EP #6 - Overcoming Vaginismus, with Katrin with Love - Part 1 (NPLB Podcast)

Katrin, a vaginismus expert, and Rachel discuss how fear and subconscious beliefs create resentment and trigger the nervous system to protect you in unexpected ways.

Katrin is an expert in self-care. After spending 7 years with vaginismus (a body response that makes vaginal penetration nearly impossible), she now helps vulva owners overcome vaginismus. To put vaginismus in her past, Katrin had to find safety in her body and surrender to the unknown. It wasn't easy. Along the way, she developed techniques that help vulva owners conquer vaginismus and renew trust in their own bodies.

Want to know more about Katrin?

IG: @pain.free.and.intimate

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Rachel: Hello, Peaches. Hi, and welcome to No Peach Left Behind. We're here today with Katrin with Love, who's here to talk to us about vaginismus and how to live pain free and have happy sex. Can I say that? Have happy sex? 

Katrin: Totally, yes.

Rachel: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Katrin: Sure thing. My name's Katrin. I live in Toronto, in Canada. I was born in Bulgaria, in Europe. I moved to Canada when I was nine. So hanging out here with my parents and my older sister and my little nephew, which has been really exciting in our lives. And yeah, life's journey kind of took me on an odd path, one that's more popular than many of us realize, on the experience of painful sex. It's not the thing that you wish would happen to you, of course, as any other challenge in life. But it has really took an interesting turn in my professional life and deciding to guide people through the experience of overcoming vaginismus. That word that sounds like Christmas, that I like to say when I introduce it to people who have no idea what it is. 

Rachel: Sounds like so happy. But. 

Katrin: It's a surprise present that you don't necessarily want.

Rachel: Yeah, it's like those socks that you didn't ask for, but you're going to wear them anyway.

Katrin: Exactly. Exactly. So, yeah. Now I, after having overcome vaginismus myself in a pretty long journey of six years, although not the longest out there, unfortunately, I'm really now passionate about helping other people avoid all of the mistakes that I made and all of the pain that I felt that was unnecessary and only made my life worse. So that's a bit about me.

Rachel: Yeah, that was great. That's a lovely intro. I'm hoping that this will go viral and then everybody will get to hear, you know, about vaginismus and how we can make people's lives a little bit better or people can make their own lives a little bit better. But just for people who don't actually know what vaginismus is, right, like this is the first time ever hearing about it. How would you describe it?

Katrin: Well, so many different ways. One thing I like to say is that it's almost like a panic attack in your vagina, in most simple terms. And it is the involuntary contraction of the pelvic floor in anticipation of penetration or in the attempt of penetration. So essentially, you have your pelvic floor muscles having a mind of their own where they may contract and tighten so much so creating essentially a wall at the entrance of the vaginal opening, making penetration either impossible, where no finger, tampon, penis, sex toy could enter. Or if it is possible, in any way, shape or form, it's extremely, extremely painful. I recently saw a post on Instagram that said "if 2020 was a sex toy" and it had a cheese grater in the shape of a penis illustrated in the picture, and I'm like, yep, now people know what vaginismus feels like.

Rachel: Oh my god, vaginismus feels like 2020. Ok, that is a very vivid image. Oh my God, I was thinking about this because obviously I was researching a little bit and reading about you and stuff, and I was thinking about how, I sound like a hypochondriac, but I feel like it's something that I could have because I I've never had sex. I'm still a virgin and so I've never tried to, like, really put anything up there, my mom is a Hispanic Dominican woman. They don't believe in, like putting tampons in unless you start having sex. Like, they just think that like any kind of penetration before you get married and have sex is just bad for some reason. At least that's what she taught me. So I wasn't taught to wear tampons. So I never did that. 

I tried, a few months ago actually, to wear a menstrual cup because I was like, oh, trying to be eco-friendly and it's a little cheaper in the long run, you know, reusable and sustainable. And I tried to put this thing up there and I could not get it up there. I don't know. I didn't know how to do it right. Like, I watch some videos about it. And of course, people are always talking about like, oh, you know, because it's such a weird different thing that, yeah, it's really hard sometimes at first. You have to try a few times and try different brands and stuff to get it up there, and I was just like, oh, I could not get it, like, I could not get it past, like the little little, like little bit of the entrance. Just like a little bit and then like the rest of the thing was just nah. So I kind of gave up on that. And I was like, okay, maybe I just it was just too big. Maybe the cup was too big and like, the silicone was just like really kind of hard and just too inflexible, you know, like and I have never put anything up there. So maybe that's, that's why. But then after reading all this stuff about vaginismus, I was like, I mean, I could have it. And I just wouldn't know, like, how would you know if you had it without actually having sex or anything?

