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Sexual Health in Body, Mind and Spirit The Wide-Spectrum Healing Power of Pleasure
Description: Sexual health is recognized as “ inextricably bound to both physical and mental health…and includes the ability to derive pleasure from it” (Satcher, 2001). Spiritual health also contributes to healthy sex through qualities of embodied presence, mindful eroticism, transcendent experience, and compassion for the differences of others. Pleasure is key. What the varieties of sexual distress have in common is a person’s inability to experience a fullness of pleasure—not just in a momentary discharge of tension—but total bodily arousal and release, emotionally as well as physically gratifying, inspiring warmth, affection, or love with a partner.

We begin with a look at how sexual development is intricately intertwined with self-development throughout infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. We see how early sexual shaming or violation limits expansive pleasures of sexual-self discovery, arousal, desire and juvenile sex play. Teenage “purity” restricts adolescent sex education and safe sexual exploration resulting in confusion, lack of sex-efficacy, and low self-esteem that can affect emotional and physical health for a lifetime.

We explore how a body-mind approach that addresses painful emotions affecting sexual performance is important work, but not sufficient. Neurobiology provides solid evidence that it’s not just the release of pain but also the power of pleasurable experience that re-activates a wide-spectrum developmental process of growth and transformation. We review research demonstrating that neuroplastic reshaping and integration of brain functions, rebalancing of the nervous system, and release of chronic tension patterns occur primarily through pleasurable experience and play. Other studies show that hedonic pleasures of the flesh and eudaemonic pleasures of a contented life are intricately connected, correlated in the brain as they are in real life.

We close with a demonstration of pleasure-expanding, body-based methods that can be utilized during therapy, for home-play, and daily life practices.  As sex therapists and educators, we can help clients, students, and ourselves, release pain and broaden capacity for love, sex, and playful abandon.

Objective(s): At the conclusion of this presentation, participants will be able to: identify how sexual health is intricately connected to body, mind, and spiritual health; describe neurobiological research demonstrating that pleasurable experience reactivates a wide-spectrum developmental process of growth and transformation.