Lots of people think that erotic touch needs to be high energy. If a lot of sexual energy isn’t flowing, so goes the idea, then the touch isn’t working. I don’t think that’s true, and actually I would argue it’s positively harmful.
I say this because if you scratch beneath the surface of this idea, we find the further idea that our sexuality can be explained in a primarily energetic on/off button kind of way. If I stroke your face, you might feel all sorts of things: energetic, emotional, connective. But somehow that doesn’t apply to the genitals, which are thought of in quite a functional way: are they “working” or not? We then think of our sexuality as something separate from us: our genitals are like a slave that we can order about. But sometimes, the slave will protest.
I have thought about this when working with clients who have reported feelings of genital numbness. This seems quite widespread, particularly among women, and I think it’s misunderstood.
I don’t think that numbness means that the body isn’t working properly and needs fixing. Through working with a number of women, I’ve come to the view that numbness is the body’s response to being touched in a way it doesn’t like. And the solution is to work with the client to uncover the feelings underneath the numbness, and allow those feelings to be expressed.
Learning to feel again
One client felt that she was quite constricted, and when she had attempted sex, it had been painful. She felt both numb, and anxious about sex.
We agreed to focus on very soft, gentle touch. We agreed where and how she would be touched, so there would be no surprises. And we agreed to stay in dialogue throughout: she would tell me what she was feeling from moment to moment. This was a very slow process, as you might imagine, but as we carried on, it became clear to the client that she did have sensation, that she wasn’t numb in the physical sense at all, but that she was emotionally indifferent to the sensation she was feeling. Telling herself she was “numb” closed off any inquiry. Realizing this, she remembered that she would always feel anxious at the prospect of being penetrated.
Another client, who also reported feeling numb, when we worked together, again in the same slow way, actually experienced physical discomfort, then irritation, then both gradually disappeared. Her body’s reaction to touch it didn’t like had been expressed, and so didn’t need to stay, covered over by “numbness”.
We all came into the world with a love to be touched. But when we’re touched in a way we don’t like, there’s a reaction, and that reaction can get stuck in our bodies. To return to the analogy of the slave, if she can express herself, and be heard, and discover what she loves, then everything changes.