According to the field of somatic therapy, we store different emotions and memories in different parts of our bodies. So, the way to work through these feelings is to attend to our physical sensations — whether that’s through dance, yoga, massage, deep breathing, or meditation. One place we don’t always attend to but should is the vagina, somatic therapist Lisa Meuser tells Bustle. In fact, this is one of the most common places we store our emotions.
“When women experience discomfort, shame, uncertainty, violence, and so on, all these emotions can get trapped into the vagina,” says Meuser. “Any and all emotions can end up throughout the vaginal region — anger, fear, grief, shame, and so on. In fact, I’d say that all of them do get stored in the vagina when not processed, perhaps simply because the vagina is such a powerful part of a woman’s existence. Human life literally comes from the vagina.”
To explain how this works, Meuser uses the analogy of a bird flying into a window. It usually freezes, shakes itself off, then flies away. Our “shaking off” response for emotions is to cry, scream, or do something else to release it. When we don’t do those things — which we’re often taught not to do in our society — we get “frozen.” The emotion essentially gets trapped in some part of the body. In the vagina, this can come out as “pain, discomfort, tenderness, [or] numbness,” says Meuser. So, pretty much any sexual problem can be linked to an emotion.
Here are some of the main sources of the emotions that can get trapped in the vagina.
“Being a woman in a patriarchal society in and of itself can create a repression of energy in the pelvic region — which can affect a woman’s creative flow, sense of safety, and confident sense of self,” says Meuser. Many women, for example, may experience a lack of desire or pleasure that’s really connected to shame or lack of safety in one’s sexuality. And these feelings, of course, come from social norms saying women shouldn’t be sexual or that their sexuality exists to serve men.
2. Sexual Violence
About one in six women is the victim of attempted or completed rape at some point, according to RAINN, and the number is much higher if you count other forms of sexual assault. In fact, about one in three women experiences unwanted touching in college alone, according to the Association of American Universities’ Campus Climate Survey.
Meuser believes not only that experiencing this trauma can lead to physical sexual problems, but also that merely having ancestors who experienced sexual violence can. “Sexual violations have happened in most familial lineages, and rarely have they been energetically integrated, but instead hidden and buried away,” she says. “Sometimes, I will be working with someone and emotions and visions from their ancestral line will rise up.”
Childbirth can be a traumatic experience in our society due to the lack of control many parents have over the experience. “Women still undergo brutal conditions for giving birth: being over medicated, unnecessary high rates of cesarean births, and poor levels of aftercare,” says Meuser. And even without that, childbirth can be emotionally intense. If we don’t process them, these emotions can get stuck in the uterus as well as the vagina.
4. Pain During Sex
When we experience physical problems during sex, we can experience a lot of emotions as well, like embarrassment that it’s happening or fear that it’s not normal. This can often make the issue worse.
“Forty percent of women experiencing pain during intercourse don’t even seek medical help,” says Meuser. “They think it’s normal, they are embarrassed by it, and/or they think it’s something they’ve created. That’s a lot of physiological pain — and emotional pain — in the vagina.”
Any emotion can get stored in the body, but anger in particular often gets trapped in women’s bodies because it’s not considered socially acceptable for us to express it, Meuser explains.
Meuser usually helps clients work through these emotions by asking them what feelings and memories come up during different physical experiences, which could include sex. According to her, “by gently guiding attention into different thoughts, memories and sensations, amazing release and then integration is quite possible.”