BA(Hons), PGDip, PST
Sex therapist, sex coach, sexual educator
and Tantra teacher
I live in the Midlands, UK. I have been working in the field of intimacy and sex since 2001 and with people with physical disabilities since 2008.
Sensuality is one of the key gateways to sexual pleasure. One of the consequences of our modern lifestyle is that generally we are losing our connection to the full spectrum of our sensory perception. The digital age seduces us into being obsessed with the visual which can keep our attention in our mind rather than our body. Sensory stimulation can be very profound for people with disabilities; for anyone whose sight and or hearing is impaired, the other senses can have heightened sensitivity; for people with limited or no feeling in some parts of their body, the sensation can be intensified in other areas. We can use a range of sensual practices to help us relax and build and promote arousal and these can offer an alternative option to the usual genital-based stimulation.
To illustrate the power of sensual stimulation, I will describe details of a client case study and I have permission to share this information. I was asked if I would support a male client who was curious to know whether he had the capacity to experience an orgasmic reflex. Thirteen years earlier he sustained a spinal injury (C3/C4) that left him paralysed from the neck down – he was a tetraplegic and required a ventilator to breathe. Prior to his accident, this client had enjoyed a healthy sexual response and fulfilling sex life. During his two years of rehabilitation, his sexual desires were not considered or discussed and this led him to feeling depressed. Out of his frustration, he decided to research the possibility of sexual response for people with spinal cord injury and he leant that researchers in the US had evidence that people with paralysis could still experience arousal.
At our first meeting, we spent the time getting to know each other and making an agreement about how we would work together. I also spent time meeting and answering questions raised by the client’s carers as it was important that they felt comfortable about these meetings. The key aspects of our agreement included establishing clear communication, ensuring that the client was in control and was not being ‘done to’ and the possibility of emotional and erotic attachment. We discussed boundaries, how I would navigate the client’s wheelchair and ventilator, the risk of autonomic dysreflexia and what to do if either of us needed help. It was important to create a safe container to support both of us in our work together.
Over a period of several months, we developed a ‘multi-sensory experience’ which resulted in the client experiencing arousal and sexual excitement. The sensual exploration stared with touch on the parts of the body where the client had sensation – this was his head, face, neck and the very top of his shoulders. He experienced very intense sensation at the line of his injury and really enjoyed extremely light, feathery touch followed by firmer, stronger stroking of his scalp and face. He asked for his hair to be stroked and then fiercely pulled, for his ears to blown on and licked, for his lips to be nipped, for the nape of his neck to tickled and pinched. It was clear that moving between different types of touch heightened his experience and it was vital for the touch to be slow so that could savour each second of it. As I was touching the client, I was looking for non-verbal feedback and I was also checking in with him to ensure that he was present and conscious to the experience. We used ‘pause’ whenever he needed a moment to relax into his pleasure. In addition to using my fingers and hands, I explored using my arms, elbows, nose and hair and other sensual items e.g. silk, fur, velvet, feathers, loofa, pinwheel, heat and cold. It felt important to explore touch as the primary sensory experience to give the client the opportunity to relax into his pleasure and it was essential to maintain good levels of communication throughout both in terms of what felt good and anything that need to be adjusted or changed. There is scope to be very creative by adding further sensory dimensions to the experience e.g. visual stimulation, sexy talk, erotic tastes and smells.
The client’s experience of sexual arousal prior to his accident had been predominantly focused in his genitals and during this sensory stimulation, he described himself as being aroused in a very different way to pre-injury. He could feel the touch on his head, neck and face and he had a sense that his arousal was happening in his whole body and he was surprised to have an awareness of his paralysed body. It was a rewarding experience to support this client and explore sensory stimulation as a means of developing sexual arousal.