship. Body awareness, teaching folks, like, okay, I’m thinking about this, and I don’t like it. How can you tell that you don’t like it? Where is that in your body? Well, maybe it’s like, kind of on the left side of my tummy. Okay, interesting, what does that feel like? It feels like a grrr, and it’s green, and you know, and I ask questions like, what does it look like? And things like that, to help really get a lot of awareness, visualization, there’s a lot of just really cool stuff. But yeah, stabilizing the nervous system is a really important part of SE practice.
And then practicing coming in and out of those states. Like we keep saying, the fight, flight, fawn and freeze systems, we need those systems, and we want to be able to come out of them when we don’t need them, right? Like the freeze response and the fawn response both get a really bad rap, I think, in therapy, and you know, where people are talking about trauma. And it’s because they’re not good when we get stuck there. But if there’s a dangerous situation, and the smartest thing for me to do is to be quiet and as still is possible, that’s the smartest thing for me to do. So there’s so much good stuff in those systems. And then like, what if there’s content? We can work with content, meaning like, an event or story, and then kind of try to discharge through movement, through awareness, through visualizations, vocal noise, whatever needs to happen, what didn’t get to happen at the time. And another really beautiful part about SE is that I don’t necessarily need to work with content with somebody. So, if they’re not wanting to work through a memory, or an event, that’s okay. We can work with the body and move through a lot of stuff, and get a lot of work done without having to go through the story itself.
Karen Yates: Fantastic. And is this hands-on work or hands-off work?
Elmo Painter-Edington: It could be both. I do all of my sessions on Zoom. But there are a lot of folks who do touch work. And I have done touch work in the past, when I was doing more in-person sessions. So different folks are more touch-oriented or less touch-oriented, if they’re working over distance.
Karen Yates: Okay, thank you. Cassie, let’s hear about the kind of work you do.
Cassie Porter: I am a somatic sex educator, and essentially, somatic sex education, I’m actually really resonating with what Elmo is sharing around the inner Yes, the inner No. It’s a process of helping folks listen to their bodies, and specifically, the way that I work with people, I do work with people very much through touch. And in somatic sex education, we are trained to offer genital touch, and touch for pleasure. And so, essentially, the process of healing from sexual trauma in a somatic sex education lens is building a sense of empowerment, building a sense of autonomy and agency, because the core of sexual trauma is the agency, the autonomy was not there. And so that’s done through the client listening to themselves, and then starting to, first of all, recognize what they want, and then asking for what they want, and having that request be met, and not having things happen to them that they don’t want to happen. So then that process allows them to kind of neurobiologically rewire towards feeling safe in their body. And so, you know, we start with fully clothed, I’m not even touching them, they’re guiding me around the room, I’m only moving in the ways that they want me to move, they’re moving me closer, they’re moving me further away. And they start to feel into their own sense of power. And then that progresses to, how do you want to be touched? And oh, I want you to scratch my head, or, oh, I want you to massage my feet. And so I do. And then that evolves into, Okay, I’m ready, I want you to touch my nipples. And I want to experience this kind of pleasure or that kind of pleasure. And just along the way, just really tracking what’s happening in the body and tracking when the client is out of that window of tolerance, you know, of like, oh, now I’m dissociating because the trauma being triggered. And so then we pause, and move slowly. And then we get back,we pendulate back to that safety.
So in addition to that, I am trained on something called neuro-effective touch, which is designed to help folks with developmental trauma — so, childhood trauma and neglect. It was created by a somatic psychotherapist and is very resonant with somatic experiencing, but essentially, it just creates a dialogue between body and mind to get at those, implicit, unconscious memories and material that folks who were sexually abused at the age of two — they can’t, they don’t know what happened. Right? And it doesn’t matter what happened. You know, kind of like Elmo was saying, it’s not about the story. It’s about how it’s stored in your body. And giving that, you know, implicit sort of stuck energy a place to move through.
Karen Yates: What does that look like, the neuro-effective touch?
