So what is Sexological Bodywork?
Thanks to its coverage in popular media in the last couple of years e.g. in the Netflix show Love, Sex and goop, Sexological Bodywork is starting to creep into public awareness more and more. But it isn’t exactly a new thing! Sexological Bodywork (sometimes called Somatic Sex Education) has been around for a while now - its early practices originating in the 1980s.
Oh, and you’re not alone if you struggle to say it - it is a bit of a mouthful!
Sexological Bodywork is a client-centered, trauma-informed coaching modality that can support and empower you in your explorations of your body, your sexuality, and how this affects your relationships with others.
What might a Sexological Bodywork session involve?
Lots of discussion and practice around consent using Wheel of Consent © exercises to notice, trust, value, and communicate your desires and boundaries
Body focusing - giving voice to your “felt sense” of your body
Bodywork or massage - may be focused on specific areas such as chest, stomach, anus, or genitals, and may include scar tissue work
Mapping of anatomy, sensation, or pleasure - building self-awareness, body-mind connection, and noticing nuances of sensation (or absence of)
Mindful self-pleasure practices
And lots of slowing down, noticing, feeling, voicing, accepting, and integrating!
Despite its name, it does not always include hands-on bodywork or touch of any description - some sessions are entirely talk-based and you can work remotely online if you prefer.
This work takes a somatic approach meaning that you are encouraged to tap into your “felt sense” in your body, becoming more aware of sensations and emotions through movement, breath, sound, and placement of awareness. This can only happen when you feel safe enough to place your attention inside your body.
This may sound a bit odd as we are all living “in” our bodies all of the time, but many people have developed patterns or coping mechanisms that mean they find themselves “stuck in their head” or unable to tune into sensations in the body. These patterns were likely very necessary at some point to keep us safe so we are not trying to make these “wrong” or switch them off immediately. The intention is to build more agency over time so you can choose when you feel safe enough to bring more awareness to your body. This can happen through learning ways for self- and co-regulation, finding ways to feel grounded in your body, and allowing sufficient time to integrate what you are experiencing and learning.
Sometimes touch may be incorporated in a session in the form of self-touch or one-way touch from me (the practitioner) to you. This can - but does not always - include genital and anal touch when it is deemed appropriate to support your learning e.g. to facilitate greater somatic awareness (noticing the sensations and your body’s response). Unlike a traditional massage though where the recipient tends to be passive, these sessions are based on active receiving, so you may be asked to guide the touch or to engage in verbal interaction throughout so that feedback and consent are active and ongoing.
All practitioners work within an established code of ethics which includes staying fully clothed throughout the session, wearing gloves, and working with one-way erotic touch. These may differ from how other sexuality professionals may operate and individual practitioners may have additional ethics or professional boundaries that they apply to their work (like mine here).
One of the many things I love about Sexological Bodywork is that it is not about me as a practitioner imposing my expertise on you as a client but about creating space for YOU to tap into the immense about of wisdom that is already held in your body. After all, nobody knows you better than you know yourself!
Each session is co-created between the practitioner and the client and so at the beginning we will always spend some time establishing what your Learning Objectives are (the "why you are here") and the Educational Contract. This latter part is where we will discuss what we will do to meet your learning objective (the "how"), which will also include a discussion of boundaries and timings for any exercises we plan to undertake. We may decide to adjust this during the session - for example if an exercise working for you or you feel we've explored enough already - but we never go beyond what was initially agreed.
A key premise of Sexological Bodywork is to meet each person as a unique individual. This means not making any assumptions about their gender, sexuality, genital configuration, relationship style, or how they might like to be touched (if at all).
In our training, we draw heavily on the Wheel of Consent by Dr. Betty Martin, and you might see exercises from this being incorporated into sessions. On a more subtle level though, “the wheel” underlies all of the work I do, as it’s all based on you noticing, valuing, trusting, and communicating your desires.
A common misconception about Sexological Bodywork is that it is only for people who are “having problems”. It’s true that some clients come to this work because they are experiencing issues or challenges, but it can be just as valuable to come when things appear to be going smoothly.
Sex education is a lifelong journey and that’s how many clients see our work together - as a way to learn (or relearn) about their ever-evolving bodies and desires, to explore new things, or to challenge any ingrained beliefs or patterns they have around how to relate to themselves or others. It’s a way to build upon what you already have.
The way I see Sexological Bodywork is as an umbrella term for a huge collection of different practices and exercises, rather than a singular thing or method that is used uniformly.
The services offered by Sexological Bodyworkers can vary enormously. Some may only work with a particular type of client or towards specific learning objectives. Others may choose to specialise in certain techniques or modalities, such as scar tissue work, or they may create offerings that combine elements of Sexological Bodywork with other interests or skills.
As what’s on offer (and how it’s delivered) can vary so massively, it can be helpful to spend some time getting clear about what YOU want to explore and what might be important to you about the person you work with, before you seek a practitioner.
I hope this has helped to give you some insights into this work and what a session might entail. Please do get in touch if you have any questions that I haven't answered here.