Women’s Empowerment, Sexuality and Culture – Kimberly Ann Johnson – HPP 107
Women often face tough challenges and power dynamics navigating our culture. Gender inequalities manifest outwardly but also inwardly for many women, including obstacles around self-expression, personal empowerment, enjoying pleasure and sexuality.
Today, we talk with somatic experiencing practitioner, sexological bodyworker, and author, Kimberly Ann Johnson. Join us as we explore the specific challenges women face in terms of empowerment, pleasure, sexuality, and culture, while living in a patriarchal society.
Understanding Sexual Pleasure – 01:25
“And so pleasure itself becomes kind of a charged word like it’s something we have to deserve. It’s something we have to work for. It’s the cherry on top of the sundae when we’ve done everything else, and that it’s not just an inherent part of beingness.”
The Impact of a Male Dominated Society – 06:17
“Any ideas of equality that we had, before we had a baby, the body sort of physiologically demands a different kind of attention out of the person who has the baby. And I think in so many ways, that’s one of the things that we’ve woken up to in 2020 is all of these different ways that our personal experiences and our collective experiences are continually interweaving.”
Working with Women as Clients – 11:21
“One is a positive reparative experience on a one to one basis. So I’m doing hands on sex education, basically, that’s tactile, when called for, so that women understand what it’s like to be touched when it’s not medical, or it’s not sexual, and it’s just presence and witnessing.”
The Sexual Encounter – 15:59
“So to me, a healthy sexual encounter involves satiation, it involves knowing what’s enough, it involves a tune touch. I’m not seeing tons of clients right now. So I don’t have my 100% finger on this post. But I would venture to say that a year and a half into a global pandemic, most people are wanting a lot more holding.”
Keeping an Active Sex Life for Longterm Couples – 23:32
“The other thing that is just such a valuable tool is the three minute game which is a tool Betty Martin uses who founded the wheel of consent and the quick and dirty summary is in the framework, there’s four quadrants. One is giving and receiving. And one is taking and allowing. And in any interaction, we’re doing one of those dynamics. The problem is we don’t often know what we’re doing.”
An Evolutionary Query on Sexual Need – 38:18
“So this stereotype that women are the gatekeepers, and men want it all the time, and they’re not giving it. To me that is outdated. That’s not what I see. And I think that’s related to what we touched on earlier, this is just role confusion.”
people, pleasure, sex, women, feel, sexual, sexual encounter, sexuality, sexual pleasure, practitioners, minutes, body, dynamics, person, men, touch, happening, work, relationship, experience
Kimberly Ann Johnson, Keith Kurlander, Dr. Will Van Derveer
Kimberly Ann Johnson 00:00
Pleasure is something that we can’t control. It’s something we can attune to. But sexual pleasure in and of itself is something that tends to take us out of control. And that can be really uncomfortable.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 00:10
Thank you for joining us for the Higher Practice Podcast. I’m Dr. Will Van Derveer with Keith Kurllander and this is the podcast where we explore what it takes to achieve optimal mental health. Today, we enjoyed the opportunity to explore with sexual healing pioneer Kimberly Ann Johnson, looking at the area that she’s been immersed in for many years, which is the field of healing sexual trauma in women. Kimberly Ann Johnson is a sexual logical bodyworker, a Somatic Experiencing practitioner, yoga teacher, postpartum advocate and single mother. Working hands-on in integrative women’s health and trauma recovery for more than a decade, she helps women heal from birth traumas, birth injuries, gynecological surgeries, and sexual boundary violations. Kimberly is the author of the book Call of the Wild how we heal trauma, awaken our own power, and use it for good, as well as the early mothering classic, the fourth trimester, and she is the host of the sex birth trauma podcast. Welcome Kimberly Ann Johnson.
Keith Kurlander 01:21
Hi, Kimberly, welcome to the show.
Kimberly Ann Johnson 01:23
Hi, Keith. Thanks for having me.
Keith Kurlander 01:25
Yeah. Good to have you here. So we thought we would start with a very kind of global oriented question, a 30,000 foot view question. We’re going to talk a lot today about sexuality and pleasure and women, specifically, empowerment and a lot of those topics. But I thought a good place to start is just really get your take on, at least in our culture in America specifically, like how we relate to pleasure and sexual pleasure. And just kind of like we start more on a cultural conversation of what you’ve learned in this field from all the time you’ve worked in and around culture and pleasure and some of the opportunities and hurdles in our culture around being able to take in sexual pleasure and be in a pleasure oriented body. So why don’t we start there?
