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Let's Get Intimate!

Episode 5: Creating Body Maps and Reconnecting with Pleasure

Tara Galeano is the founder of Boulder Sex Therapy, where she runs workshops for women to reimagine their bodies and rekindle their sexuality- particularly after cancer. Tara tells inspiring stories of the women she works with and talks with us about the ongoing process of discovering your sexuality through your life and throughout body changes- which is something all of us have to deal with eventually in some way, and we probably all need to improve upon. Show Notes! Follow us on Instagram! Facebook BBXX website Sign up for our digital “book” club — a twice-weekly curation of the best digital content about identity, sexuality, intimacy, and relationships!

Sasza
Thanks so much for being here with us today, Tara.

Tara
Yeah, my pleasure.

Sasza
I’d love to start out talking about just the difference between sex and sexuality for people listening before we jump into what you do, the work you do, the amazing program at the hospital that you have working to help people rediscover their bodies after cancer treatments. But what we can learn from that goes for everybody in terms of through all walks of life, you’re discovering your body as you age, childbirth, any changes, stress and the mental aspects of it as well but to get started. I’d love to just have you talk a little bit about the difference between sex and sexuality and everything that exists in between those two.

Tara
Hum and everything that exists in between [Laughs].

Sasza
[Laughs] a little bit of everything that exist in between.

Tara
Well, I like to keep things somewhat simple. So, I think if sex is the act, it is just an act and that’s very simple but when actually somebody’s coming in for sex therapy, we have to unpack that as what does that act look like for you. And then also broaden that if there’s a menu of options that could be considered sex and it could include many different behaviors, and so I think that’s really a personal definition but I’m really trying to be specific to its behavioral. And whereas sexuality is more felt sand: how you are in your body, how you feel about yourself, how confident you are, how you carry yourself. And so, I think that is much more this elusive quality because it’s something that I think is different for everybody in a different moment, and you know at different time I mean there’s some fluidity to that because I truly believe it we’re dynamic beings, and that when we are stagnant it’s because we’ve stopped someplace. And I think as humans we like to stop because we like to conceptualize and categorize things a certain way because it makes things easier, it makes things more digestible. So, we like to say things like I’m heterosexual or I’m homosexual and those are categories of understanding, but they’re also places of I would say stagnancy of like: “We are that and we’re more than that”. So, that was a lot right there {Laughs].

Sasza
I think it’s interesting because I know a lot of people would say: “Oh you know what age did you discover your sexuality” or something like that or “Come into your sexuality”. So, I’m wondering at what age people generally do? There’s a whole span from like when people are really young to older, you know what the norm would as if there were one?

Tara
Yeah.

Sasza
But then also kind of does that ever end? Do we ever discover our… you know, does that past tense “discover our sexuality” or is that just a constantly evolving process and journey?

Tara
I mean I think it can be and for many people it is, and then for some people it’s not. There’s a blockage maybe your stopping point, I might perceive it as a blockage but maybe there’s just a sense of satisfaction of that’s what it is for me and it won’t proceed any further: I am this and I behave this way.

Sasza
So, talking about how that journey continues and evolves, I think we could really tie into the program that you do in the hospital and how kind of those people are discovering, rediscovering perhaps you know for the first time third time.

Tara
Yeah.

Sasza
Their sexuality, their bodies, how did you work together.

Tara
Yeah. 

Sasza
What that looks like, what you work on with them kind of what you’ve learned and a little bit about their stories.

Tara
Oh my god, I have learned so much, I’m truly honored to work with these women. I feel like always that they’re these Amazons rising from the fire, they have gone through so much and their lives have been transformed, and they have been transformed. And when they come to my class, I feel like there’s an urgency and not necessarily that they know exactly what to do and how to do it, but there’s such a yearning and a desire to do something about this experience of sexuality that has been dormant for them for so long. Then, I just admire and respect that, I know it’s not easy, I know that there’s a lot of struggles. One struggle that I see with the women is it’s about claiming time for themselves and giving time for themselves and it’s just I think in some of their minds, it’s one more thing that: “I have to heal this” or “ I have to fix this”, “all right, it’s a medical treatment that I’m taking”. And that makes it a little bit more palatable for them but if they really embrace it as something sensual or pleasurable for themselves, that can be really difficult because it’s hard for them to give to themselves in that way and know that maybe the end result they don’t really know what that will look like. So, it’s a journey of discovery and I honor their courage, their bravery to go on that path and to really be in the unknown, and to know that they want to reclaim their sex or sexuality for themselves, and then kind of see what that looks like for their relationships with other people.

