This week, long-time colleague Lorraine Faehnedrich guest blogs for PHRC. Lorraine’s bio and information on her courses can be found at the end of the post. On April 2 Lorraine will be interviewing our own Katie Hunter about how pelvic floor physical therapy can help women recover from painful sex. Stay tuned to our social media for more details!
One of the most difficult parts of vulvar pain or any type of pelvic pain can be the inability to enjoy sex and intimacy, and the impact that that can have on our relationships, wellbeing, and sense of self.
When intercourse or orgasm are painful, have been painful in the past, or cause burning or pain afterward, it makes sense to stop having sex, or even avoid intimacy.
But letting go of sex, pleasure, and intimacy can not only impact your relationships, it can impact your mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.
Pleasure (of all kinds) supports healing and feeds your soul.
What I see is that finding ways to enjoy sex (alone or with a partner), can be an important step in reclaiming intimacy and joy, and ultimately in healing pelvic pain.
So I want to share some practices with you that I have seen help my clients not only enjoy sex again, but in many cases enjoy it more than they did before pelvic pain.
These are things you can do now, on your own or with a partner to bring pleasure back into your body and your life.
You don’t have to wait until your pain is gone.
As one of my clients recently shared…
“My partner and I realized that without intending to we had both mostly focused on his desires to the point that my body had shut down. I had lost connection to what I wanted, my desire and passion. Now, we make lots of room for my tears and laughter because my feelings are connected to my pleasure. I notice my pelvic floor softening and relaxing. I enjoy sex so much more now and always want to have this intimacy time. That wasn’t always true before. If I stay curious and don’t have a goal in mind…I can talk to my body and the sensations are fluid and change a lot. This is the most exciting part for me…to feel the sensations and the changes happening inside my body. It’s amazing and fluid. The tightness, tension, defensiveness in my pelvic floor can change and dissipate in minutes…when I’m really honoring myself and paying attention.”
If you’re willing to get curious and explore…you may also find that the process of learning how to enjoy sex while you’re healing from pelvic pain can be a blessing that has lasting positive impacts on the quality of your relationships and sex life.
At least that was the case for me, and it is for many of the women I work with.
Four Practices to Help You Enjoy Sex, While You’re Healing From Pelvic Pain
The following practices will help you begin exploring sexual pleasure in your body while you’re healing from pelvic pain. They are also fantastic for reconnecting with your sexuality after relieving pelvic pain, and for anyone who wants to enjoy sex more!
1. Redefine Sex
For some reason in this culture we’ve been conditioned to think of the ideal of heterosexual sex as intercourse, and sexual pleasure and orgasm as coming primarily from vaginal intercourse.
On top of that, we tend to have a very limited idea of what intercourse “should” look like.
The model of friction-based vaginal intercourse is just not the optimal way to experience sexual pleasure and orgasm even if you’re not in pain, especially for women.
Of course it can be a pleasurable part of sex, but it’s certainly not the whole thing, not even close. Holding it up as a goal or ideal can be very limiting, and especially frustrating if your experiencing pelvic pain.
Luckily, the reality is that there is a wide range of sexual pleasure available beyond this typical idea of intercourse. Taking the time to explore all of this is an opportunity to discover your full range of sexual pleasure potential. In fact, taking intercourse off the table it’s a strategy used to help couples discover new ways to connect and enjoy sex.
Expanding your definition of sex and sexual pleasure, and approaching sex with a new attitude of curiosity and openness, is the first step to enjoying sex while you’re healing from pelvic pain.
2. Slow Down
When you are having sex (alone or with a partner), slow down and let go of goals and preconcieved ideas of what should happen or what you should do.
When you move more slowly, with presence and intention, you will be able to feel more. Pleasure is sensation in your body, and slowing down helps you tune into those sensations.
Of course, when you slow down you will be more aware of other sensations as well, including any emotional sensations or discomfort you may not have been aware of. Welcoming all of this connects you to your body and it’s guidance, and opens up the flow of energy and sensation in your body. All of this helps you to discover what actually feels good to you, how your body responds, and what it needs to enjoy the experience.
3. Body Love
Start a practice of giving your body loving touch. You can do this yourself or with a partner. I recommend beginning with yourself so that you can stay 100% present with your own experience without being distracted, but it is also a wonderful way to build intimacy and connection with a partner.
Stroke your hair, your face, your neck, arms, chest, belly and legs with love and care. Move slowly, breathe into your low belly, and stay present with sensation.
What sensations do you notice at the point where your hand makes contact with your body? What sensations do you notice in the rest of your body? Don’t try to make anything happen, simply welcome whatever you notice.
Be curious and playful. This is about exploring your body and what feels good to you. Your goal is to re-discover all the ways your body can experience pleasure. How does your body like to be touched? How does it respond to kind words and appreciation? How does it like to move?
Conscious breathing is one of the fastest ways to drop out of your mind and into your body. It connects you with the felt sense in your body, and can be focused anywhere, increasing movement and flow.
Breathing moves energy.
You can use the pace and depth of your breath to soothe and nourish your body as well as to welcome and expand sensations of pleasure. Like the body love practice, breathwork can be used on your own, or with a partner.
- Start by tuning into your body. Breathe gently into your low belly and check in with yourself. How is your body doing right now?
- Now choose a part of your body to practice with. It can be easier to start with somewhere you’re not having symptoms, but can be incredibly helpful to breathe into symptoms as well. For now, start with somewhere more neutral like your heart or low belly.
- Begin a slow, gentle, continuous breath – in through your nose and out through your mouth. Imagine breathing through this part of your body feeling it expand with each inhale and relax with each exhale.
- Keep your attention focused on the sensations in your body as you breathe.
All of these practices can help you to be more present with the sensations of pleasure in your body without unknowingly shutting them down or rushing towards climax. This can move you towards a more full body experience of pleasure and orgasm, which is a key to enjoying sex more, both while you’re experiencing pelvic pain, and after you relieve it. I hope you will give these a try!
Lorraine Faehndrich is a Pelvic Health and Pain Relief Coach and the creator of the mind body pain relief program Healing Female Pain. She specializes in helping women find lasting relief from chronic pelvic and sexual pain.
If you’d like to learn more about how a mind body approach can help you relieve chronic pelvic pain and experience more pleasure, joy, and connection while you do, register for Lorraine’s upcoming free training, Say Goodbye to Pelvic Pain, or visit her website.
Past podcasts with Lorraine and PHRC Cofounder Stephanie Prendergast:
Katie Hunter’s Vulvodynia Resource Guide
Katie Hunter’s Vulvodynia Webinar
Pelvic Pain Explained by Elizabeth Akincilar and Stephanie Prendergast