Kimberly Ann Johnson 02:18
Sure, it’s a great question. And I’m sure we could probably wonder about all of us together, but this country, and we’re three white Americans talking about this founded on people that are on the run, and we like to think of it as immigration, but it’s really more like fugitives coming to find a different place. And there’s sort of no stone unturned where Protestantism doesn’t, and puritanical viewpoints of the body don’t infiltrate. So this country, this colonized country is built on the foundations of working harder, that our worth is based on our work. And the work, maybe used to be something that was physically tangible, that was like the work in the earth, or the work to produce the fruits of your labor that you could actually touch. But then it became something else where there’s a worker class, and then the worker agriculture classes relating to the industrial era. And so pleasure itself becomes kind of a charged word like it’s something we have to deserve. It’s something we have to work for. It’s the cherry on top of the sundae when we’ve done everything else, and that it’s not just an inherent part of beingness. And so, pleasure itself. Sometimes people just have an aversion to the word or they’re afraid that maybe sometime in their life, they let themselves have something that was pleasurable, and then they became hedonist or addicts. And so it’s another way of separating Well, the things that are pleasurable are dangerous, so I should stay away. And then sexual pleasure I think is a little bit different because I think you can think about sensual pleasure and sexual pleasure and some people have an easier time with sensuality, and a harder time with sexuality or an easier time with sexuality and a harder time with sensuality. sexual pleasure has so much to do with so many things that we then call sex so the practitioners listening I think sexuality, I used to think it was the most over coupled topic there was until COVID-19 happened which I don’t think there’s anything more over coupled than vaccines and COVID-19 we might say sex and we might mean attachment or companionship, we might say sex and we might mean eroticism, we might say sex, and we might mean pleasure, we might say sex and we might be talking about our body image, we bring so much to what we call sex or sexual pleasure, and we abstract it. So it’s another thing that seems separate. It’s like we view sexuality as a light switch that we turn on or off like, oh, now I’m being sexual, and now I’m not and I like to offer the dimmer switch alternative to that, but we’re all sexual all the time. Because our beingness is born out of that lifeforce energy, but of course, even that is like your two male therapists, like, what does that mean to say you’re being sexual all the time, like, that’s a whole other. There’s just so many layers to it. And we certainly see eroticism and exoticism, personified and exaggerated and used and manipulated. So I think there’s so many elements to it. But I think people can unshaved themselves and relax a little bit when we realize that it’s not just a knee problem. It’s an ice problem. And it’s the foundation of so many things, including the way it works its way into our spiritual practices, and the things that we think are taking us away from our white Protestant work ethic. But we just transmute that and glue it down into Well, now I’m going to be like the best practitioner, and I’m going to practice the most hours and me and my effort, and discipline and diligence are the things that are going to make something happen, because it’s still a semblance of something that’s in our control. And I think that at the intersection of this is pleasure is something that we can’t control. It’s something we can attune to. But sexual pleasure in and of itself is something that tends to take us out of control. And that can be really uncomfortable.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 06:17
Well, so many different directions, we could go with this. Thank you for that, that was a great answer. I really appreciate that. And I’m thinking about before, I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, we have so many questions for you. So I guess where I want to go with that is this notion of the burdening of pleasure with all of these political and social and cultural weights or baggage is or blankets over the simple biological reality, or even spiritual reality of pleasure. And drilling down a little bit more into the patriarchal kind of this Protestant work ethic piece. Can you say some more about the issue of patriarchy, and you’ve alluded to fleeing and running away, in our cases, probably Europe is from what we look like, right? Her skin color, and what you see as the role of the domination really, of power structures of men, over women in our culture, and what the impact that has on people and female bodies, their relationship to pleasure, can you elaborate on that a little more?