Sasza
And what are some of the more practical tools you give them to work on exercises or things to practice within their own lives, that perhaps maybe some of our listeners could learn from or you know want to try for themselves to kind of help them along that journey as well?

Tara
Sure. And so, one of the things that I’ve learned from working with people who have had cancer and particularly the women in these class, is that there’s a lot of cognitive impairments, there’s a lot of memory loss, there’s a lot of sensory overload issues that they experience. And so, in my mind I try to approach things very gently and one of the first things that we do, is we do a body scan: so really coming back into their bodies and they start at the top of their head and really just looking at the tension that they may experience from the top of their head all the way down to their feet, and the sense of grounding that the earth is there to hold them because it’s this invitation for them to come back into their bodies. Because oftentimes with cancer or any life-threatening illness, we want to disassociate with our bodies because we feel like we’ve been betrayed by them, and I feel like that betrayal is real and it causes a lot of anger and a lot of discomfort. And so, I think this gentle approach of coming back into the body is important and so I asked women to do it regularly, consistently, frequently you know maybe before they go to bed or maybe when they wake up in the morning. And then another thing that I like for women to do, is a body map: and that is a fairly, I would say common exercise. I know a lot of art therapists used it but it’s the opportunity for somebody draw an outline of your body, and then for the women to fill it in and say: “These areas of my body are okay to be touched and I find pleasure in those areas and these areas are off-limits, I had a mastectomy there, I’m numb there, I don’t know how I feel about being touched there, don’t touch me there, I’m not ready for that” you know, or YELLOW kind of like OKAY. And that’s why I approach it because I’m not artist and so I just read you know GREEN, YELLOW and that’s it, but what I’ve seen with the women and the class is that they take this very seriously, and they do these beautiful pastels or they do these decoupage masterpieces, where they’re taking all these beautiful images from magazines of nature and flowers and they’re creating this shrine of their body. And how they imagine it is and how it could be, and what I like about the body map it’s this is externalized image that they have to engage with. So, it gets them out of their head a little bit about imagining what they look like but really having a felt sense of or an external image of who they look like or what they look like, which is different from I think their perceptions. And oftentimes, they say silly things like: “Oh, I’m skinnier than I thought” but for them it’s kind of real like: “Oh my goodness, I’m seeing myself differently”.

Sasza
Mm-hmm, and I think what you said is really interesting it’s about kind of that reconnection with yourself, with your body and perception of it and especially after some sort of betrayal, which I think a lot of people at some points whether it’s not being able to lose the way you want or an injury, other health issues I’ve been dealing with; two kind of chronic health issues for the last few years. And I remember reading an article about kind of betrayal of your body and how to cope with that and one of the suggestions that the woman gave was kind of being in touch but not in the literal sense, but like checking in with your body, seeing how it’s doing, how are you doing, thanking your body when it’s doing well, they’re taking care of it and acknowledging, you know you’re making the effort to take care of it.

Tara
Yeah.

Sasza
When it’s not doing well, I also kind of resonate with it a bit because there’s nothing else really you can do.

Tara
Yeah. 

Sasza
A lot of these conditions you know but kind of changing the psychology surrounding it, changing the way it’s like when people tell you: “If you smile all day, you’ll feel happier.”

Tara
Yes.

Sasza
Like what you think, what you do then like reflects how you behave, which fills in the cycle and starts all over again

Tara
Yes, absolutely, yeah. And one of my favorite yoga teacher, she always says at the end of the yoga session: “And thank your body for everything that it’s done for you” and I think: “Oh yeah, I love that cuz I forget that” you know, I just want to thank my body for pumping blood, for allowing me to think, for digesting my food, you know for all of the things that it does that I think: “Oh, that’s important stuff”.

Sasza
And I wonder how much could be learned even for people who don’t have a certain condition with their body, but just in terms of self-confidence, self-esteem and vulnerability to incorporate that in a sexual context, to then just incorporate that body connection and kind of exuding what you want to absorb back, in the context of being with a partner.

