Listen to “200: Sex and Veterans – Asya Brodsky” on Spreaker.
Sex & Veterans
In this episode, Asya Brodsky gives insight into sexual issues and concerns with veterans. From injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or military sexual trauma (MST), Brodsky explains how these experiences can create all kinds of ramifications in the life of a veteran and how these can affect sexual function and intimacy with a partner.
What are the kinds of sexual concerns that are prevalent among veterans?
PTSD is still the most common issue among veterans, as well as PTSD due to MST. According to Brodsky, veterans in combat who come back physically whole carry great psychological and emotional repercussions. However, the recovery and rehabilitation process for them are focused on basic means and sexuality is often neglected.
What are some of the steps around PTSD and MST? Is this something that the military is taking on?
There are multiple campaigns for MST for veterans. These campaigns let them know that there is support out there and that actions are being taken to address their mental health and really look into this seriously.
What kinds of things get in the way of veterans seeking help in sexual issues?
Brodsky said it’s still primarily military culture where soldiers are taught to be tough and disconnected from their emotions to survive. The contradiction is, what helps them in the service, hurts them in civilian life. It’s a big deterrent for vets seeking out services also because of the stigma about seeking help for mental issues.
What are these people facing coming back from war wounded?
If you were injured in combat, likely you have a combination of physical and psychological injury affecting someone’s identity and self-concept. Physical injuries have an effect on sexuality and sexual expression. Brodsky is positive, however, that in no time, authorities will recognize sexual issues to be part of the rehabilitation process.
What should spouses do?
Brodsky gives suggestions on what veteran couples can do, such as therapy. She also underlines the importance of being patient and recognizing that sexuality can change overtime. Military partners should also make themselves aware of PTSD and follow the lead of their partner on whether they feel comfortable talking about their experience.
In the end, Brodsky advises veterans to seek help as soon as possible.
Asya Brodsky, LCSW, CADC, CST is a licensed clinical social worker, certified alcohol and drug counselor and certified sex therapist through AASECT. She holds positions as the Women Veterans Program Manager at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center and maintains her own private sex therapy practice, Speak Chicago Psychotherapy LLC. Asya is a relational psychodynamically-informed psychotherapist, specializing in the areas of sexual functioning and expression and their impact on individual and relational identities and lives. Asya is affiliated with psychoanalytic communities in Chicago and is the co-founder and co-leader of the Chicago Sex Therapist Network.
Listen to “193: Pleasure as a Means of Healing Trauma – Kathy Slaughter” on Spreaker.
Pleasure as a Means to Healing Trauma
Kathy Slaughter introduces an interesting way of integrating pleasure, in both sexual and everyday activities, as a way to heal from trauma. She talks about what trauma does to our body and mind, how to regain the connection between the two, navigate healing in intimate relationships, recognize triggers, and how to trust and feel safe.
Slaughter’s Interest in Healing from Trauma
Kathy’s interest in this field of work stems from her decades of experience working with situations like domestic violence, substance abuse, and gender and sexuality struggles. Evolving from her own experience as well, Kathy embraced the idea of pleasure becoming a step in healing trauma.
Integrating Sexual Pleasure in Trauma Healing & Its Relevance
While it’s harder to incorporate pleasure in the initial stages of trauma survival, it can be experienced through soothing activities, like a hot bath. When you’re in the thriving stage, embracing pleasure can unlock a pool of resources of soothing strategies. Trauma disconnects people from themselves and the process to get the connection back varies for every trauma, but it’s also fundamentally the same and comes out of the need to feel safe and trust.
Role of Physical Pleasure
Kathy identifies behaviors her clients enjoy and reinforces those behaviors in everyday life which couples can transition into the bedroom. Once they start integrating pleasure into their daily life, they learn to be mindful of things around them that bring them pleasure, help with anxiety, pressure release, and sleep.
Partner Pleasure in Healing from Trauma
While healthy relationships can restore your connection with yourself, relationships that have trouble with intimacy through sex can experience pleasure in everyday things like holding hands or cuddling. Kathy suggests trauma survivors take individual or couples therapy to recognize triggers and learn how to not let them get in the way of intimacy.
Fight, Flight, Freeze, Fawn Response & Sharing Responsibility
A partner who tends to respond by fighting can snap in the bedroom when triggered, a partner with a risk of fleeing might respond by pulling away. Someone with a tendency to fawn might be prone to please, while someone whose response is to freeze might dissociate in the bedroom. Kathy suggests looking out for these responses to check in when it shows up.
She believes that the partner initiating the activity has the primary responsibility to look out for triggers, while the other person as an adult has the responsibility to look out for themselves at all times. It’s about balancing, supporting, and being there for each other.
Understanding how abuse happens, how to recover from it, and how communities can prevent abuse and respond to harm in life-affirming ways forms the basis of Kathy’s passion. Grounded in Social Work values and paradigms, Kathy has spent 15 years working on healing trauma and uncovering pleasure, agency, and safety in the consulting room. Currently, she leads a team of five at Soaring Heart Counseling, a sex-positive, queer-affirming, trauma-informed therapy practice in Indianapolis, Indiana.