Katrin: Well, first, sorry that you had that experience. And was it painful? Would be my question. Was it painful trying to put it in there or was it an experience of tightness but a neutral feeling?

Rachel: Definitely tightness, and it must have been a little bit painful, I think, because I only tried once to put it up there. You know, I tried like for five minutes or so and then I just gave up on it. So I think it might have been a little bit painful, but I just thought, like, oh, this is just the wrong cup for me.

Katrin: Yeah, well, it's very possible that you're not experiencing vaginismus. And of course it's possible that you are. But I just want to create, you know, this hope that you're not, because using a menstrual cup is definitely a advanced level task for most people, even people who don't experience vaginismus or any pain with sex, they might struggle with it and getting their fingers up there as opposed to sliding in almost like a tampon sized thing. But you you asked about whether there are some telltale signs of whether you're experiencing vaginismus.

Katrin: And often for people, it is that first experience of using tampons that just doesn't go the way that they imagined. And for many of us, that is the experience of a full out wall where people might wonder, you know, do I have a vaginal opening? Like, is there even an opening there? So that wasn't your case, it seems like. And then the other aspect of it could be seeing that there is a stabbing or burning pain as you try to insert anything. So those are kind of some of the symptoms. Some people experience a red flag for the first time in their life at a pelvic exam. So like a pap smear test. So that's where they might bump heads with the challenge for the first time. 

Rachel: Yes, I do remember my first pap smear was like traumatic. I'm not going to lie. I did in my mind compare it to being raped a little bit, even though it wasn't anything like that. Obviously totally voluntary medical procedure and super cool. Very cool, Doctor. But it does feel like really, really violating to have someone who likes to stick just sticks their finger up in you when you're not aroused or like in the right context or in the right mood at all.

Katrin: Totally. I can so relate to that. And it does, in fact create a traumatic experience in a nervous system, because trauma really is anything that the body perceives to be dangerous. It is anything that is less than nurturing in our system and anything has the potential to be traumatic. It's all about how we perceive it, right? Not so much about the act or the intention of the act. So for the nervous system, that finger going up in your vaginal opening at a time when you're not expecting it, you're not sexually aroused, which means your actual nervous system, your body had no idea there's something coming. I really like explaining the whole role of the cervix and penetration because the cervix moves up and down during her menstrual cycle, but also during sexual arousal. The brain tells the cervix like, hey, we're about to have some guests up in here. Can you move up and out of the way and make space for that penetration? And that's just not something that happens at a doctor's office.

Rachel: It all makes sense. Now, I actually learned that really, really recently, though, about how your cervix moves up and down. And it was because I watched one of those videos about the menstrual cup to learn how to put it in. But I don't think that's something they ever mentioned to me at school, because I remember I was shocked. I was like, what do you mean? Stuff like in there just moves around depending on your cycle?

Katrin: I had no idea also. And only after going through my own stuff, my healing journey and understanding the anatomy and such outside of the public education system is when I realized, OK, well, this is actually pretty intelligent how our body works. And ever since with people that I've talked to in consultations and working together, there have been maybe one or two of us that knew this from their own experience, it's just that our schooling doesn't go into the details as much as we would hope it does.

Rachel: Yeah, and it's it seems like it's pretty relevant, you know, it's not one of those things that only happens to a select few people. It's like every woman experiences that. So it's like, why wouldn't you mention it? I don't know. There's so many things about our education system, that could be a whole new podcast honestly. 

Katrin: And also the pap smear exam in itself and the way the medical professionals approach it. Because the top priority in my mind and our experience of a pap smear is for us to feel safe in what is about to happen and for us to actually have an expectation of, OK, when is my vaginal opening going to be touched as opposed to having that speedy like a ramping up of the finger or the instrument, that's used.

Rachel: Where they're like, "oh, it's just two seconds. Don't worry, just don't tense up." As soon as you say don't tense up, I'm gonna tense up because I'm like, oh, shit, something's going to happen.

Katrin: Exactly. And also our subconscious mind, it actually doesn't register any negatives. So if you say don't tense up, all it hears is actually tense up. That's why I like as a little tip I give people in the way to use this in their daily lives.

Katrin: When someone says thank you to you, instead of saying no worries or no problem, because the subconscious mind would actually register problem, worries, like you know, alarm system going off, to say you're welcome instead.