Tara
And I truly do believe that it begins with the relationship that you have with yourself and so when I work in this class, I always bring the women into that relationship with themselves first and then gets you know, how are you relating to others. And one of the other things that I do, is I use trauma releasing exercises, which were developed by Dr. David Bruce Aileen diagnosis of cancer, is a traumatic experience. Treatment of cancer often times, can be a traumatic experience because women feel oftentimes, objectified like they are science experiment, that they’ve been medicalized and nobody’s really hearing what they have to say. And so, that experience creates trauma in the body and I mean I think decades of living in a body, we get experiences of overwhelm and our nervous system needs to be released. And so, I actually teach these exercises to most of my clients and for me; it’s a very profound impact because the trauma releasing exercises is about shaking and it’s about the release of the nervous system. So, if you were to Google, I see a YouTube video where the rabbit has escaped from the Fox and then they shake. Or you can see a video of when is a polar bear that has been anesthetized for medical research and the polar bear is completely out of it for the scientists but it shakes. And so, there’s like a neurochemical cocktail that needs to be discharged from the physiology and there’s this experience of shaking, or if you’ve been in an overwhelming experience like a car accident oftentimes, you’ll experience shaking. And I think that we often hold it together you know, we need to be socially appropriate and we don’t have that experience of shaking when we experience overwhelm our nervous system, and that can be discord in the relationship. Or it can be you know financial stress or trouble at work and all of those things can overwhelm our nervous system, when we’re wearing our shoulders like earrings and we can get a massage and get that worked out and I love that. And we can do the trauma releasing exercises because that is something that you can do for yourself. So, I teach all the women in my classes and I often offer it for free online just because I feel like it’s such a potent tool and you know, people can buy the app from Dr. Bruce Aileen. I was in a couple of car accidents and used it and it helped alleviate my anxiety with driving and it helped with insomnia, and it gave me the opportunity to then be able to come back into my body and be comfortable, because if we’re not comfortable in our bodies, they’re never gonna mind-blowing sex right? We’re never gonna be relaxed [Laughs].

Sasza
Yeah and so, I think speaking to that connection with yourself whether or not it has to do with mind-blowing sex or communication, or kind of just happiness, life in general it’s so important. And so I’d love to learn a little bit more about how you not only teach that body connection with these women, but then how they can then create a language of their own for intimate experiences?

Tara
Yeah, and what I find is that most women have some sense of language for themselves, but oftentimes I haven’t vocalized it. So, they haven’t said it out loud to anyone not even their partner. I used to work as a college counselor and what I found is that young people you know in their 19, 20s it was so fascinating because they were so interested in doing it, they’re so interested in the behavior but the language was absolutely terrifying. and it creates another level of intimacy to actually talk about what it is that they had done together, or wanted to do together or were too drunk to do together or we’re drunk and did it together. This is really fascinating process because it was so painful and I find that as we get older, if we’re not raised in a sex positive culture atmosphere oftentimes, we don’t have that vocabulary or that ability to express ourselves. And really this constriction I would say in the throat chakra because I’m from Boulder [Laughs].

Sasza
[Laughs].

Tara
Yeah, so that the inability to express them so spend out what I find is that women they totally have the language, but again it’s about identifying that and then articulating that and in the group setting again it’s terrifying, I mean who wants to go to group sex therapy? and yet they do and it’s a place to try out these words or try to build a vocabulary. If I can say this to her and she gets what I’m saying, that maybe I can say it to my partner.

Sasza
As we had talked about that idea of making talking about sex or sexuality more comfortable, making it more even everyday thing, not everyday but in the town and kind of breaking down the taboo and the anxiety and the emotional and underlying context around it, and kind of making it more objective in its language. Then on the other side of things as you mentioned, it becomes medical.

Tara
Yeah, [Laughs]. 

Sasza
So, how do we find that in between language?

Tara
Yeah, I mean I think that’s great. I mean I think it’s really about practice and I think it changes as we evolve as sexual beings. And also as our relationships evolve, as we have different partners, as we have different experiences, our language grows and deepens, we’re able to really come in with more nuanced language that explained the complexity of how we feel love for another person, or how we feel pleasure with another person. It’s not a stagnant process that is really this dynamic process. And that really just takes practice and I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with not knowing. I think that’s part of the processes, sometimes we just don’t know.