Cassie Porter: It is really gentle. And it looks like essentially, bringing attention to a sensation, and like paying attention to a certain part of the body. And then asking something like, if this part of your body has a voice, what would it say? Or what is this part of your body, what is it asking for? What is it needing? And I kind of integrate SSE and neuro-effective touch together into this kind of hybrid thing. Because a big part of what I do with people, you know, starting with fully clothed is, what are you noticing, what part of you is needing some support or holding? And there’s these weighted pillows that they use; they’re soft and red and velvet and heavy, and they can be placed on the body to kind of help regulate the nervous system. So it’s essentially just kind of bridging that gap between body and mind, to bring the unconscious into the consciousness, so that then can be processed and moved through.
Karen Yates: Like the adult is in charge. You know, like moving it into that awareness where choices can be made, right? JoJo, you’ve been on the show before talking about your work. But talk to me about your practice.
JoJo Bear: Yeah, well, first of all, I’m just like, totally jazzed to hear both Elmo and Cassie — I feel like I want to ask you questions. I’m like, you know, a patchwork quilt. I have lots of stuff in my arsenal. And yeah, I started out in this world as a Clinical Hypnotherapist. And I really geek out on language. That’s, like, where I feel I live more. When it gets too technical, I lose it. It gets textbooky for me, and I lose it. So I love playing with language, and getting folks to really be descriptive and describe, and to like, really identify sensations in the body. And differentiate between like, this is not what you’re kind of feeling or imagining. This is what you’re noticing, what are you aware of. And once folks start getting into that place, and it’s a safe place, like I’m in my studio, and usually it’s dark in here, we sit on the floor, it’s really relaxed. And there’s a lot of agreements that are set. There’s just this kind of like, oh, we get to play, there’s like a source of playness. Because something that, I think Cassie said it, but there’s something resonating that like, when something happens to a child, they can’t express it, there’s no verbalization. And I believe — and this is just my opinion — is that all of these memories stay. They’re in our bodies. In pockets, in our whole body, it doesn’t matter how tall we grow, or big or wide. It’s still in our muscle system. And it comes out in all different ways. And so I feel like the safest way is, when a person is feeling calm and relaxed, and there’s more of a pleasure kind of feeling. And pleasure could look different ways for people. You know, lately a lot of the stuff that I do, there’s been a lot of clothes on kind of stuff, right. And one of the things that I really — you know, I’ve trained as a sexological bodyworker, I do two-way touch, and I really utilize a lot of the Wheel of Consent in my work. And you know, that’s just kind of primary stuff. And having these opportunities — I generally work with cisgender men. That’s like my people that I see all the time. I mean, I can work with everybody! If someone calls me up, yeah, come to my studio! You know, there’s certain things that happen to — like, I’m just gonna speak gender for a second. But like, for certain cisgender men, there’s all this stuff, other stuff that’s happening. I don’t want to be weak. Like, I don’t want to be vulnerable. And then if you add trauma onto that, it can be a long process of recovery. And I just tell folks, and if you’re listening to this, it’s like a slow, slow recovery. It doesn’t have to go fast. Right? I tell folks, if you rush this, you’re gonna miss the miracles. So don’t don’t rush it. And I know that as human beings, we want things fast. You know, like, “I gotta come,” that type of feeling. But I think when it comes to trauma, keeping it really simple, taking short, really mindful breaths, and just trying to stay as in the moment as possible, and then practicing it. You know, with the client that’s dealing with trauma, if you can be in the moment, just practice being in the moment for at least five minutes. And if that’s hard, let’s try two minutes. Right? Let’s just try two minutes. Let’s see how two minutes can be, just noticing what we see, what we smell, what we hear, what sensations are happening, actually, what do I see? Not necessarily what am I imagining? And starting to differentiate between the both.Oh wait, I notice this. And I’m also imagining this, right? And noticing that the imagining sometimes, it’s not necessarily… It’s not always the truth. It can be, but it’s not always true.
Karen Yates: We’ll return to our discussion in a moment. Every episode of Wild &. Sublime has a transcript, which is great if you’re hearing impaired. You can find them at wildandsublime.com under each episode.
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We now return to the second half of the episode, where I speak with the panel about the specifics of sexual trauma and how to heal from it, along with more about self-trust ruptures, and what that means. Enjoy.