Rachel: Oh, that's a good tip for me because I really like to say no worries. And it's good to hear that because it's true like sometimes I'll say it and people will repeat it back to me. You're like, oh yeah, no worries. Because they're like surprised that I said, I'm like yeah, no, no worries?

Rachel: Now I'm like, OK, maybe I shouldn't have said that. Maybe they're so conscious of like this sounds like a problem. No. But it's funny that you would mention that about how the subconscious doesn't register negatives, because I was watching a, I'm getting really into tiktok. And there is this one video by this like schoolteacher. I think she's like a pre-K or kindergarten teacher. And she was talking about that, how she's like, oh, you know, when parents are trying to stop their kids from doing things, doing bad things like don't get on the table, they'll say don't be on the table, like stop or whatever. And then kids, because they're just like little ids. They're little you know, like their subconscious rules your life basically, you know, they don't have any controls in place yet. Yeah. She said for them, like they just hear that is like if you're saying don't jump on the table to hear like jump on the table, they continue to do what they're doing. So she's like, oh, the best thing you can do is just tell them exactly what you want them to do, just say "feet on the floor. Now." Like, no negative, just like this is what I need you to do right this second. And that's more likely to get through to them. And yes, it's crazy that you would mention that, because I literally just heard that idea the other day and I didn't connect it to adults or anything. I just thought like, oh kids.

Katrin: I guess we're all kids at heart and we forever remain kids, hey? 

Rachel: Yeah.

Katrin: But it's very cool that that's applicable to parenting and how to be a good parent, how to be an effective parent.

Rachel: Yeah. 

Katrin: I wanted to ask you, you mentioned you haven't had sex before, and I just want to deconstruct that a little and ask you about your experience. Have you had intimate touch before? Have you had, like, sexual arousal before in your life?

Rachel: I haven't with a partner, yeah. I haven't had a partner that I've been like, you know, intimate with or tried to do anything with. Just me myself in my bedroom, you know?

Katrin: Yep, got it. Well, most of us often, you know, we say, you know, I can't have sex, especially those experiencing vaginismus, or in your case, you know haven't had sex and you haven't had partnered sex, but you have had solo sex, which is beautiful in itself. And for anyone listening who's experiencing vaginismus. It's important for us to know that we can have sex. We just can't have penetrative sex just yet. And that is one form of sex.

Katrin: So you're seeing it from your perspective, opens up a lot of doors for the potential and recognizing that ability in your body that you are having sex, you're just not having one sliver of what sex is just yet.

Rachel: I love that idea. Love that you said that. As somebody who hasn't, you know, tried to do that yet. It is true that you kind of get stuck in thinking that penis in vagina is the only kind of sex. But, yeah, there's all the other stuff. There's oral sex and just intimate touching, like you said before, is also part of the sexual act. Right. And just making out can be sexy and sexual as well, depending on how you do it. Totally. I think that's a really interesting point. I'd like to think that, too, like I do, of course, masturbate, as people do. And so I do feel like maybe I haven't had sex with a partner yet. I do feel like that is within my realm of possibility. It's just not something that I've honestly put any effort into doing with someone else. 

Katrin: Yeah, and that's really beautiful. It's that social construct as well of what does it mean to be a virgin like virginity in itself is a social construct that we've created to tie it directly to this, you know, what's it called, home run of PIV sex. But there's so much more in enjoying the process leading up to that. That is all part of losing the virginity. 

Rachel: Yeah, there's people who've, like, literally done everything else, you know, except the P in V and they still consider themselves virgins. And I was like, you've done more than I have. How can we be on the same level? It's just interesting. You're right, social construct.

Katrin: Totally is, yeah.

Rachel: Since we're on this topic, sort of, masturbation and, like, pleasuring yourself. I know I read on your blog that you talk a little bit about self-pleasure and how that's an important part of the healing process if you are going through vaginismus. Do you mind sharing a little bit about how that worked out for you? Because I know… well, I don't know anything, so let's just go with that.  

Katrin: Of course, any topic is on the table. Sharing these vulnerable aspects that we consider to be taboo in our society is really helpful in normalizing pleasure, because pleasure is a beautiful part of our human experience and we need to self-pleasure more in order to have that full palette of potential of pleasure that we have, of course, only if we want to. 

And the challenge with many people experiencing vaginismus in particular, is that they, and I, have grown up in shaming culture or perhaps family system that created this negative connotation to what pleasure is and that it is not to be celebrated. Perhaps there is timing rules as to when it should be had, for example, after marriage with people's religious belief systems and any of their choices in life. And that's also fantastic as long as, you know, it isn't living in this shame and embarrassment around our bodies. I've shared this in, on Instagram and also in some of the work that I do with people and sharing the story is that through certain emotional healing processes that I guide people through, I actually remembered an in depth memory that I had that I never actually remembered in my conscious mind before.