Sasza
Yeah, and I’m sure that language is evolving. And you mentioned younger women but I think that also older women as well sometimes struggle with the same thing, and I don’t doubt that that meant to kind of have a need to discover that language.

Tara
Yes.

Sasza
How would you say maybe it’s similar or perhaps different? and how people could work on their own to try and help them discover their own language, whether it be you know having to do with sex or intimacy or just expressing the more authentic version of themselves?

Tara
When I work with women and my practice is that I like for them to do a self-examination of themselves. And so, they can look at their vulva, they can look at their vagina and really start to figure out “what words feel good to me” Maybe as a young child, they were told DOWN THERE and like what does DOWN THERE mean? And then, can you really articulate those parts: the clitoris, the labia, I mean what does that mean? and I think through the process of actually having a visual cue, because it is hard to see in you. I would recommend the women squat, and take a mirror and look at themselves and see what their partners see. And then, it’s easier I think to start to create a vocabulary of : “Okay, that I those are parts of my erogenous zones, those are parts of myself where I experience pleasure and those are parts that I actually need to talk about specifically”. And I think there’s a lot of people with comfort and fluency with that and there’s a lot of us who don’t have that fluency, and that it just takes practice and speaking it with our partners and just being…

Sasza
Existing with a partner, young men and women again gonna benefit from that. because a lot of times other people kind of know how to put the words into your mouth better than you do.

Tara
Yeah, uh-huh, yes. Which is interesting as a therapist because I listen to what people are saying, if they say FUCK, I say FUCK, if they say INTERCOURSE, I say INTERCOURSE because I want them to get the reflection of their language. But also to let them know we’re speaking this common language and then I get what they’re saying. And so yes, I think that there is this process where we are mirroring back what other people are saying, but then we also have to take responsibility but what does that mean to me? Or do I like that? Or just how does that feel in my body when I say that? 

Sasza
And sometimes we forget to absorb kind of the positivity or that the like sometimes our partners are better at seeing the beauty within us than we are. So, I can see how a partner participating in that activity could add a lot of value in a nice little reminder.

Tara
Yeah, I like that.

Sasza
You know how beautiful or passionate or you know incredible. I want to do all these brain adverbs but I’m trying to remember that we’re talking about bodies.

Tara
[Laughs].

Sasza
So I’m always that person who’s like: “I don’t want to be described by how I look” [Laughs]. But yeah it’s just so true and I always think it’s so interesting, because we’re so much better at seeing you know beauty in other people are sometimes than ourselves. So, I mean that’s a really important thing that you guys talk about.

Tara
Yes, and that’s why I like the body image or the body map. Again it’s this externalized image for women to create as they like, as they see themselves but also as they imagine themselves and I love that is this external reference point cuz they can come back to it. I often recommend that they dated. 

Sasza
Do they do it on top of a photo or?

Tara
No… Oh, I love it yes. 

Sasza
Like how does it work?

Tara
So, what I did…

Sasza
Like I want to do a body map, how do I do it?

Tara
Yeah, yeah. If you want to do a body map, what I would recommend is you go to Staples, you get some moving paper.

Sasza
Okay.

Tara
And usually now the moving paper is wide enough where you can fit your knees on.

Sasza
Oh and I have someone and trace me.

Tara
Yes and it’s a very intimate experience. So they trace the whole outline of your body and then you see this image and you’re like: “Oh my goodness, that’s me”. And I would recommend that you do the front first but you can do the back too, depending upon what is more important for you, and do both sides and then take that image and the feet are difficult because often when you’re lying there, they’re up straight. So, you got to kind of put them down and make sure you get your toes because that’s an important area too, and then fill it in with really the love that you feel for yourself, of this area is really pleasurable and I want this area to be touched and you can do that.

Sasza
So you do that by using hands, you take markers?

Tara
I use markers and I say green for good read, for don’t touch me there yellow because I’m not an artist and it’s very simple and so I just color it in green. I might even put text cuz I’m more of a word person like: good, no thanks.

Sasza
Right.