It’s interesting listening to you, because there’s a couple of threads that have really struck me as I’ve been listening to everyone. First, Elmo was mentioning self-trust rupture, not being able to trust self. And then JoJo, you’re talking about what’s real and what’s imagined. And the imagined is the trauma response, that is kind of this web that is sort of laid on — this like, filmy web, as I see it, laid onto like, quote unquote, reality, what’s really happening. And so, in both of these instances, Elmo, what you were talking about, and JoJo, there’s kind of this duplicity, or there’s this schism, that is there, and it’s kind of a splitting away. And so I kind of want to talk a little bit about this, say, in sexual trauma, and we’ll talk about the specifics of sexual trauma in a moment. What happens — like, what happened? Is it that there’s an event or an ongoing trauma, right, as usually the case is, and the coping response creates something that tells the person they’re safe in this response? And meanwhile that… I don’t know, I’m kind of like, I’m talking it out, but I think I’d prefer to have you all answer the question. [laughter] So Elmo, let’s talk first about this self-trust rupture. I’m really fascinated by this idea. I understand it for myself, personally, I understand it. So I would love to hear you talk a little bit more about that.
Elmo Painter-Edington: I think it’s a pretty good combination of what JoJo is saying, because it’s imagined, the self-trust rupture, right? This person didn’t actually betray themselves. But there’s this, I’ve seen so many times, in folks that come in. It’s such a huge theme, and especially interpersonal trauma, which is something that I specialize in, that, how did I let this happen? And I’m like, let’s find a different, let’s find a different question. Like, I don’t know if that’s the right question. But let’s try to see this in a different way. And let’s train the body. So, somatic experiencing, in a lot of ways, is like nervous system yoga, right? Like different muscles are going to get stronger. And intuition is going to get stronger. And there are things you’re going to learn about what is okay with you, what’s not okay with you, and then how to recognize those things when they happen, and then take action, right? So there are all these steps — like, okay, now I know that I don’t like it when somebody puts me down in this kind of way. And now I will know, like when I see that, or when I’m on a date with a new person, and they do that in a joking way, quote-unquote, I can then be like, oh, yeah, this is that thing that I don’t like and I’m getting that feeling in my stomach that tells me that this is that thing that I don’t like! And then the action part of that is, I can then say, I don’t like it when people joke at me like that. And then however the person responds next is going to give you information about how trustworthy they may or may not be. So it’s these little step by step things that we’re kind of relearning — how to read situations and how to read people, and to listen to the information in your body that’s telling you, like, wait a minute, this isn’t okay with me — that helps to heal that part that was like, how did I do that? But it’s confusing, because when we’re getting into an intimate relationship, and a person is treating us the same way that maybe we were treated as we were growing up, that’s what love feels like. So that can be a familiar thing. And that’s not something — you’re not betraying yourself. That’s the kind of the way that you’ve been wired as you’re growing up in a certain way. And then if you add gaslighting on top of that, it’s so insidious, and it starts small, and it’s like, barely noticeable at first. It’s the boiling frog thing, right? Like the frog in the boiling pot, like you put the frog in the water, and it doesn’t realize it’s boiling until it’s dead. So self trust, there are all these different small things you can do to practice rebuilding this idea of self trust, and learning skills that maybe you didn’t have before, that you weren’t taught growing up, or that you were maybe taught against, in a lot of ways, growing up or in your intimate relationships. Because we’re taught things like, oh, you should XYZ, or, you know, if I was in that situation, I wouldn’t duh-duh-duh. But when you’re in that situation, your nervous system kicks in. And it’s not entirely up to you what your nervous system does; most of it is very unconscious. So there’s a lot of normalizing that as well, as it can be really helpful for kind of just… And explaining the polyvagal theory, and explaining the nervous system, and explaining how unconscious a lot of this stuff is can help people just drop a lot of shame right away. I’ve seen that a lot of times. People are like, Oh, my God, it’s all physiological? And I can just drop the shame off at the pool?!
Karen Yates: Right, right. And what I’m hearing everyone saying is this is a slow, gradual retraining of our systems. And that’s the way it sticks.