Because before I remembered this memory, I didn't know why every time I would go to self-pleasure in my teens, you know, growing up in life, I would have this desire to do it quickly and I would have a shame emotion associated with it, rushing through the process mostly for a stress relief as opposed to something to savor, something to enjoy. Something to take my time with and I also had an aversion of touching my vulva with my bare hands, like my fingers. It would often be self-pleasuring through my clothes, which was a whole other layer of shame and embarrassment and non-acceptance of my body. And that really is the case for so many of us. But this memory that I remembered was me five or six years old in the living room of my grandparents’ place in Bulgaria where I was born, and I was playing with my toys in front of me, sitting cross-legged on the floor, and I was playing with my clitoris as well. It was the very first time, I imagine, in this memory and the way that I perceived it, that I discovered my clitoris. 

And then my grandpa walks in the room and he looks at me. And of course, I absolutely love, honor my grandpa. He's such a fantastic figure in my life. But in a more so of a commanding tone of voice, he says "don't touch there.And so, of course, at that point in life where absolutely everything we experience in our external environment, anything we hear, it all gets registered as a way of being in our subconscious mind, a little black box that's on record mode, right. It's recording how to be in the world. What are the keys to success? 

Rachel: Right. How to be a person, yeah.

Katrin: And I recorded, you know, don't touch your clitoris. Your private parts are not to be touched, not to be talked about because, you know, he put it as don't touch "there". There was no vocabulary around our anatomy as well, which is quite unfortunate for many people growing up in this sort of black hole of what is between our legs. That I was a contributing factor to why my self pleasure experience was very, very limited until I engaged in the healing journey emotionally of overcoming prejudices.

Rachel: I can relate a lot to that because I don't remember like an explicit, you know, memory of anything somebody told me, like to stop touching yourself, but I definitely had that feeling growing up, like it's shameful to touch yourself down there. It's just not appropriate, even if it's just you by yourself in your room, you know, like your own body is off limits to you for some reason. It's crazy. I was reading this article the other day about how they call it genital play. Like genital exploration is actually a very common and normal part of a kid's development. That's something kids do, like touch themselves. They'll look at each other's private parts because they're curious. When you're a kid, you're like a tiny little scientist because you're trying to discover how to be a person, like you said. So it's very normal to do that. And like you said, and I think a lot of kids have that experience where their parents because they're adults. Right. And it's like a different thing for them. They're not curious about that place anymore.

Rachel: They know what's up there. They know what's going on. They know how to use it. And they they have a totally different context for it. So for them, they feel super uncomfortable watching their innocent child who they don't associate with, like sex and eroticism, touching themselves down there. But the child gets the message of like, don't touch there. That's that's a no no place. Like, just pretend it doesn't exist because it's not for you, even though it's a part of you. Like, it doesn't make sense.

Katrin: Yeah. And it's also called a different term than it's accurate terminology. So often parents would call it a peepee, the penis, or the vulva, like, you know, whatever weewee or whatever they choose that sounds nice and cute. Right? And the child actually grows up thinking that is the word for their genitals. And then one day they go to school probably in grade four or five, and they learn the real word for that part of themselves. And they're like, oh, why don't my parent do that? Like, were they embarrassed to tell me what it's called? Because, you know, they told me my fingers are my fingers and that was accurate. That remained accurate. But this is like, oh, my God, mind blown.

Rachel: Right, it's like disassociating that whole body part from who you are, right? Like you said, you learn it's a different word, this word that nobody in your family or anybody wants to say around you. So, yeah. You think this is, this is bad? Basically. 

Katrin: I was just exploring this as well as someone I talked to earlier today, and we were talking about the difference between the genitals of penis owners and vulva owners. Where for a little boy, he's actually used to seeing his penis when he looks down at his body. And as he grows up, he's also getting used to holding his penis to pee. Right. And so there is a very direct, healthy relationship being formed for a man and he is junk. That doesn't quite exist for a woman, unfortunately, you know, for a vulva owner, because it's out of sight, first of all. 

Rachel: I 100 percent agree with you. And and as somebody who grew up with two older brothers, I always felt like that divide between the male and female. I always felt like they got to be more themselves than I did in a way, you know, because they they didn't have that kind of restriction, like bodily restrictions, for one. And then, like, you know, all the other shit, like they get to go out after dark and shit like that.