To connect with pleasure, Kathy enjoys practicing yoga and meditation, dancing, hiking, and planning outdoor adventures with friends at regional Burning Man festivals.
Resorces and links:
Listen to “191: Letting In Vs. Letting Go – Benson Fox” on Spreaker.
Trauma: Letting in vs Letting Go
Benson Fox; a transformational coach, therapist extern, a psych major, and a current doctoral student of Adelphi university, guides people and helps them to embrace all parts of themselves. He talks about the effects of sexual abuse and the impact unprocessed trauma can have. He also talks about how to process trauma.
Listening To Parts of Yourself That Advocate Your Needs
Benson believes people tend to shun parts of themselves like anger, shame, depression, self-doubt, and hatred for reasons such as ‘societal messaging’, when in fact these emotions should be felt and processed.
He says that all parts of yourself are advocating for your needs, like shame advocating the need to enforce boundaries. In those cases, it’s important to correct these behaviors by relying on one’s internal system (that’s been evaluated and chosen for oneself) rather than outside validation. He further dives into identifying some exceptions and how one can deal with them.
How Does It Get In The Way Of Your Sex Life?
According to Benson, all experiences, including trauma, have both negative and positive aspects to them (in the context of an individual to process it and not in any way to justify the experience). When people have a negative experience, they tend to shut out the parts of themselves that feel something positive. It leads to a lack of trust in those parts when they go unprocessed. He further explores this idea by giving examples and discussing some of the dangers and the blurriness of this concept.
What Is The Process?
Benson believes that people should process as much pain as they can while maintaining a balance, so that they can get full access to their potential. In his practice, Benson follows parallel processing of functionality, optimization, and self-actualization for the short term and long term, where he incorporates the NASRI model – Notice, Accept, Sit, Respect, and Integrate. He takes us through each step of the process and emphasizes that NASRI is not an instructional-based model, but something that the client molds for themselves. The goal is to understand ‘how to address and receive the defenses’ while processing what’s behind the defense.
Impact of Benson’s Orthodox Jewish Background on His Work and Perspective
Benson’s Jewish background gives him confidence and trust in his process. His view of the world through the physical dimension of action and spiritual dimension of mindset, and the belief that we live in both at the same time allow him peace and confidence as a professional that people will be taken care of, but at the same time, helping as many people as he can.
My name is Benson Fox, and I am an experienced and certified transformation coach and crisis counselor. I’m a major in psychology from Touro College and currently a doctoral student in Psychology at Adelphi University and a therapist extern at Brooklyn College. I help men and teens looking to gain balance, harmony, and joy in their personal and professional lives.
Resources and links:
Listen to “176: Trauma Sensitive Sex – Cass Biron” on Spreaker.
Trauma Sensitive Sex
Today’s episode covers trauma and how it can obstruct our ability to connect our body and arousal to our emotional and social being, and later obstruct the way of connecting intimately with our partner. Cass Biron talks about the structure and ways people can approach this and overcome the struggle by integrating play and flexibility with their partner.
Cass’s Entry Into This Line of Work
Cass’s interest in this line of work stemmed from a young age of asking questions about how bodies work. She later enrolled in the Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy training in New York City and first heard about the vagus nerve and Polyvagal Theory. She dove deep into understanding the interaction between the different states of the nervous system present during sex and how they play a role in enabling richer sex lives and relationships.
Polyvagal Ladder by Dep Dana
Cass explains the model of Polyvagal Ladder by Dep Dana which consists of a top head region where all the social and emotional connections originate. It involves reading facial cues to detect the inner feelings of a person and is especially present during sex. It functions as non-verbal cues that help strengthen the connection and intimacy between the partners. Lower down is the fight or flight area of the torso where our energy is stored. Cass explains the fight or flight function that causes the increase of blood flow, higher heart rate, and heavy synchronized breathing. The bottom of the ladder is the freeze response resting in our genitals between our hips. Cass says it’s present in bodies with a vulva as it facilitates the freeze response that happens with orgasm. However, men have a “jerky kind of orgasm”.
During any sexual encounter or orgasm, we’re in all three states at the same time. Sometimes sex starts from the bottom up and vice versa. Cass talks about identifying physical health through our ability to orgasm by quoting Laura Geiger. She says it’s because we can identify the part of the nervous system that’s having trouble connecting during sex.
Where Does Trauma Show Up In This Picture?
Trauma is held in our physical form and it shows up differently for everyone during sex. Cass says it takes understanding and recognition of how and where we’re holding that stress and tension and pinpointing the occasions that trauma shows up. It takes awareness to incorporate trauma-sensitive sex. Trauma-sensitive sex is about integrating that knowledge about your body into your sex life. To be trauma-sensitive, according to Cass, is understanding your trauma and your partner’s trauma and using that knowledge to build a foundation of communication, consent, and trust. It’s a habit that needs to be circled back every time. She challenges the norm of the “top-down” process by explaining how bottom-down can be just as powerful. Masturbation and sex with yourself can be used as a tool to move through trauma.