Kimberly Ann Johnson 07:26
Sure, I see a lot in my work, and it’s coming up more and more, because we have our individual experience. And then we have these things that we call patriarchy or these systems that we’re living in, and how it’s hard to distinguish sometimes, you know, a lot of my clients are like, especially since I do work with a lot of new mothers, that tends to be where gender roles really come to the surface. Because any ideas of equality that we had, before we had a baby, the body sort of physiologically demands a different kind of attention out of the person who has the baby. And I think in so many ways, that’s one of the things that we’ve woken up to in 2020 is all of these different ways that our personal experiences and our collective experiences are continually interweaving. So when the history is that marriage was really an exchange of goods, a woman was part of that acquisition to a family. And we still have not only pay scales, and the things that most people listening know about, are deeply ingrained, what those roles are. And also biology lends itself to them, which everybody doesn’t want to reckon with. Because at this point in our culture, we really are, we don’t like biology, we’re like, physiology and biology are really subjugated to the mental, intellectual rational, that we just end up contending with these things. Like, I recently worked with someone who didn’t want children, got pregnant and is in a relationship with someone who already has children. She’s known her whole life, she didn’t want to have children. So she terminated the pregnancy. And she’s having a ton of grief about it. And she’s so confused about why she has the grief about it, because she didn’t and doesn’t want to have children. And her partner is like, doesn’t understand why she’s not over it already. Because she didn’t want it anyway. So what is the big deal kind of thing? And so there’s so much tension, because this also happens to be a circumstance where he’s the main earner, and she’s given up in quotes, a lot of her independence, in order to be in the relationship to make a functioning, harmonious relationship. I’m sure that you’ve experienced it in your own partnerships. It’s just it’s happening in so many ways where the contemporary culture which almost demands two working parents, but even if it isn’t two working parents, that there’s periods of time where there needs to be balanced butts heads against, you know, I’m 47 my generation of feminism which is like, we can do everything And we can do it better than men. And we should be self-sufficient, because if we’re dependent in any way that’s vulnerable and weak, because then we’re replicating that old power structure. And yet, it can be so debilitating in terms of how our bodies and our immune systems reckon with that. So there’s so many layers of how these inheritances show up on a one to one level. And I think that it’s just helpful to know again, that these are waters we’re swimming in together. And in speaking to the men listening, what I see a lot is either sort of a collapse, like I don’t want to be a dominant, oppressive person. So therefore, I’ve kind of lost my agency, because I don’t want to be seen as an aggressor. I don’t want to be seen as someone who’s powering over. Therefore, I’m confused about how to relate and also that many white men have been sort of stand-ins for all oppression. And so there’s also this whole other like, shame layer of like, how do I take responsibility, which I think as a white body person to it’s like, we’re all reckoning with how do I take responsibility for what’s mine, and potentially the enculturated debt, and still have an amount of agency so that I can not just function in the world, but do it in a way that feels like it might have an inkling of reparative, or restorative justice in it.
Keith Kurlander 11:21
Yeah, let’s stick with this train for a moment. I think it’s super important. I’m curious, what does your work look like around these topics, these issues that women face in themselves? And like when you’re working individually with women, what does that work look like? How are you helping women process being born into a patriarchal structure, the impact that may have had on them? The cultural things, we’re speaking about wider cultural issues, like what are some of the ways you’re unpacking this with women?
Kimberly Ann Johnson 11:51
Twofold. One is a positive reparative experience on a one to one basis. So I’m doing hands on sex education, basically, that’s tactile, when called for, so that women understand what it’s like to be touched when it’s not medical, or it’s not sexual, and it’s just presence and witnessing. I feel like we’re talking about a very interesting time, it’s September 13 2021. And a lot of these categories are getting parsed apart and shredded in so many different ways. And it’s very hard to generalize, because I don’t think that most men have a great sex education either. So it’s not like, as women, we have the market on bad sex education, it’s just that the way the dynamics play out is women tend to be more perceptively injured, because that victim role is so much easier to identify. But the entire body of my work has been about we’re all swimming in these waters together. And a hyper focus on victimization also isn’t helpful. So what I’m doing is moment by moment, giving women access to their own words about how they want to be touched at the pace they want to be touched. And if practitioners don’t do touch work, it’s really as simple as practicing things like shaking up power dynamics within a practice. And that’s not always possible, depending on what kind of work you’re doing. But that’s the kind of work that I do . What is your body asking, rather, I’m also a structural integration practitioner. So I have bodywork chops, but it’s like, that’s less interesting to me about, I know what your body needs, because I’m looking at it. And so I’m going to tell you, this is what it needs based on when you check in internally, what kind of touch your body is asking for, and then us negotiating that together. So a positive reparative experience. And then also context psychoeducation, basically, like the massive and shaming it is to understand it’s not you that you’re not able to do this, here’s how the nervous system works. Here’s how a female nervous system works. And here’s where you’re at in that cascade. And here’s directions that are possible. So doing a lot of orientation. Same with postpartum work, like a lot of my work is just helping people understand, look, it’s not you that’s having a hard time. This is a hard time in our culture and has no cauldron for it. So we are torn, the fabric is torn, and you can see the tears here and so you feel depressed and you feel anxious, but it’s not because you did something wrong. It’s because you’re not supported in these ways. And we’re in cultural purgatory. So bad news is now you know that you don’t have what you know you need. And we’re maybe a generation or two hopefully knocking on wood away from some level of restoration there. But what can we do from here because I feel like this conversation can easily turn into like poor women, poor victims, and I don’t feel that way at all, which is why my work is really about activating your inner Jaguar. We need to liberate ourselves, the people who have power, and I have power and privilege in a lot of different ways. We’re blind to it, because we have it because everything is in favor of those things. Most people ask me, oh, should I bring my partner to the session. And it’s like, most of the time, they don’t need to once they figure out what they actually want. And it’s usually repair is possible within that couple, it’s pretty rare that the outcome is that something else is needed. It’s like, if we found a nice sex, which means we put female pleasure as even a part of what a sexual encounter is about without hyper specializing it. But just like, wow, because male genitalia is visible in female genitalia, part of it is invisible. If we start to value and validate the unseen and learn together, most of the time, people are really willing to learn, it’s just there’s so much shame that’s piled on of past traumas, past experiences, past rejections, projections, associations, that when we start to peel that away, just to a primary sense of contact, a lot happens.