Tara
But women, a lot of the women that I work with are these incredible visual artists and they create these beautiful images with pastels or watercolors and they’re just amazing. I mean it just always blows me away, they’ll say: “Oh, my toddler took a nap and so I had a couple of hours when they took the afternoon, and it took the whole afternoon”. And for myself and some other women in my class I’d say: “Well, I was in-between something at work and I took about five minutes and I did…” You know, I mean there’s a whole range of how women approach it and they’re amazing with what they come up with, because again then they have this externalized image and they take that. And if they have a partner or if they have somebody that they’re intimate with that they want to share this image with, they can start talking about that and start a conversation. That is key I think for women developing the language because something can say when you touch me here on my shoulders, I really start to relax and that is so good for me. If you touch me there first, I really get into the relaxation and calmness that I want to have when I’m with you but if you touch me on my feet, I’m like: “Get out of here because I don’t like feet and I might get like…

Sasza
Right, I mean they’re like: “Oh, but I’m giving you an amazing foot massageand they think that you’re laughing and you’re sitting like: “Oh my goodness”.

Tara
Don’t touch my feet [Laughs].

Sasza
Right, so I think a lot of people probably get the benefit of kind of recognizing what it is they like or don’t like, that they probably never even consciously…

Tara
Yeah. 

Sasza
… without literarly having it down on paper and then to be able to give that to your partner who obviously can’t read your mind and know that you don’t like foot massages.

Tara
Yes, and then they can do it, you can draw the outline of their body and then you can both have shared this intimate experience, and really started to create this language that you’re able to share together about how to talk about the body, how to talk about pleasure, how to talk about sex and sexuality. I mean really all of those things can really begin with that externalized image, I think it’s a great tool.

Sasza
So, the women in the program, what … Is there an age range for…?

Tara
Yeah, I’ve had women from I would say early 30s up until their late 60s, is probably the range that I’ve seen. I think younger women have more specific issues, I’d say they’re more specific around fertility and often times dating because they’re usually not in a long-term committed relationship. And so, that’s a separate group that I don’t usually work with. And so these women that I do work with are often in long-term relationships, some of them aren’t which I love because I think that the more variance in relational status, the richer their conversation. Because I think the women who are single always think the grass is always greener for the women who are in relationship. nd the women in relationship think: “No, you have it so much easier because I got a deal with this person that I’ve been with for decades, and they don’t get it and I want them to get it and we’re stuck in this groove, and we’re stuck there together”. So, I think that it creates a great richness and there’s heterosexual women and homosexual women, and the age range I think creates some richer conversations as well and that yeah, I would say that’s this kind of a picture of who the women are.

Sasza
Yeah, I think it’s a great concept that grass is always greener on the other side in terms of relationships and generally seem to be that way.

Tara
Mm-hmm.

Sasza
I mean there’s definitely something to be learned on all sides of the grass but not necessarily greener, it’s just different and oftentimes not comparable. I’m wondering if you could share one of the stories of the women or perhaps one of the women that you’ve learned a lot from, or any particular anecdote.

Tara
Sure.

Sasza
One or a few.

Tara
There’s one woman in particular, and I’ll be speaking about her tomorrow at the conference and I’ll call her Lou and she is married to Rob and Rob and her have been married for about 20 years. And when she was in her late 30s, she was diagnosed with anal cancer and Rob and her and had a couple of kids and they are probably in their late teenage years, the kids were. And she was working a full-time job, I mean life was going on for her, she was really in the midst of things. I don’t know teenagers are tough and then to be working full time and then to be diagnosed with anal cancer. One of the things that she shared, she was really funny and she said you know: “I hate to tell people what kind of cancer I have because they’re like: you know what are you gonna get? What am I gonna get a little brown ribbon”. She was really out there and upfront and she said: “I didn’t get a pretty pink ribbon, I don’t have breast cancer”. And so it was that some shame around what type of cancer she had, but in the group she shared and it was amazing that in that particular group she was in there were 3 women that had anal cancer, which is so unusual because the nurse navigator who refers the women to my group deals specifically with breast cancer. And I often have overwhelming number of women who have had breast cancer, but Lou didn’t have breast cancer and she’d gone to the cancer con when she was diagnosed probably a year and a half after, and the cancer cons here in Denver for young people who’ve had cancer. And she went to the session, where they were talking about sex and sexuality and she was like: “Oh my goodness” and she’s not a cheerful woman, she’s really a funny woman, and she just sat in the corner and she cried and cried. She said that it was like a part of her that hadn’t been touched in a year and a half since her final cancer treatment, it had been touched and she didn’t even know how to respond. So, it was a very cathartic experience, she just sat there and cried and when she was done, she was really motivated to do something about it, she’s like: “Oh my goodness, I gotta tell my husband what happened, we have to do something about this” because after 6 weeks, after surgery, they say: “You’re good to go” and she’s… So, they tried to have intercourse and she says: “It wasn’t successful”, I don’t really know what that looked like for them.

