- In “Sex, Love, and Goop,” two women undergo “sexological bodywork” for different sex concerns.
- The therapy, which can involve a practitioner touching a clients’ genitals, is illegal in 49 states.
- When practiced ethically, other sex and relationship experts support the practice.
Engaged couple Chandra and Camille are in love, but have some challenges in the bedroom. Chandra experiences pain during penetration, and Camille has difficulty speaking up about what she wants.
On the new Netflix series, “Sex, Love, and Goop,” both undergo individual sessions of “sexological bodywork” to overcome their biggest concerns. The therapy can involve a non-medical practitioner touching (with gloved hands) a client’s genitals, and is considered sex work everywhere in the US but California, where the scenes were filmed.
Here’s more about what “sex bod” is, and how it worked for Chandra and Camille.
Chandra experienced painful penetration
Chandra grew up in a conservative home of Jehovah’s Witnesses where the word “sex” wasn’t OK and where depictions of lesbianism were deemed “gross.”
Darshana Avila, an “erotic wholeness coach” and sex bod practitioner, said that upbringing likely contributes to the pain Chandra feels during penetration.
“This kind of generalized pain is not necessarily because there’s a physical brokenness or problem or injury. Oftentimes, it’s a physical response to the psychological imprinting,” she said. “The shame freezes our bodies, it locks our bodies, it’s a protective measure.”
During her session, Avila placed her gloved hand on Chandra’s pubic mound before dropping onto her vulva and then stroking her labia – checking in with Chandra throughout.
“How would you feel about me placing my finger at the entrance of your vagina?” Avila said next. At first Chandra noticed some pain, but it subsided when Avila lessened the pressure. Eventually, Avila moved her finger in further – and Chandra teared up realizing she was relaxed and pain-free.
“I felt great,” she told the camera later. “It’s hard to explain. I was just focusing on myself and enjoying where I was in that moment. It’s amazing.”
Camille had an orgasm unlike any other
Camille opted for a session to help her practice asking for what she wants in bed – and to learn what she wants to begin with. She’d been struggling with body image issues and getting too much in her head during intimate moments.
Avila began with a “pubic massage” and it became clear Camille liked the feeling of compression on her vulva. At Camille’s request, Avila began using a vibrating toy, which Camille requested go deeper.
When Camille orgasmed, she too teared up.
“I don’t know what else to say except, ‘holy shit,'” she told the camera afterwards. “I’m kind of questioning if I’ve ever had an orgasm before because I didn’t think I’ve ever had anything that’s ever felt like that. I feel alive … I feel like a real person right now and it’s wild to me. I’m in shock.”
Sexological bodywork can help a range of concerns
Sexological bodywork, also called somatic sex education, can help clients feel safer in their bodies, learn what feels good to them, heal from trauma (whether emotional or physical like childbirth), and explore their erotic potential, according to the Association of Certified Sexological Bodyworkers (ACSB).
“We assume sex should be easy and enjoyable, but a lot of us develop sexual problems, and talk therapy is sometimes just not enough,” Tom Murray, a forensic sexologist who is not certified in sexological bodywork, told Insider. “People need to have experiences.”
It can also help people adjust to bodily changes that result from new medications, hormones, or gender-confirming surgeries, Heather Howard, a sexuality counselor with a doctorate in human sexuality who does not offer sexological bodywork, told Insider.
While the therapy can involve gloved hands on or around the genitals, it doesn’t have to.
“Other aspects include holding a safe space for a person to experience and learn about their own body and sexuality, and providing education and coaching,” Howard said. “Their job is not to give clients a sexual experience, but rather, to help clients learn how to manage their own sexuality and sexual experiences.”
When practiced according to an ethical code, sex bod is consensual
Sex bod is one-way, which allows the client to focus solely on their own experience without the pressures that come with a partnered sexual experience.
In those situations, people can think, “Oh my God, Are they OK? Do I smell OK? Do I look OK?” Avila said. “All the stuff that comes into the room when it’s interrelational prevents a lot of people from having a chance to get to know whatever their home base is.”
The therapy, when practiced according to accrediting bodies’ code of ethics, is consensual, with clients coached on how to speak up for themselves and practitioners checking in every step of the way. “If you don’t want it, it doesn’t happen,” Avila told Chandra.
Sex bod can be like pelvic floor physical therapy, but with an erotic element
Members of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists, which does not certify somatic sex educators, told Insider the therapy is similar in some ways to pelvic floor physical therapy, but with a stronger focus “on the emotional experience of the client who has a body” and not just their body parts, Howard said.
Sexological bodyworkers undergo one to three years of training in anatomy, human sexuality, consent, trauma, and “the social dynamics of our sex lives,” an ACSB spokesperson told Insider. Most schools that teach it are overseas, where it’s more widespread and accepted.
Most pelvic floor physical therapists, by comparison, earn a bachelor’s degree before undergoing a three-year doctor of physical therapy program and then specializing in the pelvic floor, passing an exam, and getting a license.
The practice isn’t right for everyone
Alex Bertucci, a pelvic floor physical therapist and sex counselor, said she’s a little taken aback when seeing sex bod advertised as a treatment for common conditions like vaginismus. While various forms of sex therapy can help treat it, “that’s a pelvic floor physical therapist’s bread and butter,” Bertucci said.
Some people may prefer pelvic floor PT, too, if, for instance, they’re more comfortable within the medical establishment. Sexological bodywork is also far less accessible in the US – something sex and relationship experts say reflect the country’s stigma around sex.
“Just because it’s prohibited [in most states],” Murray said, “doesn’t mean that it’s unhelpful.”