JoJo Bear: One of the things like something that we were sharing about — and what you just said is that, you know, when people think of somatic, and they think of — ,if you add sex or intimacy in front of the title, or you add, you know, a sex educator or something, people automatically have this assumption. But a lot of the work that happens, at least in my space, is a lot of repetitive practice. And so, things like what Elmo is saying, it’s just really getting people into the No, the Yes, the tell me more. Really identifying and staying in a space of — it’s like action. There’s a lot of action happening that’s coming from within. And really looking at the oh, wait, this is mine. You know, this is mine. And so, simple stuff, like, just ask you, if you’re listening to this podcast, or what we’re talking about, if you have a hard time saying no, or you have a hard time hearing no, there needs to be some practice. There needs to be some practice, right? Especially if you do or you do not know if you’ve had sexual trauma, because there’s a lot of folks walking around, people that I’ve worked with, that have no clue, right? And sometimes I can feel it, but it’s not even my responsibility to let them know. Because it’s like, okay, maybe they don’t know. Sometimes it’s a process, dealing with sexual trauma is a process, it’s very individualized for folks. Some folks never, ever, ever, ever find out. They never discover it. Some folks, really, it’s at the forefront, right. And so it’s once again, going back to like, keep it really simple. And go slow, and find a practitioner that you can trust, and folks that are going to support you to the highest, right. You don’t have to do it alone.
Karen Yates: That’s nice. So I want to ask — we have talked generally about trauma, we’ve talked about that, which can be from so many, so many different areas: verbal abuse, physical abuse, neglect. But let’s now really key in on sexual trauma. And I’d like to begin with Cassie. Do you see sexual trauma as having different sort of markers than nonsexual trauma? Does it look different?
Cassie Porter: Yeah. Yeah, I think that it does. And I do think that, you know, each kind of trauma does have its own sort of unique manifestations and features. But I feel like sexual trauma, it really gets to the core of who we are. And it’s very vulnerable. And I think that with sexual trauma, it can really debilitate our ability to experience intimacy and experience connection, be able to engage and be present in relationships. And I think, especially childhood sexual trauma, and childhood sex abuse, which is something that I work with quite a bit, just really profoundly can sort of create wiring that then makes it really difficult to experience intimacy and safety in relationship as adults. So the impacts are profound.
JoJo Bear: I can say something about this. Just like what I said earlier, it is so individualized, it’s such a personal journey around sexual trauma. And there’s definitely a difference. And maybe not, because sometimes trauma can work in a lot of ways, right. And it can be a person, you know, that has sexual trauma. So I never tried to like, see which one is more than the other. You know, I think trauma in general, it’s a category. And it’s different for everybody. But it’s exactly what Cassie was talking about, is that there is a lot of effects that happen with sexual trauma for folks that really interrupt their lives, and being in relational contact with others. And you know, for some folks, it can be really just not experiencing their sexuality to the fullest, or not feeling safe enough to get really close to someone, or picking people that are going to create more trauma. Right? That’s a big drug. It’s a big, big hole for folks. And also I want to just say this, I’ll get my soapbox — it’s glorified. You know, you date the bad boy, right? I want to get the schmuck, right? And so, it’s kind of like, we have these ways of kind of glamorizing all this stuff. Even in music — you can do a whole podcast on that. You know, if you think, you really look at some songs, it’s all about this, like, Oh, my God, I’m gonna die without you. And I think that also really is not really good for folks that are dealing with sexual trauma, hearing stuff like this, or seeing stuff that’s glamorized. It really creates a real, I don’t know, it’s just really not cool.
Karen Yates: Yeah, Elmo, I see you’re nodding a lot. What are your thoughts?
Elmo Painter-Edington: Yeah, I mean, the cultural piece. And I mean, a huge part of my passion as a trauma therapist is like, prevention, right? Preventative things. And culturally, something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is, I don’t know if you’ve heard of toxic positivity? Well, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about toxic sex positivity. A good example of this is if you just go to Google and try to google “how to stop squirting,” you’ll see what I mean, because people are coming in to chat rooms or entering in questions to like sex coaches, and things like that, like, I want to stop squirting. I don’t like it. It’s a mess. It turns me off, it turns my partner off. They’re in these rooms, and I’ve seen sex coaches do this kind of like, I don’t see a problem here. You should love it. You should love your body, you should celebrate! I mean, I would kill to do that! You should like it. And I’m just reading all these things, horrified, as a trauma therapist. All these people are just gaslighting this person, and telling this person that they should like it. Like, oh, this sexual thing is happening to you, and you’re saying you don’t like it? You should like it. It’s like, oh, how, like, why are we…? And this is like, you know, in the name of sex positivity, but it’s like, y’all, we’re doing it wrong. That’s just not, it’s not okay. So I think culturally, there’s some cleanup that needs to happen there, in our, like, sex positive subculture as well. And helping people — people are allowed to be turned off by things, people are allowed to not like things and not want things. And that’s such an important part, and some of the override that happens, and I know that I’ve talked to a lot of folks in sex positive culture, they’ve been like, oh, I should be into this. And then something happens and then there’s shame the next day, or they’re feeling traumatic response the next day, because they were overriding their No. And saying no to their turn off in the name of like, being cool, or being sex-positive.
