Trauma is more than meets the eye and whether you are aware of it or not, it has a big impact on every aspect of our lives. Charna Cassell, a trauma-trained psychotherapist and sexuality coach, joins us today for a deep conversation about somatic bodywork, personality development, and creating new habits and patterns within our bodies. She even gets into the nuances of trauma and how it impacts our sex lives and libido.
Charna and Celeste also talk about dating challenges as bisexual women and whether chemistry can grow over time. Charna is an amazing expert with so much knowledge and this episode has something for everyone, so take a listen!
In this week’s episode, we discuss:
[01:40] About Charna Cassell
[03:15] Why Charna became a trauma-trained psychotherapist and sexuality coach
[10:17] The power of asking for what you want
[13:39] Personality development and creating new muscle memory
[18:30] How does trauma affect libido?
[24:48] Unpacking the stereotype that people with penises should be “ready to go”
[29:19] Dating challenges as a bisexual woman
[39:54] Can chemistry grow over time?
[48:26] The importance of allowing women to drop into their femininity
About Charna Cassell
For over two decades, Charna Cassell LMFT, a trauma-trained psychotherapist and sexuality coach has helped people heal, find pleasure in their bodies, and live vibrant lives. Every week on her podcast “LaidOPEN” Charna shares her own stories, answers your questions, offers practical exercises, and interviews experts in somatics, trauma, healing modalities, and mindfulness. Charna is currently working on her book, “The Authentic: 6 Steps to Sexual Freedom”. Her work has been featured in Oprah Magazine, teenvogue.com, instyle.com, psychcentral.com, and askmen.com.
Why Charna became a trauma-trained psychotherapist and sexuality coach
Charna was a somatic coach before becoming a psychotherapist. Having gone through psychotherapy when she was a teenager and feeling as if it did not work for her, she was hesitant about it in school. She shares that she lived with anxiety until she found somatic work through Staci Haines’s book “Healing Sex”. Charna then found herself going to Staci’s classes and started to feel her nervous system thaw out and her anxiety subside. This change in her body and mind inspired her to start studying with Staci more often.
Before working with Staci, she did not realize that intimacy and sex could coexist. She was used to suppressing her needs and not setting boundaries. She found that she was building so many embodied relationship skills throughout this work and it transformed her life. She studied at the Strozzi Institute for 5 years. She is also glad that she became a psychotherapist even though it was an 8-year process.
Charna shares that somatic work is great for the nervous system and body, and psychotherapy is great for boundaries and the basics. If you are looking for someone to help you work through trauma, she recommends finding someone who works with the nervous system.
The power of asking for what you want
Speaking up for what you need and want while having boundaries is important but when the freeze response in your nervous system takes over, this is difficult to do. Charna shares that she sees sex as a microcosm and if someone is coming to her for sex therapy, she knows that the issues they are dealing with in the bedroom will be the same all over their lives. This is why unpacking trauma in a safe container is important for all areas.
Personality development and creating new muscle memory
Charna finds that our parent’s culture can insert itself into our being-ness even if we are in a different area of the world. We are all assessed for a role from a very young age, whether we know it or not. Celeste shared that she had an experience where a specialist went back to her three-year-old self and explained her personality. She has carried this seed that was planted when she was three, throughout her life.
The habits that we build live in our muscle memory. This is why any type of bodywork (dance, martial arts, breathwork, etc) is beneficial to heal trauma and create a new imprint. Charna has learned that we can use the breath to highlight places where our body is holding trauma, which can show up as tension, pain, or numbness. These are places where something was not fully expressed so doing physical practices to help you reoccupy these places creates a new muscle memory.
How does trauma affect libido?
She first shares with us that sexual trauma is much broader than what we believe it is. This may not be just sexual assault. We all have a life force that moves through us and allows us to take action and move toward something that we want. Trauma constricts our life force. So whether you grew up in a house where there was mental illness, addiction, any type of violence, or you are a person of color in a culture that supports white supremacy, there is trauma there. In addition, if we have to be a certain way to be connected to our family culture or religious community, we create these habits and they hold friction in our bodies.
Trauma restricts our system which prevents full sexual self-expression. Libido is sexual energy that wants to move through us so if our body is numb, it is because we do not want to feel that part of us. We do not get to choose to express our libido, it is in the same channel as passion, anger, grief, and joy, so if we shut this down and are not allowed to have emotions or needs, then the libido does not get expressed.
For example, if someone experiences sexual trauma, they may also experience turn-on at the same time. Our bodies are physically responsive when they are stimulated so terror and turn-on can coexist. This can lead to shame because anytime there is powerlessness, there is often shame. When we do not want to feel something, we shut it down. This is why it can be 30 years later and someone might feel shame after being turned on because of that experience.
Charna also shares that even if there was no sexual abuse, any type of trauma can cause depression in your system. This leads to hypoarousal and can often bring upon numbness and dissociation where it becomes difficult to feel turned on.
Unpacking the stereotype that people with penises should be “ready to go”
Celeste shares that in her 20’s she was dating someone and when they went to have sex she gave him a Viagra and he came too fast. She ended up kicking him out and now looking back on it she feels terrible. Charna shares a few different things that we can learn from this story:
1. If someone is demisexual, they need more emotional connection before they get turned on. There is a stereotype that people with penises need to be “ready to go” if they are attracted to you but this is not always the case.
2. He may have been on an antidepressant which makes it difficult to get an erection.
3. He may have come quick in a prior experience so he might have been nervous because he wanted to impress her.
There are all different reasons as to why someone may not be able to get an erection and the more we are educated on this, the better!
Dating challenges as a bisexual woman
Celeste shares with Charna the complexities of navigating online dating, especially with the added layer of being bisexual. She struggles to decide whether to mention her sexuality because she does not want to deal with the misconceptions and challenges like men asking for threesomes and couples that are looking for another partner. Charna shares with her that if you are transparent about what you want, you can sift through the creepy people and you are more likely to get what you want.
Charna also reminds us that being soft, open, and full of gratitude as you feel in love, is also possible by yourself. This is a state of being that is obtainable and it allows you to go into dating with a less pressured attitude.
Can chemistry grow over time?
Charna explains that while she thinks chemistry can grow over time, she also thinks that we cannot force something that is not there. She has met people with whom she felt the chemistry was insane and then they kissed and she felt nothing. She also had a partner where she felt amazing chemistry with sex but aside from this, there was no other chemistry like humor, lightness, or the rapport she has with her favorite people.
There are a lot of different experiences you can have but when you have a heart connection with someone, this is a certain type of chemistry. Charna shares that when you have intense sexual chemistry with someone, this is often related to some type of karma or timeline that gets ignited when you have sex. This intensity is more likely to fizzle out. She believes that you need enough chemistry to stay interested, but this can grow over time.
She also shares that we should start to notice if we are feeling an anxious turn-on or if we feel calm around them. Calm and ease are underrated and she believes it is really important to feel that. But we also have to be mindful of feeling comfortable because we are attracted to family patterns. There is depth and layers to this!
The importance of allowing women to drop into their femininity
Charna shares that having a date that feels full of laughter, playfulness, and generosity, while having the mood soft and supportive is key. She loves not having to make all of the decisions but also does not want to be controlled. It is important that a woman can surrender and be led. Women want to be able to drop into their femininity because many are leading a masculine life throughout their day and being able to drop into this space of having a good time is important.
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