Awards Luncheon Plenary | Saturday, June 15, 2019
Sexual Health in Body, Mind and Spirit: The Wide-Spectrum Healing Power of Pleasure
Presented by: Stella Resnick, PhD, CST, CSTS
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.
Stella Resnick, PhD has been a leading pioneer putting the body and pleasure back into sex and sex therapy. She started as a body-centered Gestalt therapist focused on sexual self-discovery and on writing magazine articles on sexuality as a core attribute of personal well-being. One article, the cover story for New Age Magazine, The Erotic Lifestyle: Being Turned On, came to the attention of the director of Sandstone Retreat, a clothing-optional, open-sexuality resort center in Topanga Canyon, CA. Stella was invited to lead a seminar for couples exploring open sexual relationships. After a year of running clothing optional workshops there, all on sexual pleasure and the emotional challenges of these early sexual adventurers, Stella was invited to live at Sandstone as the acting director of the Sandstone growth center where she remained, learning a great deal, until Sandstone closed. Stella joined AASECT and SSSS in the early 80’s, giving many presentations at annual conferences, becoming an AASECT certified Sex Therapist, Supervisor, and CE Provider. During these early years of the AIDS epidemic much of the focus on sexuality and practice of sex therapy emphasized the dangers and pathological aspects of sex, and treatment was traditionally a cognitive-behavioral approach. Her article for the SIECUS Report, Sexual Pleasure: The Next Frontier in the Study of Sexuality (2002) challenged that mindset. Stella’s work integrates talk therapy with present-centered experiential processing, body and breath awareness, and recognition of neurobiological and embodied relational triggers. Stella received her PhD in Clinical Psychology at Indiana University, was an assistant professor of psychology at San Diego State and San Jose State in California, and has written three books—her pleasure trilogy. Her latest book is Body-to-Body Intimacy: Transformation through Love, Sex, and Neurobiology (2019). Stella trains, supervises and mentors therapists in her Embodied Relational Sex Therapy™ (ERST) approach. She can be reached at email@example.com.