Why pleasure is important if you have pelvic pain

Why pleasure is important if you have pelvic pain

Why pleasure is important if you have pelvic pain

By Nicole Guappone

Finding pleasure can seem like a distant dream when you are experiencing pelvic pain. You may be feeling disconnected from your body (pain will do that) or even angry at your body for feeling like it is “broken” or has “failed” you (pain can also do that). 

It can feel scary to open ourselves to touch—even if that touch is our own—when a part of the body that often gives us pleasure is in pain. Or maybe you’ve only ever experienced pain in your pelvic area. Maybe pleasure seems so impossible you would be happy with simply just not hurting. We know these feelings well. And while “less pain” or “no pain” are valid goals, don’t hold yourself back from imagining a future where you also feel pleasure. 

Pain can rewire the brain, activate the nervous system, change the way you experience touch. You may notice that your body just doesn’t feel the same as it used to. Maybe the same things don’t feel pleasurable. Maybe toys you’ve previously enjoyed just aren’t doing it for you anymore. We encourage you to allow space for these changes, even if they feel frustrating. 

One of the best ways to get reacquainted with your changing body is through self-pleasure or masturbation!

We spoke to Dr. Emily Wilson, PT, about why this is important for healing. “I find it really empowering when people with pelvic pain learn how to navigate their pain,” she says. “I think when we explore self pleasure, we find ways that touch can feel safe and find areas of our body that are willing to open and soften for greater intimacy.”

If you’ve felt unsafe in your body for an extended period of time, this may sound scary, but there are incremental steps you can take to help create safety in your body once more. 

How to create a sense of safety in your body 

“A lot of times, my patients don’t have pain with self touch,” Dr. Wilson says. “It’s more with partner play.”

Why could that be? For better or worse, our bodies are our home.

“Psychologically, the brain remembers pain so deeply, and usually associates it with the act of being with a partner, so there’s that fear and expectation. ‘Am I broken? Can I be intimate with my partner?’” But when you take those layers away, she says, “the psychological, emotional part isn’t typically as intense for people when they’re alone.”

If self touch feels daunting (we feel you), you can begin with some grounding and safety exercises:

Grounding techniques for returning to your body

This goes for anytime, not just when you are preparing for intimacy. You can use these techniques when you notice an anxiety response happening in your body (shortness of breath, tension, sweating) or any time you feel like you want to center yourself.

One of the easiest ways to come back home is to simply try to become present where you are right now. 

  • Notice your feet on the ground or your bottom on the chair
  • Look around
  • Orient yourself in the space and notice the things around you
  • If it feels safe, close your eyes and remember where you are in this space

Using self-touch to create safety

“Self-havening” is a practice that involves coming back to yourself and creating a sense of safety in your body through touch. If you are in pain, you don’t have to start by touching the part of your body that hurts. Touch parts of your body that are not in pain. 

Start with “platonic” self-touch—touch a part of your body that feels nice or even just neutral. It can be your face (gently massage your jaw—a tense jaw likely also means a tense pelvic floor!), your arms, your thighs. Stroke your own arm if it feels nice. Give yourself touch you are craving or have craved in your past. Listening to your body, intentionally touching it in a way that feels safe, can in itself be healing. Intentional self-touch is an important practice anyone can benefit from. 

And once that feels safe, it can pave the way for sexier self-touch. 

Moving into sexual intimacy with yourself

When you’re ready, find time and a space that is safe and private. The last thing you need right now is a kiddo barging in or your boss pinging your phone.

Set yourself up ahead of time. Depending on what you’re planning, you may want lube, gloves (if direct skin to skin contact feels uncomfortable), a towel, a soft blanket that makes you feel comfy. 

Pelvic pain can change what feels good. What felt good before you started experiencing pain may not feel as good now, and that’s okay. This may even change from day to day! It’s important to leave room for this growth. 

“I think creating a really beautiful space could be helpful,” Dr. Wilson says. “Start by working slowly, focusing on breath. Drop the expectation of orgasm.”

Once you feel safe and receptive to pleasure, then you can start to explore. “Maybe breast massage feels good,” Dr. Wilson says, “or full body massage. Then more exploration and curiosity can blossom from that.” 

This may feel difficult if you’ve never been comfortable touching yourself or are hesitant to do so. Previous techniques for grounding can help with this, as can creating a safety mantra.

Create a safety mantra

One of Dr. Wilson’s favorite ways of creating safety is having a “safety mantra” to return to if your body goes into alarm mode (fight, flight, freeze). It can be something as simple as 

  • I am safe
  • My body is mine 
  • I am in control
  •  Find a sentence that you can deeply internalize and come back to if you ever feel unsafe. 

    If you’ve experienced sexual trauma

    Returning to touch (sexual or not) can feel scary or retraumatizing if you have sexual trauma in your past. We encourage you to show yourself extra care if this is the case. Sexual trauma can result in painful sex, not just from acute injury, but through dysregulation of the nervous system and the body’s natural urge to protect itself. This free program on healing sexual trauma at Pelvic Gym can help you understand your nervous system and reconnect with yourself and your pelvic floor. 

    Experiment with non-sexual pleasure

    Maybe you will decide that masturbation is not for you right now (or maybe ever), but we encourage everyone to broaden their view of pleasure—self-pleasure does not necessarily mean sexual. 

    Sensual pleasure involves all of the senses: sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing. 

    Other ways to create safety and pleasure in your body:

    • eating a decadent piece of chocolate and savoring every bite
    • moving your body in any way that feels good, whether that’s shaking, stretching, or dancing to a favorite song
    • pausing and feeling gratitude for something. When you are truly grateful for something, how does it feel in your body? Embody that. 
    • hold your pet, hug a loved one, or hug yourself! 

    “I always encourage just holding yourself after doing this work and reaffirming that you are safe and that this work is healing,” Dr. Wilson says. This can be especially helpful if there is emotional pain or shame around self-pleasure.

    Incorporate a partner with mutual masturbation 

    If you’ve gotten comfortable with self-touch and have discovered what brings you pleasure, don’t forget that you can bring a partner into the mix, too! Not only is mutual masturbation fun (and hot!), but it is the perfect opportunity to show your partner(s) what feels good and how to touch you. 

    When we have pelvic pain, sometimes our partners understandably feel anxious about accidentally causing harm or more pain. Watching you take matters (literally) into your own hands can not only turn your partner on but show them exactly how to touch you in a pleasurable way. And if you feel so inclined, take their hand and guide it yourself

    Tools that can help 

    Ohnut was created to help you customize the depth of vaginal (or even anal) penetration. While Ohnut is often used at the base of a penis, it can also be placed at the base of a toy! Experiment with different numbers of rings and find a comfortable depth of penetration without the pressure of doing so during partner sex. (Ohnut won’t fit exactly the same from one toy to another or from a toy to a body, but this can still be a good starting point.) 

    Kiwi is a vibrating entry pain massager. It was designed so that relieving pain can feel good, and while Kiwi was created with the goal of helping folks relieve pain, it is so uniquely multi-functional, its uses are only as limited as your imagination. Kiwi is meant to be an un-intimidating way to experiment with vibration and release tight or tense pelvic floor (or glute! Or thigh! Or ab!) muscles that can contribute to pelvic pain.

    Remember that pleasure is always possible, even if it seems far away. See a professional like a pelvic floor physical therapist for an assessment when possible because you don’t have to do this on your own. Cozy up with yourself and get to know yourself once again, and don’t forget to have grace and patience with your body, even if you’re feeling disconnected with it at this moment. 

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