Massage & Sexual Trauma
In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (April), I am using this post to address a topic that the majority of Massage Therapist tend to avoid. Massage Therapy and its relation to Sexual Health! It is a subject personal to me, as anyone who has heard my backstory knows.
With the fading but still lingering stigma of illicit services offered by shady massage parlors and the safety issues that creates for licensed therapists as well as unfortunate fact that usually massage is only connected with sex in misconduct news reports or human trafficking cases, it makes sense that my profession would seek to distance itself from anything sex related. But, to put it most crudely, Massage Therapists rub lube on naked people. To deny that people have a sexual and sensual element to their humanity, especially in this context, serves no one. I think it is time to evolve and realize, as both practitioners and clients, that massage in its professional, therapeutic, non sexual form is in a unique position to help men and women resolve dysfunction and pain with sexual or pelvic origins.
Statistics collected by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center in 2017 offer a pretty dismal picture. One of every 5 women has experienced attempted or completed rape and half of all women report being the targets of other forms of sexual assault. Men fair little better: 1 in 5 men has experienced other forms of sexual violence and, affected mostly in boyhood, 1 of every 6 men has experienced attempted or completed rape. Most of these attacks go unreported.
Sexual assault has profound effects on a person’s entire being. Psychotherapy helps survivors process their emotions and experiences mentally and is profoundly important. But with our evolving understanding of the mind/body connection, it is imperative to address all facets of a person to heal. That is where massage therapy comes in!
Physical trauma and memories of traumatic events are often stored in our bodies as well as in our minds. Failure to address that aspect in survivors can mean continued flashbacks and diminished sense of safety even after the event has been fully accepted and processed mentally. Receiving massage can also help these clients relearn to experience pleasure in touch. After having choice stripped from physical contact, any contact can seem threatening and the longer that association with intimidation holds, the more difficult it can be to break. Reacquainting one’s self with good touch in the safe, therapeutic context of a massage can help to rebuild healthy boundaries. Massage therapy is also an important adjunct to psychotherapy in that it can help to alleviate anxiety and depression as well as be an important tool in reintegrating the self into the body. Traumatic sexual events are nearly ubiquitous in our country. As a Massage Therapist who specializes in pelvic health, it is important to me that more people know about how massage therapy can help them heal. We all deserve to feel confident ownership of our bodies. I want to help those who may have had that right challenged reclaim it. So to summarize, massage therapy can help survivors of sexual violence and abuse by
Releasing traumatic memories stored in body tissues
Correcting guarding and compensation patterns created by the event
Helping to re-establish healthy boundaries
Mitigating negative responses and behaviors toward touch
Decreasing depression and anxiety
Lessening body dissociation, recreating a sense of safety in one’s self
What do you think? Can massage help survivors of sexual violence recover? Share your opinions in the comments below!
Benjamin, B.. (1995). Massage and Bodywork with Survivors of Abuse - Part 1. Massage Therapy Journal, 34(3). Field, T., Hernandez-Reif, M., Hart, S., Quintino, O., Drose, L. A., Field, T., . . . Schanberg, S. (1997). Effects of sexual abuse are lessened by massage therapy. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 1(2), 65-69. doi:10.1016/s1360-8592(97)80002-2