Keith Kurlander 15:59
Let’s actually go into a little bit about a sexual encounter. I think a lot of people have not challenged themselves to even look at their sexual encounter, and like, What’s going on there? And what is it? Is it a positive experience for them? Is it consistently negative for them is their shame a lot, they’re like, I wonder if you could just kind of paint a landscape of the sexual encounter and how we would think about like, what would be more of like sort of a growth oriented, positive, or I don’t love the word positive, but just like more of a wellness sexual encounter that’s more health driven, versus the sexual encounter that’s just really maybe neurotic and has a lot of things that just started never being explored. And just kind of, like how to think about the sexual encounter, especially as therapists working with clients, and working with people that many of them have not process, their sexual encounter with someone yet, how do you frame that and talk about that,
Kimberly Ann Johnson 16:53
I love to talk about this with clinicians and practitioners, because the extent to which we’re comfortable with our own sexuality and our fluency with vocabulary and talking through things, automatically, things will start showing up in the office. So I have an example of this, which is, I was a sexological bodyworker. And I did a six month training in that. And a lot of the people who do that work are sex workers. And I had never really been in an environment with a lot of sex workers. So I came with my normal baggage with it most people have about who a sex worker is and what they do, which was pretty much blown out of the water. And it was also extremely triggering for me, because some of them had specialties that I never would have imagined. So like completely outside of my realm of imagination. And it was shocking and a little bit traumatizing. Some of it, it was extremely skillful training. So it was well held. And I was grateful to be able to have these open dialogues. After I had this one experience. I had a cohort and the other four people in my cohort, they were all sex workers, I was only non worker, and they were talking about how they would get paid to do enact rape scenes. And I’m a survivor of sexual assault. And so the idea of that just, I got really shaky, I froze, it was hard for me to talk about it. And when we talked that through how it was a consensual experience, and they were getting paid to do it. And there was an agreement about that, and the power dynamic. And then I was also told that half of all people have rape fantasies, and that it’s not fantasies themselves that are the problem is the meaning we make out of the fantasy is the actions that we make out of the fantasy. The next day I went to my office, this doesn’t even seem real, but probably practitioners will understand because people do tend to come in and trends into the office, my first male client told me for the first time ever, that he his first sexual experience was with a sex worker. He was a client of mine for years, but that had never come up. The next client told me that she was a sex worker had been in her past. And I don’t believe that without my having had that experience in myself where I really humanized, the sex workers and I learned about each one of them as people that that would have been able to come up in my office. So maybe more than any other arena because I cannot believe that the number of people that go to therapy and couples therapy and sexuality never comes up. To me it’s like that’s like the nexus of everything if you can start there. But to start there, you have to have a comfort level there yourself. But if you develop that comfort level, there’s so much richness there because when that shifts, everything else shifts so much of the other resentments and dynamics and all that stuff actually centers in the sex that just gets hidden away. As far as I think you were referring to, maybe in quotes healthy sexuality or a healthy sexual experience. A few things to consider would be one to take orgasm off the table. So instead of orgasm or climax being the goal of every experience, that you’re not working towards that goal is that being What tells you it’s successful? So I would say my average client who comes in their idea of good sex is he goes down on me, I go down on him, he comes, I come. And that all takes about 20 to 30 minutes. And if that happens twice a week, then like, I’m doing really well. And we have a good sex life. I’d say that’s in general, how most people would define it. And of course, I’m this is like hetero normative. And that’s also something to consider is that it is very heteronormative. And it usually is very male ejaculatory centered. And there’s not much common information about how vulvas work, how could nurses work, where they even are, you know, women have just as much erectile tissue as men, and you can see it, but it takes 45 minutes to full arousal, 35 to 45, whereas for some men, some of the time, it takes 30 seconds or two minutes. So it’s just very much more obvious. And, you know, I call it like opening the buffet of sex. So having open conversations about things like, what’s interesting to you, what’s interesting to you, what do you want to experiment with? What do I want to experiment with, and realizing that a lot of those desires are going to be informed by porn, and by what we think we’re supposed to want, because you don’t see in porn, people who really love each other, having sex, you see people who are connecting in adrenalized arousal. And then even when you see women masturbating in porn, they’re masturbating to a male arousal trajectory, which is a stair step harder and faster, and then a steep hill, and then a drop afterwards, like the stereotypical like fall asleep, lose all your energy kind of thing. And honestly, I don’t think any of this is wrong, it’s just to realize that it’s just so one flavored. And the reason why postpartum was so interesting is like, it’s just a radical shift. Because before that, we can kind of enact those patterns. And usually there might not be too much pain, and everyone might feel like they’re satisfied with that. And then there’s, like said, some point, a radical shift, where it’s like, wow, what worked before it’s not working anymore. And now we have to find a new way to be together. And I think that a lot of people feel that they would like their sex to be more spiritual, or to be more holistic, or to be less one flavored like I’d say that’s most people’s complaint is they feel like they’re in a rush or a routine. And he would like more variation on both sides, or many sides. So to me, a healthy sexual encounter involves satiation, it involves knowing what’s enough, it involves a tune touch. I’m not seeing tons of clients right now. So I don’t have my 100% finger on this post. But I would venture to say that a year and a half into a global pandemic, most people are wanting a lot more holding. And then maybe prior to that, because things feel so unsettled, so unsafe. And so there’s a need for like containment, and just a connection that’s outside of flipping that switch. Because I think people feel guilty to in their relationships, like oh, we should be having more sex or our relationship maybe isn’t that good if we’re not having enough sex, and I think it’s worth it to check in and realize that we’re animals, and we’re animals responding to global movements and animals and that there will be ebbs and flows with how that creativity and eroticism and connection shapes itself.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 23:32