Karen Yates: Yeah, yeah. Cassie or Jojo? Do you — have you seen any examples of the toxic sex positivity? This is a juicy, juicy topic. I might have to do an episode on this, I don’t know!
Cassie Porter: Yeah, absolutely. I’m just thinking about, like, clients who think they should be kinkier than they are. Or like, what’s wrong with me, I don’t want to be poly. Right? And it’s like, maybe you just don’t want to be poly. Maybe that’s just not right for you. But I think there is this embedded thing in our culture currently, of like, oh, you should be able to, you know, have multiple partners, and be in these, you know, polyamorous situations or ethical nonmonogamy, and be able to navigate that, and to have all sorts of kinky sex. And if you don’t, you just have all these hang ups. But people just like what they like, and I think true sex positivity is allowing people to like what they like and be empowered in that. And what they like might be to not have sex.
Karen Yates: Right? Right.
JoJo Bear: And I think also, you have folks that are saying, I am not, you know, like, I should be liking this! I should be doing this. And then you tap on some trauma that they have, and it becomes like, enduring, going along, and it just becomes a cycle. And it becomes this thing where, you know, depression can happen, suicide. I mean, these are the things that are the other side of the pendulum. And you know, it can get to the point where folks just check out. So it’s really, like I was saying before, it’s really about keeping it simple and going really slow. Make lists — I tell clients, come in with a little memo pad. Let’s make lists. What don’t you like? What do you like, right? I like putting things on paper; I always use stuff in my office, write stuff down, like, here, take it. Just keep it. Show it to your partner, show it to your therapist, you know. I think it’s important for people to have — I call it my, what’s my doggie bag? What are you going to take home with? Like, what are you going to leave with, right? And it’s just, it’s so important, because trauma is such a complicated, complex thing that really can create a lot of turmoil in someone’s life. And not only someone’s life, the family around this person, the people that we date, right, the people that we have sex with, or don’t have sex with, it affects everything. And so recovery really is — and I always like touting it: as you embark on recovery, you know, it’s slow, and things go slow. But things can change. So there’s hope for folks that are dealing with sexual trauma. You know, there is hope.
Karen Yates: So one thing I do want to talk about, because we have been talking about the intricacy of trauma and the slowness of recovery, I’ve experienced both, though. I’ve experienced slow recovery, and then I have experienced huge leaps forward due to somatic work. That it basically sort of leapfrogged over my analytical mind into releasing me from a major, major pattern. And I’ve gone through a lot of trauma work, like, I would say, in the past year and a half. I’ve been in talk therapy for years and years. And you know, I was laying the foundation with the talk therapy, I was laying the foundation with recovery, 12 step recovery. But then some of these breakthrough moments I’ve had with somatic work have been, like, jaw-dropping to me, about how they have just been so efficacious. So, can we talk a little bit about that?
JoJo Bear: Yeah. I’m gonna argue with myself.
Karen Yates: All right. I love that, JoJo.
JoJo Bear: Because even though I said it’s slow, what I’m really meaning is—
Karen Yates: It’s fast! [laughter]
JoJo Bear: No, it really is. Somatic, and this is a little insider tip, is that when you go see a somatic practitioner, or you’re doing this kind of work, things do get expedited, because you’re actually feeling more in your body. If a client comes in and has some sort of trauma response, we know how to regulate it, and it could involve touch, and it could involve just even holding the person, right? Or holding their hands. And so there’s an action that’s being taken. And stuff comes up quicker, right? And recovery can happen quicker. What I’m advocating also is that, also know that even though you can get some leaps and bounds and you can discover stuff, be gentle with yourself; slow down the system. So the slowness is all about staying in what I notice. And a lot of times, especially when I work with couples that one of them has more of a trauma than the other, I personally feel like trauma people get attracted to trauma people. I think they just — I will usually say after a session, don’t talk about anything we talked about here for the next 24 hours.
