Joining me today is Nicoletta Heidegger. Nicoletta has a background in psychology and a master’s degree in human sexuality. Her focus and passion is in the field of sex therapy. She helps her clients learn about sexual and mental health and also teaches educational seminars and classes to help children and others learn about sexuality and mental health. She is the founder and podcast host of Sluts and Scholars. On today’s podcast she shares valuable information to help you heal with sexual shame and more tools for reducing the shame that shows up in the bedroom.
How can we deal with sexual shame in society and create change?
Most clients that I work with are dealing with some level of shame: body shame, shame in their desires, shame with what they want, etc. I believe it starts in our culture, and it starts young. An example is parents who don’t call body parts by their actual names. Instead of calling it a vagina, vulva, or penis parents call them things like we we, peepee, shishi, cha-cha, whatever weird words you can think of which is ultimately teaching chilldren that these parts of our bodies are dirty and unacceptable to say. In terms of how we work on it definitely takes a lot of practice. The first thing that comes to mind for me is finding and creating space to actually challenge those narratives. So I think first you have to realize, Do I have shame? Yes, probably. And then repetition about the other narrative whether that’s therapy, reading books, joining like community spaces where you can actually talk about these topics and get comfortable getting these words in your mouth. To me, it’s all about repetition through community of a different narrative. Just like we learn shame, we can unlearn it.
What are some ways that sexual shame shows up?
Sexual shame can show up in a lot of ways. One of the main ways it can show up, and I see this a lot, is in something called spectatoring. Spectatoring is when you’re having sex or some type of connectd pleasure, on your own or with somebody else, where you are not present in your body. Instead, you’re watching as if you were a commentator, or spectator from above and in a judgemental way. When a person has trouble getting out of their heads and into their bodies, that’s going to decrease the pleasure potential. It’s not going to allow the person to actually be able to acknowledge and feel what they want or what feels good to them or what doesn’t feel good to them.
What are some tools that you’ve used with clients to help them get into their body?
I love the idea of self pleasure meditation. Sometimes it takes a while for folks to get there, especially if sex has been a taboo subject or if pleasure is a trigger. Pleasure can be a trigger if we don’t feel like we deserve it, if pleasure has been accompanied by pain or abuse, if we don’t feel like we’re capable of it, or if we feel like we take too long. The first thing I would do is validate and acknowledge that not being in your body has probably served you in some way and being present can be hard. It’s hard to be present when your body has not been a safe place for you because life is too overwhelming, sensations are too overwhelming, or there was trauma. Your body did what it thought it needed to do, which was to not be present in itself.
Then I’ll educate people about the nervous system. I teach them how to get out of their body and slow things down. I help them learn the really small tracking cues of what it feels like when they’re starting to get into their head and out of your body. Does your heart race a little bit more? Does your stomach start to hurt? What happens to your face temperature? I start with only pleasant or neutral sensations since it’s a lot harder to get in the body when something is uncomfortable. No one is saying, I want to be so present with my depression and anxiety. I start with something really small, like asking someone to think of something in their life that has a pleasant or neutral feeling such as a person, a place, a thing, a memory, a food they ate, an animal. Then I will have them lean into that in all the sensations in their body and try to remember this person, place, thing, experience and ask them how do they know it’s something that’s pleasant or neutral? What happens in their physical body? If that’s too hard for them, I start even smaller, like, put your two fingertips together. Can you feel the sensation of your finger rubbing against your finger? How do you know that they’re touching? If that’s too hard for someone, I go to things that are external. I have them touch things around the room, smell things around the room and ask, how do you know when something is a pleasant thing to touch? Or, how do you know that something is like this texture or this temperature? That can feel safer for some folks. It’s almost like learning a new language. It’s learning the language of the body and you have to go slowly.
How can I use my 5 senses to be more present?
Using the 5-4-3-2-1 method you will go through your senses in a focused way. With the 5-4-3-2-1 method you will isolate each of your senses and observe a certain number of things with each sense. And you can name the senses in any order. So for example, name 5 things you can see. So, look around and name five things you can see, but take your time and really look at it, examine it and explore it. Then name four things you can hear. But again, stay with those sounds, and if there’s something that’s pleasant, maybe allow yourself to savor it for a moment.
Next, name three things you can touch. And if you can’t reach around you and touch three things get up or move around some way, if you can. Again, do it in a way where you are really noticing what you’re touching: notice the ridges of the water bottle, the temperature of the desk, etc. Now name two things you can smell. whatever you can smell around, if there’s something you can spray something, you can open something you can sniff, whatever. Lastly, name one thing you can taste, even if that’s just your shitty morning coffee breath. This activity helps you to be more present in the space you are in.
What are some good resources or places to go to help facilitate this journey for somebody?
The key is getting connected and community. If you’re a podcast person, I’ve done a couple episodes on my podcast about nervous system stuff on Sluts and Scholars. If you’re a book person I have two book recommendations. One is The Body Keeps the Score. This book is a little more trauma focused. It can be a little bit heavy with science, but if you’re a science person it may be a good fit for you. One that is a little more theory based is called Waking the Tiger. This book is also about the nervous system. Another resource that I really love is a class by a colleague of mine named Dr. Cat Meyer. She does a few different classes, but they’re all about sensuality. I do believe these are only for femme and female identifying folks. But it’s all about sensuality, and not just sensuality in like a sex way, but living centrally in your body. And so I think having a community to practice those . . . these would be my top three resources. Also, finding a sex therapist or a sex coach, if you’re open to that. Just the therapist if they’re kind of interested in this topic; make sure it’s someone who’s trauma informed or somatic informed meaning they do work with the body and the integration of the mind and the body.
For more about enhancing sexual pleasure, erotic blueprints, and desire discrepancies in relationships check out this podcast episode.
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