curious about something you just said about the pandemic and kind of how people evaluate the health of their partnership. And it brings up for me the question of changes over the span of a relationship in terms of desire, and sexuality and sexual expression. And I’m sure you have a different intervention or way of working with it with every partnership that you work with. But over the course of specifically longer term partnerships, do you have recommendations that you keep finding yourself going back to over and over of how to keep a couple engaged in one another in that way?
Kimberly Ann Johnson 24:07
Yes. One of them is this very simple analogy, that if I’m in a relationship with someone, and I’m the color red, and they’re the color blue, and the relationship becomes purple, do you still know who the red in the blue is outside of the purple and especially pandemic times worse, a lot of people ended up spending way more time together. If they have children, their children are in the house there doesn’t seem to feel like Who am I outside of purple anymore is like, I tried to help people get back to what would some small thing be where you feel a sense of in we could call it polarization or we could just call it like individuation. The other thing that is just such a valuable tool is the three minute game which is a tool Betty Martin uses who founded the wheel of consent and the quick and dirty summary is in the framework, there’s four quadrants. One is giving and receiving. And one is taking and allowing. And in any interaction, we’re doing one of those dynamics. The problem is we don’t often know what we’re doing. So the first thing is to know who is giving what to whom. And we don’t like these questions, because we like to believe that everything’s mutual all the time, that if it was good that it would just be we would feel like we were giving and receiving all the time. And sometimes that happens, but generally, we’ve just gotten into habits that have repeated themselves that are based on really funny things. Like I worked with somebody one time. And after a year of her relationship, she was like, I just really don’t like how he kisses. And like, he just like sticking his tongue in my mouth all the time, like too early, and this and that. And so finally, when she got up the nerve to tell him that he said, Oh, I thought you liked that. And they traced it back to like, one time when he was kissing her that way, she said, Oh, my God, I love that. And so he just thought, Oh, she loves that all the time. And that’s how she wants it all the time. And then it just got ingrained. And so they were both relieved to find out, neither of them were like, really into that at that time. And that’s just so normal. Things like that happen all the time in both directions. So the three minute game is really simple. It goes like this, there’s questions that you ask, and if it’s giving and receiving, and I want something from you, I asked you, like, put your hand on my cheek and use the pads of your fingers to go from my eyebrow down to my chin for three minutes. That means that I am the receiver and you’re the giver. And then you can say, that’s like lame, I don’t want to do that. But I’m willing to put my hand at the back of your head. And then I can say, Well, I didn’t want the head. I don’t want my head, I want my face. Let’s start over. Will you put both your hands on my abdomen? Or will you just sit here? And can we breathe together for three minutes? Three minutes, you could do two minutes, but three minutes is like, you know, if someone says, Hey, will you give me a back rub? You’re like, Oh, Jesus, again, because that background never ends. You just want more and more, right? And so if you’re tired, and you’re like, Oh, I don’t really want to do it. But if someone says like, Hey, could you rub my shoulders for three minutes? You’d be like, yeah, I could probably do that for three minutes. So it gives you a boundary. Like I’m asking this for this amount of time. And then if I said for you to do that, and you put your hand on my face, and then all of a sudden your fingers in my ear, I would say to you like, Hey, I didn’t want your finger in my ear, like, could you go back to my face? And we just have a real time negotiation about who this is for? You’re not, it’s not for you. Now in the taking in the allowing? I’m asking you, it looks like I’m the giver. But I’m talking. So I’m touching you like I would say like, Hey, can I make circles on your chest with the palms of my hands? for three minutes? I’m doing that because I want to do it. Because that feels good to me. I’m using you for my pleasure. But I’m asking you. So you have the chance to say no, I don’t really want to experiment with that. But I will do this. And so you know, it kind of sounds maybe not sexy, or maybe like a little like, over processi. But in fact, I don’t find that at all, I found it to be extremely clarifying. And you’d be so surprised how hard it is for most of us to even identify what we want to ask for. And to think outside of the things that we’re trained to ask for. And it also gives us a sense of limits on how we could say, Yes, I want this, but I don’t want that or that felt good at first, but it’s not feeling good anymore. And just practicing, communicating, rather than thinking that what good sex is, is you just kind of read the other person’s body language. And then you’re supposed to be like, you know, a tantric master. And frankly, some of the worst sex I’ve had is with people who consider themselves good at sex. It’s so annoying. It’s like they’re doing their little tricks and they’re a little like they went to their class. And so now they’re doing the circle stroke, and you’re just like, are we even here? Like, what? What are we doing? We didn’t even talk about this. You’re just like the vulva Master, whatever.
