The nervous system is important because it affects every action you take, from breathing to performing complex tasks. It is also a major player in how you think about, feel about, and experience sex. As your body takes in and processes sensory input, your nervous system responds to that input and, depending on that response, you can experience magnificent pleasure, pain, or, for some of your clients, both.
And all of this must be taken into account as you work with your clients. Understanding how a client’s nervous system responds to their environment and the sensory input it is receiving provides you with valuable information to help your clients take their foot off the brakes and experience the pleasure that they desire and deserve.
But I don’t have a background in neuroscience, you might be thinking. However, I’m guessing you already notice when your clients are stressed compared to when they are feeling calm and relaxed. As a sex coach, you are likely naturally cueing into signals like tone of voice, posture, body language, and other behavioral patterns your clients exhibit. So let’s use that skill of yours and build on what you already know using the MEBES© framework.
Applying the MEBES© Model to the Nervous System
I’d like to introduce you to *Peyton (name has been changed for privacy). They came to me ashamed that they aren’t able to “just breathe.” They are struggling to feel good about their sexuality which, in turn, is affecting other aspects of their life—their personal relationships, their copywriting business, and even mundane life activities.
As we went through their sexual history, Peyton shared that they used to love sex and they just didn’t know what happened to their sex drive. They were always kinky, loving to be tied down, wrapped in ropes, or getting a good spanking, but their partner told Peyton they are “too old for that kind of thing now.” Their partner often says that Peyton is “too old” for some of the activities they like—going to theme parks to ride roller coasters, swinging high on swing sets, and driving fast cars. Peyton wasn’t willing to fight with their partner about something that “isn’t really a need” but was curious after a friend shared something I had said in my women’s group. They asked me if it was true that many people who are “into BDSM” use their activities with their partners to relieve stress and that their kinks are “closer to needs than they might imagine.”
My response? It is absolutely true! And that is where the real work began. By the end of our second session together—and with the use of an extensive client intake form which includes the Occupational Performance Inventory of Sexuality and Intimacy (OPISI)—I had the following information about Peyton, which I plugged into Dr. Patti’s MEBES© model.
M – Mind: Peyton believed communicating their desires will result in a fight. Their likes and desires are childish and immature. Kink has little to do with need and everything to do with selfish want. It’s normal for desire to “go away” after being with one person for a long period of time. Kink is just a trauma response, but I don’t have trauma.
E – Emotions: Stressed about their relationships, parenting, being a “good” partner, and their copywriting business. Decision fatigue is a daily challenge and they are often frustrated at their lack of focus. Ashamed for being “childish.” Fear that expressing their desires will result in fights because this has happened in the past. Resentful of their partner’s perceived neglect and guilt for being angry or having angry outbursts. Guilt for needing time to work out every day. “It’s the only way to manage the anger.” Lonely because they feel like no one understands them.
B – Body/Behavior: Intense anger when they are touched lightly, inability to sleep or relax in bed if the sheets aren’t fresh, wrinkle free, and cool, constantly fidgeting and visibly trying to control this behavior. Wears corsets almost every day and “just feels weird” without it and tight pants or pencil skirts. Loves their body, which is fit, strong, and responsive. Exercise, especially weight lifting, is very soothing. Rigid control over food because they get intense anxiety when they feel too full or too hungry. Cleaning is a calm, soothing activity. They love fast cars and intense activities like roller coasters.
E – Energy: I asked Peyton to go through their weightlifting routine immediately before the second session which resulted in a dramatic difference in energy.
Session one: Nervous energy that feels as though it could explode at any moment. At the same time, they seem “flat” in their affect. Everything is spoken matter of factly without excitement or much emotion.
Session two: Animated, breathing deeply in the abdomen, no fidgeting, vibrant. That “grounded” energy noted in spirit is apparent.
S – Spirit: Working out is a spiritual experience. They feel in sync with their body and are grounded while doing heavy lifting specifically.
Using this MEBES© framework, I was able to create an action plan for Peyton. A common theme throughout the assessment was that Peyton has both sensory-sensitive (i.e. needing cool, wrinkle free sheets) as well as sensory-seeking (i.e. wearing corsets) behaviors. These were big clues as to how Peyton’s nervous system functions and helped us identify their needs so they could communicate more effectively with their partner. Here’s what we did.
Peyton had two goals. First, they wanted to understand their kinky desires. Second, they wanted to communicate them to their partner.
It is always important to refer clients to specialists if they need it. An occupational therapist can be a great member of the team when working with clients who have dysregulated nervous systems. The information in the OPISI assessment helped me rule out the need to make a referral in Peyton’s case. What they really needed was to understand their sensory needs and to use that knowledge to regulate their nervous system both alone and with their partner.
I recommended the book Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski, PhD, to help Peyton understand how our bodies respond to stress. This understanding became the foundation for the work we did together and for conversations that Peyton later had with their partner, as well.
For Peyton, activities that required sitting still and “just breathing” often caused the flight response as was noted in the first session’s assessment. When Peyton engages in heavy work activities, they feel calm, energized, and connected, which was apparent in the second session.
I recommended that Peyton get a Mobility Wall to use throughout the day as well as incorporating other heavy work activities into their daily routine. Instead of cleaning all at once, they could do 15 minute bursts throughout the day, which would help maintain a regulated nervous system. They modified the 20 second hug with their partner to add pressure, which feels soothing and helps them feel connected. They also bought a swing for their porch, which gave them the vestibular input they loved while also getting them out in nature, which, as mentioned in the previous article, is another proven method for relaxation.
Peyton spent two weeks after our second session implementing these suggestions and noticed several improvements, including less stress, no angry outbursts, and less guilt about their sensory needs. But what about sex?
Sex, Kink, and the Nervous System
Understanding how their sensory system works allowed Peyton to understand that their kinky desires aren’t weird and, in fact, are a way to get out of their head and relax. This allows them to connect with their partner and experience their maximum pleasure potential. When they engage in activities that provide the sensory input—pressure and other intense sensations they need, they don’t notice a wrinkled sheet or get angry at touches that are too soft.
Communicating this to their partner, Peyton was able to—without shame, fear, or guilt—express their need to feel calm and relaxed and they asked their partner to help them feel this way. They explained to their partner that making decisions all day can be frustrating and that kinky play—a spanking or being held tightly between them and the wall—helps them feel calm and relaxed.
Peyton further explained to their partner that the kinky play didn’t help them feel desire; the desire for their partner was always present. They explained how stress and their nervous system response to that stress put the brakes on. They negotiated and agreed upon activities they would do together. They identified ways for Peyton to express their needs, as well as ways for their partner to respond in and out of the bedroom.
The nervous system takes in and responds to sensory input, which means it is a key player in our clients’ sexual experiences. Helping our sex coaching clients understand how their own nervous systems respond to sensation can help them feel better about their own desires. In fact, this understanding can empower our clients to experience their maximum pleasure potential. Using MEBES©, you can focus your attention on the needs of your clients, pinpointing specific areas of challenges to create an action plan to help them work—and play—toward their goals.
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