I recently interviewed a woman who told me she has never had any sensation in her vagina and this has been the case since she first had sex aged 19. That is a long time to have a numb vagina.
She is now 37 and has finally reached a breaking point in wanting to find a solution to what, for her, has become an increasingly distressing and depressing situation.
This lovely lady, lets call her Jane, is beautiful, fit, smart and successful. To look at and speak with her, you would have no idea that she is living with this secret.
Yet for Jane, her yoni (the Sanskrit word for female sexual organs) has become the focal point of her life. She is “devastated”, she tells me, to have no sensation in her vagina, has rarely experienced orgasm (through any means of stimulation) and feels “like I am missing out.”
She knows, having read books such as Naomi Wolf’s “Vagina”, and spoken with other women, that there is more – far more – in terms of sexual pleasure and a sense of embodied femininity, that she could be experiencing, and she wants it!
Jane is the first woman I have spoken to in my Women’s Research Project with this level of “sexual dysfunction”: a medical term for her experience that, in my view, only reinforces an existing sense of inadequacy and failure.
But just how common is it for women to have little or no feeling in their sexual organs?
What could be the cause of a numb vagina?
And what can be done for women who self-identify this way to enhance sensation and pleasurable sexual experience?
As I soon found out, there’s very little specific information about vaginal numbness that is publicly available, as it tends to be lumped together into the general category of “female sexual problems”, which include: “loss of desire, loss of arousal, problems with orgasm, and pain during sex.”
I found more anecdotal evidence about vaginal numbness on online self-help forums, in fact, than I did on any official health or sexual well-being related website.
For what it’s worth, the NHS website states that female sexual dysfunction (or FSD) “can affect around 50% of women and become more common as women get older.” Yet “male sexual problems” only affect 1 in 10 (a shocking disparity if true).*
While I’m wary of statistics, other sources bear out this trend, pointing out what Naomi Wolf refers to as “an epidemic of female sexual unhappiness”, which is quite ironic given the sex-saturated, supposedly liberated era we inhabit.
But if that IS the case, then the response of Jane’s GP to her situation is shocking. When she finally plucked up the courage to consult him, he referred her to a sexual health clinic, displaying a complete lack of understanding and compassion for her situation.
While it is true that STDs, bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections can cause vaginal numbness, Jane knew she had none of these.
Other obvious possible factors her doctor might have wanted to rule out would include: pudendal nerve damage, diabetes and low levels of oestrogen (which would also affect post-menopausal women, but this was not the case with Jane).
But the rather obvious and most likely cause he totally failed to consider was emotional and psychological issues.
Anxiety and depression, as well as anti-depressant medication can inhibit desire and sexual response. But these, in themselves, are still secondary symptoms of an underlying malaise.
The root causes of sexual problems can often be traced back to neglectful parents, a restrictive (eg. strictly religious) upbringing, social conditioning (eg. the belief that “sex is dirty”), relationship issues and child sexual abuse.
These sorts of concerns are more suited to the healing expertise of a counselor, sex therapist and/or tantric bodyworker, where talking, touch and/or specific exercises are used to bring awareness to and change physiological response.
Nick Hudis, a Taoist Tantric bodyworker based in Yorkshire, for example, provides a far more nuanced and holistic perspective than Jane’s GP did, when I ask him about his experience of treating women with vaginal numbness.
“In working with a client” he says, “I would try to differentiate between numbness in the sense of absence of sensation (“I can’t feel anything”) which strongly suggests nerve involvement, and loss of sensitivity (“I can feel something but it is not doing anything for me”) which points to hormonal and emotional causes.
Numbness is comparatively rare and usually can be traced to a specific cause.
Insensitivity I think is very common and not always recognized by the woman.
Of course emotional issues are important. Numbness (and its opposite: hypersensitivity) are both potential forms of body armouring.
As with everything, I do not have a treatment protocol but work on a case by case basis.”
The suggestion that complete numbness is relatively rare is echoed by Cathryn Jiggens, a tantric practitioner who was drawn to her profession precisely because: “I couldn’t feel much pleasure or orgasm with a partner for most of a decade.”
According to Cathryn’s own experience, as well as her work with multiple clients, although vaginal numbness “can feel like an absence… if we drop more deeply into how our sex is…. we will find that this absence will have a shape/quality/texture to it.”
In her blog on the topic, she describes how she has become exquisitely sensitive and multi-orgasmic through a journey into tantra and conscious sexuality, “with some therapy along the way.”
The main part of Cathryn’s healing journey, she says, involved “healing yoni massage”: a technique also employed by Nick Hudis and most other such practitioners, which involves the mindful and loving massage of the vulva and vagina.
This is not, as some might imagine, about the practitioner masturbating the client to orgasm, but is focused on bringing awareness to and releasing both physical knots, as well as emotional and energetic blocks held in the vagina in the process of which sexual arousal may or may not happen.
This approach stems from the belief that the body, mind, emotions and spirit are inextricably intertwined, and that distorted perceptions about sex or traumatic emotional/physical/psychological experiences (both from our childhood or later life) will be stored in our bodies and can be healed through our bodies.
It certainly seems an effective way of improving both the immediate physical symptoms, as well as their psychological knock-on effects for many women, who, as Naomi Wolf identifies, typically experience depression, a kind of “vaginal grief” or sense of “not being a whole woman” when their vaginas are cut off from pleasure.
What I love most about Cathryn Jiggens’ self-account is the way she turns the allopathic medical and inadvertently shaming outlook (“I can’t feel much in my vagina, therefore there must be something wrong with me”) of the mainstream on its head:
“An essential conceptual shift needed for healing, is transmuting the idea – I have a sexual dysfunction – into an awareness that says: my sex is functioning to make me aware of something, which requires deeper and more loving attention from me.
If you are experiencing “sexual dysfunction” you could ask – what is your sex functioning to make you aware of? It might be past unacknowledged trauma… Or perhaps ….factors in the present that need addressing – diet, health, emotional health, work life balance etc.”
So if you are a woman affected by a numb vagina, here’s my advice for you:
- Take heart that numb vagina healing is possible. Better sex is possible.
- Inform yourself as much as you can about your body, your sexuality and the range of treatments available
- Be prepared for the fact that the conventional (medical) response may be unsympathetic, ill-informed and symptom-, rather than source-focused
- Use the medical mainstream to rule out obvious physiological causes
- Embrace your feelings around this and seek out the support you need
- If you are in a relationship, acknowledge that a numb vagina is an issue for both of you, and have the courage to find a practitioner or support-group in whose care you can then ask yourself Cathryn Jiggens’ question: what is your sex functioning to make you aware of? And go for it!
For that is, in my view, where your true healing will really begin.
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Links & references:
* NHS web pages on sexual dysfunction https://www.nhs.uk/livewell/goodsex/pages/femalesexualdysfunction.aspx
A highly recommended read for men and women: “Vagina” by Naomi Wolf
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