Keith Kurlander 29:13
Master that’s like a superhero or supervillain? Let’s go more into pleasure for a moment. Can you just talk a little bit about the fight? Like what is pleasure? It’s probably defined by the individual. But I’m curious about your definition, because with sexual pleasure, they can derive pleasure from what we would call pain stimulus. And so I’m just curious, like, how do you even talk about what is pleasure? And what you really see is the role of pleasure in a person’s life like why should we open to more pleasure, right? Like, what’s that going to do for us and can we end up chasing pleasure, so just maybe kind of go down the rabbit hole little of how you talk about pleasure,
Kimberly Ann Johnson 29:52
To me, it’s like moment to moment attunement to what’s happening. I was a yoga practitioner for a long time, and I kind of trained myself out of how to feel pleasure. I just was indifferent or neutral. Like someone says, does that feel good? It’s like, well, it feels like this, but I’m not supposed to like it or dislike it. I’m supposed to be a quantumness. Right? So in order for me to really renegotiate some of my traumas, I really had to learn how to decide if I liked something or didn’t like it. Do you like this? Do you want more of it? Or do you not like it, and it doesn’t mean I wasn’t having good sex at the time. It was just pleasure, something that is available to us all the time. And with that, puritanical inheritance together with what we see is like a huge cultural crossroads, it can be really hard to convince ourselves that it’s okay to feel pleasure, especially when we know how many people are suffering and in pain. To me, pleasure is not something that anesthetizes you, it’s actually really bothering me a lot of what I see in the white wellness space of quote unquote, Feminine Empowerment and embodiment, it feels very out of sync with what’s happening right now. Like, there’s a lot of people that are doing things like sexual meaning, your stereotypical like striptease kind of thing, as if that’s counter cultural or counter patriarchy. And to me, it looks just like a kind of an immature expression of what full Feminine Empowerment would look like. And maybe what that means to the person who’s making it and the person who’s willing to be seen in that way can have a myriad of meanings. But I’m just noticing a trend in general where I’m like, well, it can be pleasure for pleasure’s sake, ultimately, I would hope that it’s making us not only more whole internally, so that we have a fuller sense of who we are in this world. And we’re not spending so much time imagining how we’re seeing or evaluating how we’re seeing. But we’re spending more time inhabiting ourselves and not second guessing ourselves, not second guessing, external perceptions. So a general comfort level in your own skin. But to me, it’s also just moment to moment attunement of the marvel of being alive.
Keith Kurlander 32:02
You said to me a few times, Kimberly, which gets me thinking a lot of like, is to receive pleasure, like, Is there a prerequisite of being present or like when we talk about like trauma and dissociation, and then like a presence spectrum and being able to like, actually be in the moment and witness the sensation? Like, do you pair those together where like, in order to really receive pleasure, you kind of have to be present in that moment?
Kimberly Ann Johnson 32:30
Yes. And I think sometimes the pleasure brings you into existence. So if you’re walking by some flowers, like in my neighborhood, there’s some star Jasmine, and you noticed, and you start to smell them, this, the pleasure of that smell, I find that pleasurable, also will bring you into existence. But for sure, if there’s no one home, there’s no one to feel the pleasure. So I would say it’s both because pleasure is part of being human and part of our sensory input. But if the body has been a really challenging place to be, which it has been for many people, then that can be more challenging. And then the feeling of sensory input can be a thing that brings you back to that. When you find things that do feel good. For some people, it’s like, well, nothing really feels good. And then it’s like, Okay, well, what feels less bad, and finding a way to orient and then huge principle in the work that I do, which is primarily helping people renegotiate sexual boundary violations and gynecological trauma, medicals, gynecological, surgeries, that kind of thing. Birth trauma is that until you can feel something that feels good, it’s not even wise to go into the pit of the things that didn’t go well, because you just end up spinning down and pushing them deeper into the system. So it’s actually a prerequisite for even being able to genuinely be present with the intensity of something that caused rupture.
