Somatic Psychology - August 2015 - Santa Fe
Healing Sexual Trauma:
The Journey to Conscious and Consensual Intimacy
By Dr. Corine Frankland
Sexual intimacy brings pleasure, delight, ease, and embodiment into our lives. It expands our senses, unites our longing for wholeness and connection, and transports us to higher levels of consciousness. The documented benefits of sexual intimacy include a reduction in stress and anxiety and an increase in self-perception, well-being, and creativity. Yet, despite the benefits, those who have experienced sexual violence may find it challenging to enjoy sexual intimacy.
The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), estimates that 1 in 4 women will experience sexual violence in her lifetime. This statistic includes childhood sexual abuse and sexual assault occurring in adulthood. According to the American Counseling Association, many of these women will suffer long-term psychological and physical challenges including depression, guilt, shame, self-blame, eating disorders, somatic concerns, anxiety, dissociative patterns, repression, denial, sexual problems, and relationship problems.
Sexual violence impacts the mind-body connection. Memories stored in the body, remembered or not, seek expression through our organs, our nervous system, and via our thought patterns and behaviors. If trauma is not addressed and released, it stores in the body creating dis-ease. Trauma can manifest as chronic pain, fatigue, and sudden mood shifts or outbursts, many of which appear to have no explanation. Psychosomatic symptoms may continue to manifest, years after the abuse, in attempts to release bound energy.
Many survivors associate sexual intimacy with pain. Some women may avoid sexual activity, fearing losing control of their body or in an attempt to manage the intensity of emotion, triggers, and memories that arise with sexual intimacy. Others may respond with compulsive sexual patterns marked by a lack of personal boundaries, a need to please, or a desire to reclaim sexual power. Some survivors experience actual physical pain with intimate touch. The most common disorder impacting women who have survived sexual abuse and assault is Pelvic Floor Disorder (PFD), a painful condition marked by inflammation and constriction in the muscles, ligaments, connective tissues, and nerves that support the bladder, uterus, vagina, and rectum.
Healing sexual trauma should include a comprehensive support system that recognizes the interconnectedness of the mind and body. Methods include:
Psychotherapy with a compassionate therapist who specializes in sexual trauma and cognitive behavioral therapy and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing ).
Pelvic-Focused Physical Therapy for women who experience chronic pelvic pain. Treatment may include skin rolling, deep tissue massage (myofascial release), and trigger point therapy to release tight knot-like spots within the vagina or rectum.
Light touch bodywork such as somatic polarity therapy or craniosacral therapy to release tension and energetic blocks in the body and to cultivate an active and reciprocal relationship between the mind and body.
Self-care including nourishing meals, regular sleep, moving the body, mindful breathing, making time for solitude, spending time with trusted friends or family, and treating oneself with dignity and respect.
The first step in the healing journey is to ask for help. When we seek support from a trusted friend or a skilled professional, we begin to shed layers of isolation. As we explore our wounds and release painful experiences, we are given the opportunity to examine survival strategies that have kept us disassociated from our bodies and emotions. We come to see that our body is a source of wholeness to which we can return and embody fully. Releasing energetic blocks and gaining skills for self-empowerment builds confidence in the innate intelligence of the mind-body connection, returning us to the sensual nature of our bodies. We emerge from our journey as women who thrive, fully embodied with the ability and insight to engage in conscious and consensual intimacy.
Corine Frankland, Ph.D., is the department chair of liberal arts at Santa Fe University of Art and Design where she teaches courses in women’s psychology, archetypal psychology, and Kundalini yoga. She is also a somatic polarity practitioner, specializing in anxiety reduction, grief and depression, and women's reproductive health and wellness.
You can find her on Facebook at
Vibrational Healing Santa Fe or visit her website at www.myvibrationalhealing.org