Cass talks about mindful masturbation as a tool to release trauma from your body. She talks about “Masturbation bingo” to help them challenge the ways they think about sex. She suggests picking the video of something you’ve never watched before and suggests deciding on the setting of the room. She starts by having them write down their intentions before beginning. By changing up the routine they’ve built for themselves, they can shift the trauma that’s settled in the muscles of their body to loosen up.
Mindful masturbation teaches the three states of our nervous system to awaken and welcome pleasure rather than reject it. She talks about the challenging experiences people face during this exercise but also talks about how to train your mind to remind you of the present to keep you grounded. It’s about training your nervous system to integrate and work together.
Cass suggests playing as a medium to build a space filled with curiosity and without judgment. Play is the time when our nervous systems are trying to integrate and sync with each other, as well as with our partners’ nervous systems. It facilitates a social-emotional connection between people. Cass urges people to incorporate seduction and flirting into any sort of play. She says play doesn’t have to be something typical, you can introduce seduction into cooking or playing UNO, or getting ready with your partner. The friendly banter and suggestive flirting can in everyday tasks can be play, it’s about understanding what seduction looks like for you and where you want to incorporate it in your day.
Playing outside the bedroom is crucial to building the rapport between partners to handle stressful situations calmly. When something goes wrong in the play, you don’t escalate the situation because it’s just a game. It can be transferred into the bedroom play, says Cass.
Gay Community Expands The Binary Thinking of Sex and Sexuality
Cass takes Alok Menon, a gay writer, artist, performer, and designer as an inspiration to model the expansion of binary thinking of masculine and feminine that limits how we express sexuality. She talks about the challenges that love between couples outside the bedroom has been taken outside the box and how that can be incorporated into people’s sex lives. The act of “penis-vagina sex” confines sex into a box of social conformity and restricts the freedom to be creative in the way we can have sex. She calls on people to examine the ways we used to relate sex to HIV or used to determine our bodies as “gross” because that’s when we learn how these ideas can originate and take root in society. Having been told that the rights to her body were not hers being a catholic, she fights to break the limitations set on having spiritually free and amazing sex.
Cass Biron is a clinician and a sex educator offering parenting workshops and trauma-sensitive sex workshops for universities and organizations. She works within a pediatric clinic that serves families and children within the foster care system in Queens, NY where she works in a behavioral health team offering expertise on sexuality development, puberty, and how to support children with a high ACE score.
A former sexual health educator, Cass received her Masters in Social Work from the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College. While extensively trained in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), Cass incorporates somatic theories, the polyvagal theory, art activities, and movement therapies to provide each client with tools for coping and thriving.
Cass wants to bring trauma-sensitive sex to all of her clients, as the sexual life and development of each person is to be of great value and supported throughout the entire life course.
Resources and Links:
Training video – https://jessazimmerman.mykajabi.com/video-choice
Sex Health Quiz – https://www.sexhealthquiz.com
The Course – https://www.intimacywithease.com
The Book – https://www.sexwithoutstress.com
Access the Free webinar: https://www.intimacywithease.com/masterclass
Listen to “148: [Personal Story] A Triggered Life – Alba” on Spreaker.
A Triggered Life
Alba Soto is my guest on this episode. She shares her ‘triggered life’ experience, which still haunts her today. Her trauma began at the age of 3 at the hand of family members. Alba shares her addiction to masturbation as a coping mechanism which fueled her sense of guilt.
She shares how she managed to escape this life and the twist of events that led her abusers back to her. People pleasing was Alba’s symptom of her trauma, always aiming to be a ‘good girl.’
In an eye opening observation, Alba explains that trauma is the gateway drug to addiction and that any form of addiction is a coping tool. Her journey progresses into adolescence and adulthood, where she found herself in similar situations even in her personal relationships, being raped and involved with toxic partners.
Not knowing who she really was, was a huge obstacle in finding her confidence and with the help of her now husband, Alba reveals how he played a role in helping her find herself and express her emotions and thoughts openly in a safe place. When she experiences a ‘ triggering’ moment, Alba is now comfortable enough to talk about it and this, she shares is a liberating tool.
Alba currently still experiences trauma triggers and reveals how powerful having a voice is when she experiences these triggers.
Alba Soto is the founder of Alba Soto TLC. She is a positive and resilient trauma survivor, dedicated to helping single mothers who have suffered from sexual trauma.
As a certified trauma life coach, Alba helps single mothers get unstuck by applying her unique principles of active healing. Through personal experience she has learned that ” Without tools, Trauma Rules.” This is what led her to share the tools that turned her from accepting people who took advantage of her to now only accepting healthy and reciprocal relationships.
These tools facilitate active healing and help women find their voice and reclaim their power.
Albas vision is to create a community of resilient women through my sisters circle community, ” Better TogetHER,” a sacred space to connect with other like spirited resilient women who are ready to move towards a life that is free of shame, guilt and anger.
Links and Resources