Keith Kurlander 34:01
Yeah. Do you find that you meet clients that like sort of their claim to fame as I’m great at pleasure, but they’re actually very dissociated a lot when you meet them or not necessarily.
Kimberly Ann Johnson 34:14
That doesn’t tend to be my usual client. But I can say that I’ve worked with a lot of people coming out of the orgasmic meditation community that we’re bypassing a lot along the way to that practice and I particularly have benefited a lot from that practice. I really wasn’t in the community so I don’t have a comment on that. But I think there’s a lot of benefits especially for monogamous married couples like that. I would add that to the toolkit with a wheel of consent of a practice that can be really powerful. But so for people who don’t know it’s a clitoral stroking practice it’s 12 minutes there’s boundary touch to it, there’s no penetration and it does many of the same things as the three minute game is like it teaches you to communicate you know exactly what’s happening. So you’re not a threat system, isn’t it? I’d still be going off because then other things might be happening, but at least you know what the context of the relationship and the dynamic is. I have worked with a lot of people who did lots and lots of that. And they were trying to attend to certain things. And certain things were met. But a lot was not because the process of integration sexually, a lot of times needs to be slow. Yeah.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 35:25
And so when Keith was asking about trauma and sexuality, I was thinking about were kid Do you have to be present to experience pleasure, I was thinking to myself, well, there’s been plenty of times when I haven’t been present in a social situation, and yet experienced pleasure in it kind of like narrowly described, like, physical, maybe domain. And I don’t know how common that is, for women, I don’t have a female body. But I think for guys, it’s really common to be able to be sort of on cruise control, and be going through the motions, so to speak, not being present spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, but have a very strong experience of physical pleasure.
Kimberly Ann Johnson 36:04
There’s a term for it, which I forgot right now. But when your arousal is separate from what you might be experiencing, emotionally or mentally, so for women who are being sexually assaulted, that they could still have an orgasm, or climax, and I really distinguish those two, for me, climax is that kind of sharp climb and steep drop, whereas like orgasm is a full body full self kind of rolling wave experience that you can take with you outside of just that moment. And I mean, I would say there’s a couple in there, right? Like, that’s why so many people need to do a substance in order to connect sexually, because it’s their disinhibitor. So it’s hard for them to get out of the rational mind to get out of social inhibition. And so they need to drink first, to relax or to be able to connect. So certainly people have wiring where they’re disconnecting in order to feel pleasure. And I’m not saying that’s wrong, I’m just saying that some people want to have something different at some point that they come to an endpoint with that I think that happens a lot sexually with parenting too, is because a lot of people party together, then they get pregnant, then the person who’s pregnant stops drinking, the other person may or may not stop drinking, they have the beer or whatever, smoking weed, whatever the thing is, they have the baby, then usually the person who’s nursing and stuff still isn’t drinking also doesn’t have the energy to party or checkout or whatever. And then that partner, so how’s that as a coping mechanism, and then sexually, it gets more and more separate, because it’s unappealing for most people to have sexual encounters with someone who’s in a different state than they are. And men are used to using sex as stress relief. And they come to their partner wanting that stress relief, and no one wants to feel like the stress relieving object. So I think if that’s associated with pleasure, that’s again, we’re talking about different hormonal circuitry, we’re talking about like hot versus warm sex, one that’s really intertwined with stress hormones, and one that’s more intertwined with sex hormones are more oxytocin based connection. And I think both are important. And it’s just for the healing potential of sex, if that’s what someone’s interested in, usually people feel like more creative and more present in their life if they have access to a range of those things.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 38:18
That makes sense. I’m wondering if this perspective might be out of date. But I’m curious what you think about it. And obviously, we’re inside of a gender binary conversation here. So taking that with a grain of salt, I wonder if men are more prone to kind of automating sexual behavior from an evolutionary standpoint, where if the goal on the biological or the genetic level, the sperm level is to spread my genes as far and wide as possible, then it might not even necessarily be all that beneficial to that end, for me to be that present in a sexual encounter if the mission is to bag as many ladies as possible, so to speak, in a more biological sense. And on the flip side, I wonder if female sexual responses are set up to be more discerning in terms of what the quality is of the genetic material that you’re choosing to connect your genes to? I don’t know, maybe this is a very out of date perspective. I’m curious about your thoughts about that.