Katrin: Mmhmm, yeah that too. 

Rachel: It's crazy to think that as a woman, female, you're not encouraged to touch yourself. Right? But guys, they can't not touch themselves. So it's like a totally different dynamic for them, even if they don't associate they're like peepee with sex at first, eventually they're more comfortable, even with the idea of it being for something else. You have an easier transition than like a female who's just only known it as the place where I pee, then all of a sudden it's like, oh, actually, you can have orgasms and it's really great. And you're like, what? Like that's the same place?

Katrin: Yeah, exactly. And also the masturbation dynamics between penis owners and the owners is very, very different. Where I remember in high school, it kind of became a normal thing for guys to kind of tease each other about how often they masturbate or whatever, or even like a guy in my high school going to the washroom really often during class, people kind of like make little jokes, like, what is he doing in there?

Rachel: Oh, my God, no. Even just guys scratching themselves because, you know, you get itchy down there because it gets sweaty and stuff. Guys can scratch themselves all day long and it's just like, oh, that's just a boy being a boy. God forbid a girl even like puts our hand near her privates. It's like immediately like, " (gasp) What is she doing!?"

Katrin: Yeah and it's so unfortunate that this too creates a resentment in our nervous system, often, of being born with a vulva. And that was definitely the case for me as well. Part of my story is that my parents shared with me at one point in my life - when I was a teenager so, you know, more ideally to receive this appropriately - is they said, you know, we actually thought you were going to be a boy when you were being born because the doctor told us that we're expecting a boy. He kind of made a mistake as to what it is. And so they had a name picked out. My name was going to be Alex. 

And hearing that was kind of like, oh, because they also mentioned, you know, I have an older sister and they mentioned "it would have been nice to have a boy and a girl. But, you know, we're very happy with two girls as well" in the most loving way possible. But, of course, you know, little me and my nervous system was like, oh, well did they want a boy? Like maybe they didn't want a second girl. And then there was this little seed planted of resentment of the feminine, which led to more disassociation from my body and even wanting to kind of do boyish things like dress like a tomboy, which was part of my childhood, too.

Rachel: It's true. I mean, any tomboy is definitely trying to take, like, some of that power that guys seem to have and take it and use it for themselves, right, because guys have just a little bit more freedom, especially when you're a kid. But that's so interesting because you made me think about this thing that I think about a lot now actually. That like the people closest to you can hurt the most. The people who love you the most will hurt you the most because they don't censor themselves as much when they're around you, when they're talking to you. Right. Because you know, you're comfortable with each other because you love each other. But then, like, they'll say things like that. Right. And it's like off the cuff, but it gets you thinking and it's, it plants a seed like you said.

Katrin: Yeah, it really goes deep. And that's why when approaching vaginismus, for example, it's so important to also include the emotional healing journey in the process, not only with approaching it, with, you know, let's stretch out my muscles and make sure I can be penetrated.

Katrin: It's a lot more with healing from certain things in life that maybe created a resentment of the feminine or very often in our cases is fear of the masculine for one reason or another, whether your parents fought a lot as a child and you kind of had one example of a man in your life, be potentially a source of fear for you in some way or a source of confusion as to whether this person can be trusted or not. And then you grow up, you meet your partner, the love of your life and your conscious mind is like, I absolutely trust this guy.I love him so much. I want to be with him forever. And of course, I want to surrender to him. Or if it's a woman at the same time as the partner you might have this association with, I absolutely love her. I want her in my life. I'm so comfortable with her, etc..

Katrin: But your nervous system might have that fear of that particular sex registered in your subconscious mind. And that's where things can go south and can be really, really confusing to uncouple that difference between the conscious mind's desires and the truths that we hold within deeper parts of ourselves.

Rachel: Yeah, that makes perfect sense, because at least for me, growing up, I got the message a lot that, you know, men are not as safe, they're not safe. They can take advantage of you if you're not careful around them, if you give them an opening, you know they'll take it. They can't control themselves. Like, you know, you get that message a lot, especially as a female, where it's like you have to be the one who's like the gatekeeper of your vulva and stuff like you have to be the one who protects yourself, because if you give them even an inch, they are going to take a mile. 

Rachel: And it makes me wonder even more like how many women experience, like vaginismus and similar things like that, because that messaging is just so pervasive. Like it's not just my parents who say things like that. Right. Like I see it in TV all the time, like the the woman who's walking in the park at night who gets raped, you know, "oh, she shouldn't have been doing that. That wasn't very smart." Like, you know, like all that stuff they've built on, even if, you know, consciously, like, that's not logical. And like, you know, the odds of these things happening are like, you know, it's not your fault. That person, he, you know, had his own intentions. That's on him. But even if you know that consciously. Yeah. Subconsciously it does sink in and it does build that kind of fear.