Karen Yates: I’ve taken that cue from you, JoJo. So good.
JoJo Bear: This is not extended therapy over after the show. You know, this is just what you’ve experienced here. And there’s that slowness. I’m a word person, so I might figure out a new word. But there’s that slight gentleness, that subtlety, of like, okay, keep your nervous system like this. It’s in a good place. It’s in that middle zone. Just keep it here. That’s the slowness. You might have discovered all this stuff. And all that stuff can be expedited. So yeah.
Karen Yates: Yeah, it’s really interesting you’re saying this, because that is what I have experienced. I have downshifted. From this work, I have downshifted into a naturally slower pace. And it’s like, whoa. That’s the cool part. I’m more more willing to allow myself slowness. I was not willing to allow myself slowness before. It was like hurry up, hurry up! So Cassie and Elmo, we’re talking about efficacy, we’re talking about slow versus faster. What’s come up for you?
Elmo Painter-Edington: Yeah, I’m hard relating on your just everything is slow now. Like, since my doing my SE training, and just living, that’s kind of just how I live now. And like, when new people come into my life, and we are getting close, I have to explain this to them. Because a lot of people move at a different pace than I do. And that’s something that I love to teach people because then they’re like, Well, that’s an option? That’s awesome! So yeah, hard relate to that. And I’ve also seen leaps and bounds. Sometimes I’ll be working with somebody, and the second session, we’ll talk about anger in a way that they’ve never heard before, and experience anger in the body in a way that feels good. Like, wait a minute, this feels good. Why? I’m like, Yeah, empowerment. That’s what empowerment feels like. Anger, like, healthy, yummy anger is empowerment. That’s what it is. And we’ll talk about like, appropriate anger. And they’re like — because some people just won’t allow themselves to feel anger. But sometimes if you throw in the word appropriate anger, they’re like, what’s that?
Karen Yates: Right? Right.
Elmo Painter-Edington: So then you know, these little little things can happen, where they’re experiencing things differently and like, wait, I can be angry? And then they’ve got boundaries all of a sudden, they’ve got like standards of the way people treat them all of a sudden. I’ve seen really beautiful things happen with just a little just, you know, little adjustment, a little different experience of the way you’re experiencing your emotions and yourself. I think it’s important to bring in the awareness of expectations, right? Don’t expect these huge leaps and bounds. They might happen. But don’t expect them. And the slowness is where it’s at. The slowness is, like JoJo said, that’s where the miracle is. You’re gonna miss the miracles if you try to rush through this. Beautiful, absolutely gorgeous.
Cassie Porter: Yeah, yeah, I think it’s both slow and the shifts are profound. And I just want to share a personal experience of that. I grew up in a family where sex abuse was happening. And long story short, just had all of these problematic behaviors, a sense of brokenness, all throughout my adult life was in therapy. I could talk about all the things but things didn’t shift, like things didn’t shift in my body. And I still felt the same. And then I discovered, I found Caffyn Jesse, who’s one of the kind of founders of somatic sex education, and went to one of their workshops, where in a 15-minute, partnered exercise where my body was listened to and touched in the ways that I wanted, it was more profound than a lifetime of therapy. So it just is, yeah, it’s profound, and the slowness is necessary. It’s necessary to maintain the shifts, and to continue to be in our bodies, where there’s so much wisdom, and it’s… Yeah, where we can just be in connection with what’s true for us.
Karen Yates: When we talk about somatic therapy, you know, a lot of times, one suggestion for people doing solo work is yoga, or tai chi or breathing meditations to just help regulate the body. Do you all have thoughts about various types of ways that people can work with their systems without a trained professional, or in between, you know, augmenting the work?
JoJo Bear: Yeah, I mean, I think things that folks can do, there are a lot of embodied type of things that a person could do — yoga and stuff like that. I find one of the things that is helpful, just me on a personal level, is walking is a really great one. You know, like having movement. I want to say the guy who wrote The Body Keeps the Score—
Karen Yates: Bessel Van Der Kolk.