Kimberly Ann Johnson 39:18
I’m fascinated by evolutionary biology, but honestly, I don’t really know that much about it. I haven’t studied it. And I haven’t really gone down much of the like sex at dawn, rabbit hole. So I don’t know if I’m the best person to comment on it. But I do feel that the majority of people are not totally satisfied with their sex lives, and feel confused about how to communicate that. And I feel that a lot of women, especially maybe millennials, and younger have adopted a sort of male version of sexuality to view that as empowered so the kind of love and then leave them don’t get attached. And I have just as many people that talk to me that say their husband doesn’t want or their male partner doesn’t want as much sex as they do, as the reverse. So this stereotype that women are the gatekeepers, and men want it all the time, and they’re not giving it. To me that is outdated. That’s not what I see. And I think that’s related to what we touched on earlier, this just role confusion. Some of it is yes, programming from porn that messes with a male arousal cycle and needs an escalation of intensity and threat in order to feel something. But a lot of it is just who’s breadwinning, who’s in charge, who’s protecting the cave, who’s in the cave. And, again, we have these ideas in our brain of what we want. And then we have what our physiology in our body wants. So I think whether or not we’re programmed that way, there’s still so much room for growth for people to get what they want, because there’s like infinite possibilities of creativity of how to include those things within whatever dynamic you are. And maybe well, what you’re talking about is more about, like partner selection than it is what happens within a partnership, which seems to be kind of different from how people are scanning for what’s safe within interactions. But like the tool is, in my book, The Wheel of consent, these kinds of things. To me, that’s how we build a new kind of relationship where we’re not expecting someone else to be able to read our nervous system, there’s a lot of women out there that are just hoping to find the right lever, who’s going to show them how their body works, it’s much more threatening to think about looking at your own body and figuring out how your own pleasure circuitry works. And then the burden of having to communicate that and a lot of women feel very overburdened with having to continually communicate what they don’t want. And yet, they’re not really tuned into what they do want to lead a person in that direction. I think there’s still a lot of room even if our biology is suggesting or leading us somewhere else. And it seems that people are much more generally open to having these conversations.
Keith Kurlander 42:02
You know, what do you want to highlight about your work and people getting in touch with you or your books? I know you have a couple, what do you want to highlight about your work so people can just know more about you?
Kimberly Ann Johnson 42:14
Oh, well, the foundation of my work is embodiment. And how we can learn to love each other more and love each other better, and to become more human, and become more humane because I feel like being human is actually a verb. So my hope is that we learn a new language together. And that this latest book called The Wild offers a language that I hope transcends some of these gender binaries only in so far as instead of associating men as perpetrators and men as bad and women as usually victims. So women are good. And then relating in this way, I’m hoping that the animal language of hunter and hunted starts to settle in so we can have more nuanced conversations. Because if we walk in the world with flight and freeze energy, then normally that polarizes and the way nervous systems work is we end up with imbalanced fight energy. And so my work is this book, I think is relevant for anyone and a lot of men who’ve read it have said they got a lot out of it too, is that the default patterning that is programmed not just as individuals but also biologically and then also culturally, that it’s okay for men to feel angry and but not so okay for them to feel sad or to feel overwhelmed. And it’s okay for women to be sad or overwhelmed, but not so okay for them to be angry that we both have access to that full spectrum. And understanding that those Nervous System predispositions that then become emotions are also determining how we see the world. So our physiology, which is everyone listening, is polyvagal theory one on one, but like our state is determining what we see and the information we retrieve. And as we can see right now, I think this is one of the most polarizing times we’ve ever lived in. My book began as an outgrowth of the me to movement. And what are we going to do with this mass and shaming when the structures haven’t changed, but people have been pulled out of them. And now it’s like, okay, only nervous systems that are completely out of balance can only see one point of view, right, that’s how we’re getting these fundamentalistic streams that are dovetailing back to each other. So my hope is that we have a common language so that we can continue to be humans together, and we can continue talking to each other so that we can have the kind of relationships and sex that we want that’s mutually beneficial for everyone. And I’m a single mom and I raised my daughter by myself since she was nine months old. And I think my books really focused on relationships because I think it’s so great for children to have intact parents and I think there’s so many ways That that can happen. I don’t think that has to be the truth for everyone. But I think I’m committed to that love because I see how that fracturing easily happens when we get away from just the patterns, and with some guidance and some new language, that together we can build the world that we want to belong to, or build the relationship we want to belong to.
Keith Kurlander 45:21
We end with one question for everyone, which is if you had a billboard everybody would see once in their lifetime, it’s got a paragraph on it. What would you tell that person,
Kimberly Ann Johnson 45:31
Mobilize your privilege.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 45:33
It’s beautiful, thanks. It’s been great having you on the show.
Kimberly Ann Johnson 45:37
Thanks for having me.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 45:40
We look forward to connecting with you again on the next episode of the Higher Practice Podcast where we explore what it takes to achieve optimal mental health.