Katrin: Yeah. We, we've literally been steeped in a society built on fear, unfortunately, and and also for reasons that can be perceived as good reasons by the people in our lives who've created those kinds of rules because, of course, with good intentions, they want to keep us safe because they have the belief that men are dangerous. Right. That limitation gets taken down from generation to generation to generation, and it gets passed down to all the women and all the men in the unique challenges that they experience. And it's up to us to break the cycle, is to do that in our work, that self-development and then to, you know, raise the next generation that isn't living in fear anymore.

Rachel: Yeah, it's hard, though, to draw the line, right, because I forget the statistic that, like a lot of rape is like acquaintance rape. You know, it's like somebody that you knew, somebody that had a chance to get close to you, you know, took advantage. And I do remember growing up my mom, I think she like read in an article or like on the news or something she heard something about an uncle who, like, take advantage of his niece. From then on, she, like, told me, like, if I leave you in the house alone for like five minutes because I went shopping or something or like, you know, just if you're, like, alone in the house, like don't open the door even if you see, like, your uncle or or somebody like, you know, right? Like even if it's man that, you know, like, don't open the door for him. You know, if I'm not there, if your dad's not there, your brother's not there, you know, and that that does build, right? That kind of feeling, that's like I can't even trust the people who I care about. Which is, like you said, when you have your partner, that you fall in love with you, the subconscious is still there, right? Because you learned, like, even the people that you love will hurt you.

Katrin: True. I have never thought about it this way. That's a fantastic point. Yeah. Even the people close to you can hurt you. And maybe you even have had experiences with past partners hurting you. But yeah, a really good parallel between the two.

Rachel: It's shitty, though, because it's like something that's so hard to deconstruct. Right. And all the inner work that you have to do to to get your walls down and to reprogram your brain, it is possible to get hurt. But, you know, it's also possible to have a really wonderful relationship. And you need to open up and take that risk and be willing to be there, to be present.

Katrin: Yeah, I guess it's almost like assume people are innocent until they are proven guilty. Yet in that assumption that they're innocent. You also want to make sure you yourself are balanced and feeling safe in your body and in your environment. So definitely really hard to draw the line and find that balance.

Rachel: Yeah so there's not... and I can only think about like how frustrated I am now. About how I was raised, but I have more questions.

Katrin: The frustration is real, isn't it? 

Rachel: It's just so much it can be a little bit overwhelming to think about sometimes, because when you're going through your daily life, you're just chilling. You're just doing what you do. But when you sit down and actually think about like all of the garbage that has been dumped on you your whole life, you know, all the things you took in, because when you were a kid, you just take in, you just take things in, right. You don't have a filter. You don't have... You don't really have a world view or anything. You don't have anything. You know, you're building it. So you're taking in everything, everything, everything that people are giving you.

Rachel: And then when you end up at this place where you're now an adult and you can think for yourself, you're stuck with all of this baggage that you have to wade through in order to find the little nuggets of goodness and things that you actually want to keep and live by, that it's all buried down in you. And that is so frustrating. And and I recently actually started going to therapy a few months ago because, like I said, I studied psychology. So I was open to the idea. And then I just eventually was like, you know, when I'm getting to a point where, like, I really don't know what to do with myself, you know, like I mean, I think a lot about these things. I think about my experiences and stuff. But I honestly know that I can't do this by myself. You know, it's very hard to do by yourself. And I know that you went to therapy, right, for the vaginismus. How did you feel about the experience? Like how did you think it helped you with your trauma and in overcoming vaginismus?

Katrin: So I went to a sex therapist for three or four appointments and I got a lot out of it in a particular way that I'll explain that it was funny that we were able to actually get benefits through my boyfriend's parents at the time. They were so supportive and beautifully allowed that sort of support with professional help. And thankfully, I went to a sex therapist, was actually the first person to mention the word vaginismus and confirm all of the research that I had done so far and Googling it in the middle of the night, trying to find answers. She confirmed. She said, you know, that's probably what you're experiencing, because my family doctor at the time didn't know about vaginismus. And then the gynaecologist told me everything looks fine, like there's nothing to worry about. And she also didn't mention vaginismus. So I went through first being given the professional recommendation to just wait at 18 years old because my body must not be ready for penetrative sex yet. 

