Relationships & Divorce
How Pelvic Floor Therapy Helped Me Rediscover Sexual Pleasure
For years I bulldozed through the pain. Until I started connecting with myself and rethinking my relationship with my body
“You don’t have to live this way, Elena.”
I felt the blood rush from my face when my physical therapist told me this. I swallowed a deep breath of air before silently uttering the word: “really?”
For the first time, I felt this sense of: “Oh. This can be healed???”
When I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease in 1997, and had a hysterectomy in 2012, I never imagined that it would result in tremendous sexual pain. I knew that I was likely to experience early menopause because of the high-dose chemotherapy that I’d received, and that a hysterectomy at 38 would have a long-term impact on my body – but I hadn’t accounted for the trauma in my womb. The loss of possibility. And the emotions that would be stored in my tissues.
And yet, here I was. Cringing my way through intercourse, and telling myself that this was just something I was going to have to deal with. For years I “bulldozed” my way through the pain. But I was discouraged, and over time retreated more and more from intimacy with my husband. I’d heard about pelvic floor physical therapy, but had set it aside as one more thing to do.
Until the pain was so severe that I finally took the first step to see a physical therapist who specialized in pelvic floor physical therapy.
During the very first session, while we were exploring my muscles, a few things became clear.
First, my pain was real — because my tissues were forever changed due a lack of estrogen from early menopause. And more than that, she emphasized that I didn’t have to suffer so. That I didn’t have to live with such tremendous sexual pain.
I realized that there was trauma in my womb, which led to a strong urge to protect myself.
The bad news is that healing from this isn’t as easy as taking medicine. But I discovered that this journey started with a reminder: I wasn’t broken. I didn’t need to be fixed.
What I needed was to allow myself to heal in a new way. To nourish and tend to myself, to my pleasure, and to my body from a place of curiosity rather than judgment.
If I’m being honest, as hopeful as I was after that first pelvic floor therapy session, immense disappointment quickly followed. Sure, PT was helping. The trigger points in my muscles were releasing, and I knew it was time to “do some homework” to get a new baseline. I learned so many helpful strategies and practices, like breathwork to imagine opening and closing, allowing myself to receive oxygen as a way to reconnect, or lingering in a happy baby pose to release tension in my inner thighs.
But there was something I hadn’t accounted for: the pressure I was still putting on myself. In my mind, the path to success was lined with less pain.
What I realized afterwards (and after even more intense pain) was that perhaps my path to success and healing required something different.
Saying yes to pelvic floor therapy was the first doorway to rediscovering sexual pleasure. Yes to breathwork. Yes to releasing tension. Yes to knowing that this healing wasn’t a one and done journey. I’d need to keep tending to my muscles and my tissues.
But there was a second doorway I needed to say yes to going through.
Yes to opening up to curiosity, to the question of “what would feel delicious?”
I’ve always known that expectations are my kryptonite, and curiosity is my antidote. And it became clear that I’d learned and was embodying expectations of how pleasure should look, feel, and be experienced. My view of pleasure in relationship to intimacy was based on a narrow definition and view of what was possible. I recently read Come as You Are, by Emily Nagoski, which reminds us that there isn’t only one on and off switch for pleasure and desire. We all have what she describes as “brakes” and “accelerators” that impact our experience. “We build walls for a lot of reasons,” she writes. “To protect vulnerable parts of ourselves. To hide things we don’t want others to see. To keep people out. To keep ourselves in.”
So I asked myself a question: What might I discover if I wasn’t trying to FIX me? What if I could allow the wall to come down?
The answer might surprise you (it definitely surprised me!). The answer whispered itself to me: “Belly dancing.”
Where did that come from? I wondered.
But in my heart, I knew why that came up. It was an intuitive nudge. A message from my heart to remind me to connect not to judgment, but to the desire to connect to what would “feel delicious.”
Deciding to follow this nudge, I found a studio and enrolled in a four-week course. When I arrived at the belly dancing studio, the first thing the instructor said was, “At the end of the day, I just want you to fall back in love with your belly and the power within you.”
Right there, within a circle of women of all different types and ages, we got to reclaim this power that simply whispers: “I am the thing that heals me.”
By recognizing the triggers of self-talk, expectations, and a narrow view of all things pleasure, I could pause and reframe not just my mind, but how I connected to myself.
This practice was an invitation to create space for pleasure instead of pain. To literally take pain out of the equation, not because it wasn’t real, but because maybe if I could learn to build new pleasure muscles, I could approach my own body, and intimacy with my partner, in new ways.
My physical therapist was right. I didn’t have to live this way.
Elena Sonnino is a life coach, speaker, and yoga teacher. Her debut book, Inhabit Your Joy: A Book of Nudges, was published in January 2022 and is described as a collection of small nudges, reminders, practices and so much more. Learn more about Elena at her website, Elenasonnino.com.