Sasza
I think that’s kind of like childbirth when they’re like: “Yeah 6 weeks”, and it’s like well, in case you didn’t know not all child births are the same.

Tara
Yes.

Sasza
Remotely, any recovery from you know surgery, truly intense experience or injury or whatever. So, it’s really interesting that there’s that rule of them that people honestly believe that they’re supposed to adhere to, and they’re like: “Oh, but if I can’t make that 6 week period…

Tara
 …there’s something wrong with me” [Laughs].

Sasza
Right, it’s like: no, there’s something wrong with the fact that they don’t even give you a rein.

Tara
Truly yes, it’s so generic and so she after the 6 weeks had tried to have intercourse with her husband and again, she says it wasn’t successful. So, this experience at cancer con a year and a half later was like: “Oh my goodness, we’ve not had sex, we haven’t even been intimate with each other, we’ve not even giving each other pleasure in any way”. They love each other and were living together as roommates and not attempting anything sexual, because they were so afraid and he bless his heart was at what I would say: stuck in this caregiver dynamic. He’s really trying to be very respectful and giving her her space, so there’s this whole ocean between them and it was very isolating and it was very difficult for them to make them that contact, and it was frustrating for both of them because they both didn’t know how to proceed. So, after cancer con she’s like: “Okay I’m ready, I’m ready” but she again didn’t know how to proceed. Sex therapy wasn’t even on their radar, they like geared a couple you can go to couples therapy or relational counseling. But sex therapy, what’s that? and when they look through their packets of information from the doctors who are overseeing their treatment, it really wasn’t anything on Saks and they were like: “Oh my goodness”. So, in that point, I would say:  “LuAnne was stuck in this gestational period, like she was there was a pregnant pause, like she was waiting because she knew they were something more but she didn’t know what it was. And then Rob a year and a half after that, just like 3 years after her treatment had ended a year and a half after the cancer con, Rob saw this flyer for rediscovering my body and he said very sweetly: “Will you take this class?” He said: “It’s for women, I can’t take it but I would really love if you could take this class” and she said: “Oh my goodness. Yes, of course” and so she went through the class and she did all of the exercises: the body scan, the guided imagery, that trauma releasing exercises and everything else that we do in the class. And she was such a great support for the other women in the class, she always showed up, she was so vibrant and really trying to figure things out and at the end of the 4 weeks, that’s it. I don’t hear anything from anybody, everybody says: “Goodbye, we go to an adult toy store, we look at lube and toys and dildos and trying to, you know spark people’s creative imagination of what could be next. And that’s it and then 6 weeks later, she sends me an email and she said that they went to Estes Park and her and husband had some kinky erotic time together, and she said: “Can’t really say that we had intercourse but we had so much fun”. And I think that was really the important piece, the fear had dissipated and that they were able to connect in a very loving fun way and they spent the whole weekend at this romantic getaway, and it was really romantic. And I think that for me a goodness was so fulfilling, because I got that something changed for her very dramatically in her life and in her physiology. And also in her relationship with her husband, who she really adored and that now I can see their relationship will be on a much different level, a much better level for both of them, much more satisfying, much more healthy, much more communicative and that the fear had been lifted about how are you talking about sex, how are you even do sex, how are you. But, this playfulness of let’s be curious, let’s be creative, let’s just be imaginative and try to create this erotic space together. And I was so glad that she sent that email cuz most people don’t, I don’t know where they’re at after the class, I think that’s kind of the plight of a therapist, people leave therapy and you think they’re okay but you don’t necessarily hear back from them, but when you get an email back and you hear that people are doing great, it’s … WOW [Laughs].

Sasza
Yeah, and I think that just goes back like you mentioned to the fun in the process, not necessarily any objective goal.