Rachel: Right. Because that's a thing.

Katrin: Right. At eighteen. I went back to the same family doctor a few months later, putting my foot down and being like, OK, it seems like you don't, you know, you told me to wait, but I would really like a requisition to a gynaecologist. So has he issued that he also gave me another professional medical recommendation to just have some wine and relax, as unfortunately so many women hear from the first line worker. You know, the first medical professional they see. And then unfortunately, they give up at that point because we start to believe, like, oh, well, is the pain really in my head? This person who knows all about our bodies, our anatomy, is telling me the pain is in my head. So maybe it really is and all those doubts settle in. But this leads me to how I get to see a sex therapist.

Katrin: And I believe that there are fantastic people out there, therapists who can help in many different ways in unpacking some of that emotional pollution that we carry in our bodies in different ways. And so talk therapy can be really effective for people. For me, I remember feeling really frustrated at my sex therapy appointments, largely because I was probably not quite ready to deal with some of the things in my life around the shame that I had around self pleasure, for one. That was one topic I remember the sex therapist wanted to dig into quite a lot and understand why is it that I had shame around touching my body and I just didn't know I didn't have all the answers at that point and probably still don't.

Katrin: But at that point I had only started to think about the root cause of my experience of vaginismus. And so I remember feeling frustrated that she was trying to find all the reasons that would explain how broken I was. And so, you know, at any point where somebody experiencing therapy might be feeling any sort of condescending tone or lack of support or understanding, it really is a red flag to reconsider your options and find the help of someone who can truly be there in a compassionate and understanding way. That could be a good listener and, you know, I understand part of a therapist's role might be to push some buttons to really create that in-depth exploration, but for me at that point, I guess I wasn't ready for it. And so I stopped going to sex therapy after those few sessions. The wonderful thing about that is that she gave me a little bit of guidance on dilating and she explained how dilating works or at least part of how it works. She gave me a two pager on instructions on how to put dilators in, start with the smallest one and then move up in size. But unfortunately, we didn't explore the realm of creating safety in the nervous system. So that's kind of where my slew of mistakes came in with causing myself a lot of unnecessary pain, and not quite approaching dilating in the way that it's best to be approached. But yeah, talk therapy, fantastic for a lot of people. And I think there is a lot of room for growth with that kind of work. Of course, it is conscious therapy very often. Some wonderful practices on the body can be introduced and it is talking between conscious mind to conscious mind. And I find a lot of value with working with the subconscious mind and in the nervous system and creating that sense of safety.

Rachel: So how would you work with the subconscious mind then?

Katrin: There are some processes called subconscious belief programming or subconscious belief change processes, and it is essentially working on a deeper level in a bit of a meditative state. It's not hypnosis. It is a body of work that Bruce Lipton is a big advocate of. I don't know if you've heard of him before, but he is essentially the man behind the biology of belief, explaining how is it that our cells interact with each other in responding to the external environment and then making a really interesting tie between that and the role of our subconscious beliefs in our life. Our conscious mind is responsible for five percent of our behavior and our subconscious mind is responsible for 95 percent. So engaging in that kind of work, we're really able to tap into those deep layers of the iceberg that live beneath the surface that aren't quite as attainable.

Rachel: I guess that makes sense, especially when it comes to sex and pleasure. It's a visceral thing or it's something that you embody. It's not really something you can think about. And does surrogate partner therapy fall within that realm then,

Rachel: It's like you are with this surrogate partner and you're kind of acting out sexual experiences or sexual situations, in order to become more comfortable with them.

Katrin: Yeah, yeah. So great question about surrogate partner therapy and surrogate partner therapy really is when you have a surrogate partner come into a triad, a triad relationship between a person, talk therapist usually, and then a surrogate partner therapist and a surrogate partner therapist serves as the liaison between the communication between the client and themselves and also the therapist and themselves, giving a whole new dynamic and a whole new layer to the therapeutic experience, which I think is really, really powerful.

Katrin: It is a somatic experience now where you're starting to look at the pleasure aspects and the intimate connection that's possible between humans in the way that one person can experience that in their own nervous system, in their body. So I interviewed a wonderful surrogate partner. His name is Brian Gibney and that's where I've learned about this wonderful form of therapy and definitely, you know, reaching out to him for more details would be super awesome. But he essentially explained the importance of that somatic experience in the body, working with someone to start to create a sense of communication possibility. Right. Like how to understand what is it that we need and want in order to feel safe in our skin and then starting to be able to communicate our desires, understand what kind of touch we crave and want and need, and having that dynamic then jump into a healthy relationship rather than something that may have been built up as a pattern to have unhealthy relationships in our lives.

