Last winter on the beach in Barbados I read the book Vagina by Naomi Wolf. The beach is not pertinent to this story, but it was very nice. Anyway I’m quite well read on sex so not much shocks me, but I did almost choke and die on some jerk chicken when I read this line; “Mike Lousada is the world’s nicest former investment banker turned male sexual healer.” Two sentences along when I discovered his practice was just around the corner from my Grandma’s house, I decided that as soon as I landed back in London I was going to need to arrange to meet this guy.
Reading Vagina I learnt that Lousada is a trained therapist and tantric practitioner who uses tantric gaze and ‘yoni massage’ in order to ‘sexually heal’. Yoni is a Hindi word for vagina, and yoni massage includes both external and internal genital manipulation, where orgasm is not the goal (but is certainly welcomed).
Wolf wrote about Lousada in the chapter of her book titled ‘The Traumatised Vagina’ under the heading ‘Rape Stays in the Vagina’. She was particularly focused on finding out his thoughts on whether sexual trauma manifests physically in the vagina. Having felt the inside of many, many vaginas, Lousada told Wolf that there are indeed physical differences in the vaginas of those with a history of sexual abuse. He says these traumatised vaginas can feel like they are tighter with knots of muscles in the walls.
This blew my mind. For the past 6 years I’ve worked with massage therapists and regularly get (non yoni) massage treatments. I am well aware that trauma and stress can physically manifest in many ways, one way being in tight or ‘knotted’ muscles or ‘myofascial trigger points’. I am also aware that having someone work out these areas with various massage techniques feels relaxing and healing and can even offer some longer-term benefits. But I NEVER thought to apply this same logic to vaginas.
There is a lot of focus on how to exercise and tighten up our vagina muscles, but rarely do we think about if our vaginas could do with a little rest and relaxation.
I needed to speak to Mike and find out what else he knew about vaginas that I didn’t. I also needed to ask him some questions about his unusual line of work (i.e. how he got to be fingering people for a living). So I visited Mike in his London practice and actually it turned out that a lot had changed for Mike since his initial interview with Naomi Wolf. His work has evolved to be quite different than how it is described in Vagina. He now works more clinically under the framework of (his own model) Psychosexual Somatic Therapy (PST).
Please enjoy our conversation below. And if you want to know more about Mike Lousada and his work visit his website (I would specifically recommend reading the client testimonials to get a real idea of what his work accomplishes).
The Pro Boner: I first heard about you in ‘Vagina’, where you're described as a ‘Male Sexual Healer’. How did you end up doing this as a job, and is the work still as Naomi described?
Mike Lousada: My work has evolved so much. When she [Naomi Wolf] interviewed me, obviously she reflected what she wanted in the book, and how she met me at that time, which was 2 years before the book came out. By the time the book came out my work had already changed beyond all recognition, and now (that was like four or five years ago) it’s completely unrecognisable from that.
The short version of how I got here is that just after 40 I had a spiritual awakening and I left the world that I was living in. It was a corporate world and wasn’t really working for me, I didn’t enjoy it.
You were an investment banker?
Yeah. I left everything. Left my job, and walked away from everything and didn’t know what the hell I was going to do. I decided that I wanted to study psychotherapy, because I’d already been in therapy myself and it had resonated for me. And at the same time I also wanted to explore my own sexuality, so I explored tantra. And as a free, single, reasonable looking fella, I enjoyed myself on the tantra circuit let’s say.
I started having experiences with women that I thought were going to be sexual experiences, but they ended up being kind of healing experiences. Then as I talked about that in tantra workshops like; “this is happening when I have sex with a woman, is that normal, what do you think about that?” Women would start to come up to me and say; “I’ve got this problem do you think you can help?” So it kind of evolved from there.
The work that I was doing early on, and when Naomi met me, was very sexual. I was really doing a lot work helping women have orgasms, and working directly with their sexual response. It was quite sexy work.
Now it’s all become very serious and clinical. Over the years I’ve developed a modality called Psychosexual Somatics, which is a combination of talk psychotherapy, neuroscience, trauma therapy, osteopathy, myofascial release, clinical sexology, and energy psychology. I’ve studied all those things, and I’ve distilled down what I understood from them into one cohesive model that helps people resolve sex and intimacy issues very quickly and effectively.
What have been the major changes in your approach?
I’ve got a lot more structure in the work. Before it was a lot more helping women directly to have orgasms, now that’s not really a part of my work. Now it looks a lot more like supporting the clients with their own pleasure.
So you do that but with non-sexual touch?
I work also internally, in the vagina, anally and orally, but the purpose of that kind of touch is for releasing and re-sensitisation. So for example, if a client comes to me and says, “I’ve got no sensation in my vagina”, I’ll do techniques where I’ll touch them directly in order to help them to regain sensation. The purpose is for them to get back in touch with their pleasure and not that I’m there trying to give them pleasure. It’s a subtle distinction.
What are the common reasons people give for coming to see you? And is there a certain demographic, or age range?
20-84. Adults. I’ve had both those ends of the spectrum and pretty much everything in-between. Normally though they are 35-55 and mostly women.