JoJo Bear: Yeah, I remember he was sharing, and I’m gonna probably get this wrong, but he was sharing — this was during the pandemic. I went to, you know, logging on every Zoom thing that was happening in the pandemic. And he was sharing about how trauma loves to be dormant, and just sit. And I think his message was, and that was the only thing I heard in the whole thing, was that movement helps. And so one of the things I do, like, I do this with my clients, like, I have actual walking sessions. So I have clients meet me at a parking lot. And we do a whole session, 90 minutes or a two-hour session, walking around by the Bay. And we can stop, do like a little verbal, you know, maybe some kind of practice, learn how to fall, just throw ourselves in the grass. There are just all these things you can do that involve movement. And so I just find like, if there’s, you know, if someone’s feeling really uncomfortable, just walk. Take a walk. And if it feels really overwhelming, stick things in your ears. I would say, try to go walk around nature; that’s more preferable. But if you don’t have that access, find a space that feels safe for you. And notice with your eyes — because when we’re in that hyper trauma state, our eyes are like wooo, right? And so just noticing colors, textures, on the walls, trees, animals, really like be in the world. Because I think a lot of times, when someone’s dealing with trauma, there’s a lot of imagining going on. A lot of waiting for a brick to fall. A great way to regulate is to really notice my surroundings. And if I’m doing that with movement, it’s even better. And plus, you lose a couple pounds. It’s a win-win.
Cassie Porter: Yeah, I think anytime we can get out of our brains, since our brains, our minds, are just running the show all of the time. So anytime that we can connect in and be in a space of the body, I think it’s a good thing. And one thing I did want to say about this is that for folks with trauma, just regular breathing meditation, sometimes it’s actually not helpful, because there might be a tendency to dissociate. So, body-based, you know, more than just okay, I’m thinking about my breath, I’m focusing on my breath, but things that incorporate more of the body are more helpful.
Karen Yates: Thank you for that. Elmo?
Elmo Painter-Edington: Two notes. One is, I encourage my clients to go play. Nonsexual non-erotic — like, swing on a swing, go for a skip, dancing, a comedy show, you know, playing board games. Play, like actual play, making art, getting in the body, and doing something silly. Rolling down a hill, doing something playful. What did you like to do when you were a kid? Do that. You know, if you’re able to, physically able to. The other thing is, while I know that not everyone has access to somatic therapy, and it’s very important, the relationship is important. Like, having someone hold space for you is really important. I don’t want to say like, do these things instead of seeing a somatic specialist person, a therapist of some kind, because, especially with interpersonal trauma, relationships are where we heal. That’s really where we heal. And when someone can hold space for us and reflect what we’re experiencing, it’s massively healing. And if you don’t have access, then yes, by all means, a lot of these other things are really great. YouTube channels that have like, free yoga and pilates. Pilates is really great for empowering the body as the emotional container, and strengthening your core, strengthening your chest, your arms. That’s a really good one for feeling strong, feeling stable. But yeah, nothing can replace the relationship.
Karen Yates: Thank you so much. I really enjoyed this conversation. It was wonderful. JoJo Bear, Cassie Porter, Elmo, Painter-Edington. Thank you so very much.
For more information on Elmo, Cassie and JoJo, go to our show notes or the episode webpage on wildandsublime.com. To order a copy of The Body Keeps the Score, you can use our bookshop.org affiliate link that helps independent booksellers and Wild & Sublime.
Well, that’s it, folks. Have a very pleasurable week. Thank you for listening. If you know someone who might be interested in this episode, send it to them. Do you like what you heard? Then give us a nice review on your podcast app. You can follow us on social media @wildandsublime and sign up for newsletters at wildandsublime.com. I’d like to thank associate producer Julia Williams and design guru Jean-Francois Gervais. Theme Music by David Ben-Porat. This episode was edited by The Creative Imposter studios. Our media sponsor is Rebellious Magazine, feminist media, at rebelliousmagazine.com.
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- Cassie Porter – Sexological bodyworker & body-centered counselor
- Elmo Painter-Edington – Somatic Therapist & Empowerment Coach
- JoJo Bear – Somatic Sex & Intimacy Guide
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