Tara
Yes.

Sasza
But the experience of it.

Tara
Yes.

Sasza
And I think that again a lot of us can learn from not having gone through such hard experience such as they have overcoming cancer, and going through the treatment and the physical experience of what that does to your body. But in the rediscovery, I think a lot can be learned and people need to remember that it’s okay to have you know maybe at some point need to reconnect, rediscover your body or your intimacy or your relationship and it might not even be once.

Tara
Yes.

Sasza
You know. I feel like these days, it seems like we live about 5 life like this in our one lifetime.

Tara
[Laughs].

Sasza
So, it would make sense that there will be about 5 different times in our life where we might need to kind of really where we are, how we think, how we feel, how we behave as a result.

Tara
 Yes.

Sasza
So, I think that’s really beautiful and there’s a lot to be learned for it. Thank you so much for joining us today Tara.

Tara
It’s been my pleasure Thank You Sasha.

Sasza
Wonderful having you here, thank you.

On this episode we are speaking with Tara Galeano, a sex therapist who helps women reimagine and rekindle their sexuality. She teaches a course titled “Rediscovering Your Body After Cancer Treatment,” and she discusses how the relationship to our own sexuality is an ongoing process throughout the many changes we experience over our lives. Sex is an act, it’s simple. Sexuality is about how you are, your body, and how you feel about yourself.

Tools for Reconnecting

These exercises can be done at any time, but are especially useful for people who have experienced a life threatening illness as they allow for someone to return to their body from an experience that can be disassociating, or even feel like a betrayal of one’s own body. It all starts with the relationship you have with yourself.

  1. Body Scan. This is an invitation to come back into your body. Begin at the top of your head and scan all the way down to your feet; feel your feet grounded in the earth. This exercise can help you overcome feelings of anger and disassociation and is great do to before going to
    bed, or when you wake up in the morning.
  2. Body Map. This is an external image of the body which allows you to note the parts of your body that you want touched, or where you find pleasure, as well as the areas that you are not ready, or don’t want, to be touched. This exercise uses art as a form of self-expression and is
    incredibly intimate.
  3. Shake: Trauma releasing exercises developed by Doctor David Berceli. Cancer diagnoses and treatment can be traumatic experience, and can leave many women feeling objectified, which can result in trauma being held in the body. This exercise is about releasing of the nervous system and gives you’re the opportunity to come back to your body more comfortably. The App can be given by your doctor.

Don’t forget to check in with your body!

If we are not comfortable in our bodies we are never going to have mind blowing sex, we are never going to be relaxed.

Creating a Language for Intimacy

Because many of us were not raised in a sex positive environment, as we age we often find ourselves at a loss for the vocabulary to express ourselves fully. Most women have a sense of what they want to say but have fear because they have never said their desires aloud before. Group sex therapy is a space that can help build the vocabulary so that we can articulate what
we want.

“In Between” Language

When I work with women in my practice, I like for them to do a self-examination of themselves so they can look at their vulva, look at their vagina, and figure out what words feel good to them.

This practice relates to how we evolve as sexual beings. It’s dynamic and allows for women to find the language that represents their body and their desires.

Exercise: Body Map How To

  1. Get a large piece of paper so that you can trace your whole body.
  2. Trace both the front and back sides of your body. Recommendation: do the front side first.
  3. Using the image of your body – fill it in with the love that you feel for yourself. Note which areas you want to be touched using green.
  4. Continue to fill in your body using green good, yellow for sensitive areas, and red for “don’t touch”. Feel free to add text and embellish your body in whatever way suits you best.
  5. Share your body image with your partner and show them where and how do you want to be touched.

Extra: Have your partner complete their own body map so that they can share their desires with you to help create a conversation about your language of intimacy.

Make sure to listen all the way to the end when Tara shares a beautiful and hopeful story about sexual reclamation. Enjoy!

About the Expert

Tara Galeano - profile

Tara Galeano

Tara Galeano is the founder of Boulder Sex Therapy, where she runs workshops for women to reimagine their bodies and rekindle their sexuality- particularly after cancer. Tara tells inspiring stories of the women she works with and talks with us about the ongoing process of discovering your sexuality through your life and throughout body changes- which is something all of us have to deal with eventually in some way, and we probably all need to improve upon.

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