In one of my favourite books, Vagina by Naomi Wolf, there is a diagram of the female anatomy system beside the male anatomy system. It shows the complex nerve networks that intertwine within both forms of genitalia and how these nerves connect to our brain. These nerves, when stimulated, like any nerves within our flesh prisons, transmit signals and information creating a ‘sexual response’ within our central nervous system (CNS).
As a sexually charged human, this really got me thinking. In the same way my body has stored memories, and my mind has ingrained connections, how has my vulva been blue-printed? As a survivor of sexual assault, and as a human, my self-sovereignty is driven by mind and body freedom. Had my vulva kept the score of my assault? Had my vulva kept the score of all my sexual interactions? Did they remember all the morning-after-pills, orgasms and thrush? The truth is, I am an amateur researcher. I have half an undergraduate degree and I am largely my greatest test subject, in all areas. But I knew there was substance to this conversation because I had felt it on all meta-physical levels.
My vulva had kept score of all those things.
In the chapter, ‘The Traumatized Vagina’, Wolf writes,
"Sexual assault can break, in other words, the delicate physical balance that underpins the female body’s physical mechanism for getting turned on. It seems that the aftereffect of sexual trauma can dysregulate the physiology of female sexual arousal – leaving entirely aside the psychology of the event and its many emotional after-effects."
As an individual with C-PTSD, I felt this statement to the core. The ebb and flow of trauma has, at times, voided me of the ability to look at or touch my own vulva. Everything from washing in the shower to casual sex was triggering; I became redundant of the ability to connect with any delicate physicality possessed prior. Emotionally, I was on high alert for at least ten months following my assault. Fluttering the edges between sanity and skirting around animalistic overdrive; I became ruled by fight, flight, freeze and fawn. This was further solidified through sleepless nights, flashbacks, a constant metal taste in my mouth, ruminations and the numbness I felt in my entire reproductive and sexual system. I stopped getting my period. It wasn’t until a huge breakthrough, around seven therapy sessions in, that my uterus heavily bled again; purged even.
I would like to interject here by saying that vulnerability is confronting, as is recognising the potential levels of damage to the spirit that trauma can cause. But it is also real. In a space of complete validation and truth, my trauma is real. And if you are reading this, and feel any resonance, your trauma is real also. I would like to welcome you home, there is empowerment in knowledge and there is a needed connection in knowing you are not alone. The 2020 Australian Government paper on sexual assault found that almost 2 million Australian adults have experienced at least one sexual assault from the age of fifteen; a statistic that fails to recognise certain demographics: the homeless, disabled people, sex workers, the LGBTQIA+ community and First Nations people are more likely to experience sexual assault that is unreported or unlawfully disregarded.
When you start to think about the vulva as its own entity, a life force, everything starts to make more sense. The injury to the vulva and the central nervous system can become a sensory, visual, auditory and psychological injury. Researchers Allesandra Rellini and Cindy Meston, psychologists at the University of Texas, researched this reaction in assault survivors extensively. They found that the cortisol (stress) levels in the saliva of women, when experiencing flashbacks, changed dramatically, hence the metallic taste in my mouth. Additionally, they discovered through measuring the women’s ‘vaginal pulse’ when exposed to stimuli, showed complete dysregulation of the sympathetic nervous system; cue the numbness in my vulva.
From a place of extreme privilege, one that has gifted me resources, I began to realise that to completely embody healing we must not only consider the mind but our entire system – we must consider the blueprint. By no means is this medical advice. First and foremost, when healing any kind of trauma, consulting with your chosen medium of ologist is imperative (for example, a psychologist or kinesiologist). However, there is no use in hoarding my learned unlearning; either taken by you with a grain of salt or cause for further self-research. In the same way I dislike the scarcity mentality that underpins individualistic driven consciousness, I dislike the idea that I wouldn’t share, with respect to boundaries, my trials and tribulations in reconnecting with my vulva and the slightest potentiality that someone out in the ether may be searching for these answers also. Who said healing cannot be a humanistic driven collaboration?
It takes an integrated approach, a space where I welcomed the void (the place within). In my belief, a place where there is duality and emergence through destruction and creation; nurtured through healing, curiosity, humanness and discourse. A place where I finally asked, how does one begin to heal the vulva and to connect more deeply? A place where I began to be able to cover the basics: vitamins, breathwork, meditation and grounding techniques. Come back to my body through many mediums; for example, yoni massage, yoni healing and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Any survivor of abuse, no matter your gender, is also entitled under the Department of Victims Services to twenty free mental health sessions, with possibility for extension.
As humans, we have the gift of neuroplasticity; a beautiful ability to learn through hardship, to grow into triumph (no matter how small) in the face of adversity, to transcend back to our wild core, to survive at all costs with the tools we possess. I write this with no under estimation of what it takes, it takes everything and a little bit more. But above all, take your time and do the work, healing is no linear race; it is yours to rewrite your blueprint.
I hope you feel how powerful you really are.