It’s loss of libido, lack of self-confidence, feelings of shame around sex, or shame around some of their desires or fantasies. It’s lack of orgasm, sometimes it’s pelvic pain, sometimes it’s relational problems, and sometimes it’s lack of relationships. It’s really all across the board.
PST uses a 5-stage approach. Can you use the same process for whatever issue the client presents with?
It depends; it’s kind of cumulative. The first stage is cognitive awareness. It’s helping them to become aware of their patterns of behaviour, the blocks that are stopping them from experiencing pleasure and intimacy and what the roots of those are.
The second stage is somatic mindfulness, which is getting them into their body. Instead of talking about something intellectually, it’s feeling it in the body.
The third stage is physical release. That’s where I’m doing the physical palpations. I’m touching the tissue and feeling physical contraction in the tissue and manipulating that. At the same time because I’m inviting them to bring their awareness to that area, usually memories and emotions will start to come up as well. What happens is, when we connect the physical, the emotional and the cognitive the thing that’s blocking us starts to get integrated, and we start to discharge some of the tension and energy that we’re holding around it. This is what makes PST more effective and faster than doing talk therapy alone - we’re working at the somatic level as well as the mental level.
The fourth stage is erotic mindfulness. If you just sit here, and breathe into your body, and breathe down into your pelvis, at some point you’ll start to feel a sensation in your pelvis, and you’ll start to feel aliveness. We’ll typically call this an erotic energy. The erotic mindfulness is noticing; can you allow that energy or do you block it?
The final stage is sexual awakening. Hopefully now the client is fully open and able to experience their own sexual energy. One of the reasons why I stopped doing direct touch work so much is because I realised that I was doing things to provide pleasure for women. And that was fine and they enjoyed it, but it’s still externalising the authority for their pleasure to someone else. What I’m more interested in now is helping people feel their own erotic energy in themselves. The final stage is getting you in touch with your own sexual energy, rather than me doing something to you.
How long do the five stages take?
It can take anything from one session to ten. Normally I do an assessment session of an hour first because I need to check where people are, and get their history, and see whether they’re suitable. I ask them a whole load of questions about their history and background, usually at the end of the first session I’ll be able to give feedback that helps people be able to identify their patterns of behaviour that they probably haven’t been able to work out before.
Just from an hour of questions that they haven’t been asked before?
Yes. I mean firstly because the model is a beautiful roadmap for sexuality. So I can really find where people are on the roadmap, and once I can tell where people are, I can usually tell where they’ve came from.
Then when I’m doing the body/experiential work they’re usually three-hour sessions, normally it’s between 1 and 6 sessions, so it’s quite short term. But it’s pretty variable.
Take for example someone who has never experienced orgasm. Often it’s because they’re afraid of the intensity, or they’re not giving themselves permission and so they might need to go through some emotional release first. Sometimes just to go through one piece of emotional release is enough and then they can allow themselves to go into that deeper place of pleasure. And then that might be enough to shift things for them - or it might take them 10 sessions, it just depends how far and fast people want to work.
In Vagina I read that the successful results of your work had led to you speaking with and informing medical practitioners. How did that happen and has it evolved?
I did go in a few years ago and present to the NHS, I got some referrals from them for a bit, but that was a one off sort of thing. Although I am tentatively opening another door, or another door has been opened for me to go back into the NHS as well which is exciting. We also (‘we’ being psychosexual somatics as a community) have just opened a sexual wellness clinic in a private hospital.
There was an article in the Daily Telegraph about a workshop that I and my partner ran, and a hip surgeon at Spire [Jeremy Latham] saw it and he contacted us. And he said, “I’m replacing all these woman's hips but it’s not helping them with their sexual function can you come and help us?” So we went down and long story short we’ve now opened the clinic so that’s super exciting.
What kind of services are going to be offered from there?
The funny thing is, when we went down there, the whole gamut of PST at that time involved the direct arousal work. We were negotiating on it for about a year. So I sat down and had this wonderful meeting with Jeremy, who’s this lovely guy, surgeon, a certain kind of middleclass Englishman, and their Head of Marketing. And I said, look you need to know that this is the full range of what we do, in the latter stage of the work we’re working directly with clients sexual response. And they looked at each other and then they looked at me and they said “are we talking about giving clients orgasms?” And I said, very poker faced, “yes potentially”. And they looked at each other and then Jeremy said, “…we need to think about soundproofing”.
In the end they decided not to go for the direct sexual touch work but to go up to stage three the physical release work. But that includes internal work as well.
I know some women’s health specialists do internal massage for pelvic floor dysfunction
The difference is that we’re working psychotherapeutically whilst working internally.
It’s very exciting. The work you’re doing must be way more rewarding than therapy, because that takes ages (or never) to see results.
It totally is. It’s beautiful to witness the transformation of women, and men, and couples.
I’m interested now, knowing how much has changed since the book, a lot of what Naomi was talking about was trauma and physical manifestations of trauma in the vagina. Is this an idea that you still work with?
If you have physical tension you go for a massage, or you go and see a physiotherapist to go and work it out. If you’ve got pain, tension, trauma in your sex that needs to be worked out as well.