Rachel: Ok, he'll help you find your erogenous zones.

Katrin: That, too, yeah.

Rachel: The way I imagine it, though, is that he's like fingering you or something like you like fingering you and you're like doing it until you feel comfortable and like your walls loosen up, or something. I feel like that's not right. 

Katrin: So. Well, that that could be part of the experience. And definitely in order to create safety in our system, we need to go incredibly slow. And that also means creating a container of safety and consent in what is this relationship going to look like? Some people end up having penetrative sex with their surrogate partner, if that is one of their goals, to have that experience and to perhaps be fingered by their surrogate partner. If the surrogate partner does the kind of work and if they want that kind of work to be done in that relationship. 

But it really is in a container that is really well looked after, where the talk therapist is also keeping an eye, you know, how is the psyche of the person that is working with the surrogate partner? How are they feeling through this whole process? What are their milestones? What are their wins? But it is a lot slower than jumping into a, you know, sexual arousal right away. Sometimes working to set boundaries and to be comfortable to say no is a big part of the process with playing, you know, may I touch you here? Or even may I have your car keys? as Brian gave an example of, and you start practicing saying yes or no and seeing how that feels in your nervous system. Because often with the experience of vaginismus, we wanted to say no at one point in our life, but we didn't say no and, or we couldn't say no in the case of sexual assault, for example. And then our body starts to say no for us, it has our no held nice and tight, literally by tightening the pelvic floor and creating that wall, making penetration impossible.

Rachel: Your body does the talking for you.

Katrin: Exactly, but it's hard to imagine, even if you, you know, are doing this therapy for like a year and you've been working up to it and your goal is to do penetrative sex with your surrogate partner. I feel like it's just isn't it so hard to disconnect your feelings from, you know, your pleasure? Because I feel like it'd be so easy to catch feelings for your surrogate partner. And then it's like, no, this is just basically a therapist, he's like a therapy tool. So I feel like that'd be so hard. I mean, how many people do you think end of falling in love with this person?

Katrin: I could imagine a whole lot.

Rachel: Especially if it's like the first healthy relationship you've had around sex in your whole life. That's... But I guess that's what the therapist is there to help, like, keep the lines from blurring, because otherwise I couldn't imagine how that would work. 

Katrin: Yeah, I honestly can't imagine it either. I never experienced that. So I can't say from personal experience, but I imagine that, you know, in practice of communication and intimate touch and feeling safe in an intimate experience, what really gets built is this human connection. Right. This realm of sexuality that you've never experienced before. And with that, for many of us, like 99 percent of humans, I imagine unless there's something off in the way that you relate to people, it registers as emotional connection. As, you know, I love you, please be with me now, surrogate partner. Let me send you love letters from across the country.

Rachel: Yeah, I feel it. Yeah. And also feel like the person, the surrogate who's doing this stuff with you, too. Right. Unless, I mean, maybe he's so used to it, if he's doing it with multiple people at the same time, he can disassociate. Then I just don't know how that would work at all. But it is interesting and it reminds me of, have you heard of in Japan they have this, it's similar, it's like a surrogate partner but he's like this dude that women call to their homes and they just cuddle. 

Katrin: I have heard of that. 

Rachel: It's like, it's like the step before basically surrogates sex partner. 

Katrin: And I imagine that would be part of the surrogate partner experience too, is like at a certain stage of intimate touch is cuddling. And for a lot of people, that could be the very first time they experience healthy human touch, like having grown up in an abusive environment, for example, anything can be perceived as a potential threat and like a touch on the shoulder could be and a lot of people live with that fear. So, yeah, cuddling. I mean, I feel like that'd be an awesome job as well. Getting paid to lay in bed and stroke someone's head and just make them feel loved.

Rachel: And it's really cool that that exists at all anywhere. I wonder if that's like a thing in the states, like in North America. And it's just like so underground here that like nobody's started talking about it because I've only heard about it for Japan so far.

Katrin: Yeah. Probably a whole lot of things exist that we don't know about.

Rachel: Great, maybe things that we don't want to know about.

Katrin: That too.

Rachel: This is a good one.


Rachel: Hey again. Thank you so much for listening to No Peach Left Behind. There is one more part to this conversation so keep an eye out for that. And as always please like and subscribe so more people can find this podcast and hopefully benefit from it. You can find the full transcript for this episode, and links to important references, at Peachyness.com. And you can find us on Instagram @just.peachyness. Until next time.