It makes perfect sense, but if you’ve only got the one vagina, as most do, I don’t know how sensitive people are to be able to tell when they’re tense or relaxed. I suppose it’s the same as when I go for a massage and they tell me I’m extra tense and I had no idea because I’d been walking around with it all month.
Unless there’s physical pain, people don’t come to me and say; “I’ve got a tense vagina”. They say, “I don’t feel comfortably emotionally with sex”, or “I don’t have much sensation”.
Basically what I’ve deduced is that the body, and particularly the genitals exist in one of 4 different states. It’s either; numbness, pain, emotion, or pleasure. So your pussy is designed for reproduction and pleasure, and if you’re functioning healthily, then when your pussy is touched appropriately, you’re going to respond with pleasure. However, if there’s some negative life story or belief or something then when you get touched you’re going to respond with emotion. And if it’s more intense it will be pain, and if it’s even more intense it will be numbness (numbness or heightened sensitivity, it goes two ways).
So what we do is take people down through those different layers back toward pleasure and that’s the purpose of the physical release work.
What’s an emotional vagina?
If you touch it, the woman cries, gets angry, gets scared, anything. I’d probably say that all vaginas that haven’t gone through a process like this in someway or another are carrying emotion.
When you have people who come to you with a history of sexual abuse and trauma how successful are you at treating it?
Very. It’s extraordinarily successful. And fast. And this is where the trauma therapy bit comes in, because it’s that understanding that we need to work somatically and connect up the emotional and the cognitive part. Because of the neurobiology of it all.
When we have a normal experience, you know, you go to the shops and you buy an ice cream on a sunny day. Afterwards you can remember an integrated experience of: it was a sunny day and I remember feeling the sun on my skin and I was chatting to my friends and I felt really happy. And this is the story that you have about it. So you can feel what’s going on in your body as you remember it, and you can remember the emotions, and you have a mental picture around it. This is a healthy integrated experience.
What happens with trauma, is that the qualia (the individual elements of an experience), disintegrate in the memory. So here’s an experience of red and touch and anger and fear, but they’re not linked up together. And because they’re not linked up together they tend to erupt in our psyche in inappropriate, or disproportionate ways.
We have somatic markers, which is the way that the amygdala and the hippocampus process sensory experience and give it an emotional context. If there’s a history of trauma or abuse then when the vagina or whatever is touched, instead of thinking oh that feels nice, the person will have a memory, and one of these qualia will come streaming out. So the work is that with these disjointed pieces of qualia, we need to join the dots. And when we join the dots they kind of recede back into the overall collective memory. And that’s why we need to work with the body, the emotions, and the mind. Because that addresses all of those qualia at different points.
I imagine it must get really confusing, because with trauma people can make bizarre connections.
Well they make logical connections but they don’t always understand what they are. Because a somatic marker can be obvious like, let’s say you have a car accident, now the next time you get in a car you might feel like, oh shit I’m not safe. But they can also be a bit sneaky. Let’s say you got in to a red car and had an accident, now every time you see the colour red you might freak out, but you might not know why you’re freaking out. So sometimes they’re a bit sneaky like that.
Is it easier to access those more unconscious sneaky connections when you involve the somatic work?
Yeah they get linked up and the other thing about trauma is that the reason people suffer and have PTSD, rather than 80% of people who have trauma but never suffer from PTSD, is because they haven’t been allowed to integrate the experience, and they haven’t been allowed to complete the cycle.
So what happens from an evolutionary perspective when we perceive threat, our body wants to go into fight or flight. However we live in this weird social world where we are taught that we have to behave ourselves and be good boys and girls, so we have to freeze instead. What needs to happen is we need to reactivate the body, mobilise the body, to activate that fight or flight reaction.
So that’s what we’re doing in the bodywork. And it’s not like I’m saying “so remember when you were raped? Go back in to that experience!” That is a bad idea. We don’t have to take people back in to trauma to deal with trauma. But what happens is when I touch, then there’s a somatic marker, and then the emotional response arises.
Have there been any brain imaging studies of your work or similar work?
There’s a guy called Steven Porges who developed something called polyvagal theory, a lot of my work is based on polyvagal theory. He’s now on staff at the Kinsey Institute, so I think that there’s going to be a lot more neuroscience and sexuality stuff linked together which is super exciting.
I just spoke to Nicole Prause who is a neuroscientist who just opened her own lab, where she doing work on brain stimulation and sexual response and orgasm. She left her position at UCLA after a study of hers got disapproved. I think it seems to be a lot easier to get funding for sex research on problems rather than pleasure.
Yes, that’s a fundamental problem with sex therapy, because it arises from a medical model it’s all about diseases and dysfunction. Whereas actually what we need to be doing is moving people towards their sexual potential and their potential for pleasure. And that’s what PST does very well, because it does move through those latter stages around sexual awakening.
Yeah it’s hard for people if they don’t know what is healthy.
Exactly. The other thing is there isn’t really any good reliable sex education resource out there. For most people porn is their education which absolutely shit. We need more resources out there, just real stuff that people can get a proper education from and understand what’s normal.