What is vulva mapping? And why you would want to do it!

“If overthrowing some five thousand years of patriarchy seems like a big order, just focus on celebrating each self-respect step along the way.” ~Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues

As someone who is committed to radically holistic health care for women, when I first heard about STREAM training I knew it was a perfect fit. STREAM stands for Scar Tissue Remediation, Education and Management. It’s a revolutionary approach to working in the pelvis to support healing for people with birth injuries or trauma, scar tissue from gynecological procedures, chronic pelvic pain or pain associated with sexual intercourse, gender reassignment surgery and so much more. It’s a modality that includes genital touch and does not deny our human sexuality. STREAM gives space to our sexual identity as part of the healing process.

My first experience of this work was when I had a vaginal mapping session with my mentor Kimberly Johnson. It was completely normalizing and de-shaming to experience genital touch with someone outside of the context of a medical procedure or a sexual encounter. I had an entirely new felt sense of my pelvis, where I was holding tension, what the vagina actually feels like to me for me and a deep knowing that this work would change the course of my life.

Somatic sex education, yes please! Embodied witnessing and skilled touch, yes, yes, yes!

That first mapping session was several years ago and the work continued to unfold prior to my recent pregnancy and now into my postpartum period. It’s given me so much personally and I’m thrilled to offer it for others.

Ok, so now that we have that little foreword out of the way, let’s get to it…

Vulva Mapping Basics

Vulva mapping is really at the foundation of this pelvic healing modality. It’s used as an embodied education and exploration tool, as well as an assessment tool in the context of working with a practitioner. It involves skilled hands on and hands in touch to become familiar with your unique vulva anatomy, including anatomy of arousal.

It is a somatic experience of your genitals in an environment that is not clinical or sexual. No stirrups, no cold speculum, no unwanted touch, no desired outcome. It’s slow and intentional, not cold or mechanical or awkward (although you probably think it sounds awkward AF, keep reading).

A mapping session is a process that unfolds between two peers, where the person giving the mapping session is not playing the role of the expert, doctor or savior. There is no therapeutic goal necessarily, although there can be. Often, witnessing is the medicine that we need the most to more fully embody our humanness, our pelvis and our life.

Arousal is not the goal but it is also not ignored or unwelcome. Tissues change with touch, that’s a normal physiological response and while shame may rise to the surface during this process, it’s a safe container for it’s unraveling.

Sounds interesting. Tell me more!

In a mapping session, curiosity, intention and deep listening give space to the part of us that has often remained unspoken or has been referred to as private, off limits or even dirty. Skilled, present touch brings the genitals on the map in our consciousness and unwinds layers of shame in the unconscious realm. It’s radical and simple.

Receiving genital touch that is not medical, clinical, sexual, unwanted, unexpected or otherwise unpleasant, is normalizing the territory and also rewiring the nervous system in the process.

This is a radical act of sexual autonomy and a quantum leap in making sovereign health choices. A mapping session says “You are here, in the space where the unseen becomes seen. Your vulva is an integral part of your whole body existence. It’s yours to claim in the most sacred and human way possible.”

Vulva Landmarks

During a mapping session the following anatomy is identified so the receiver has an internal, felt experience of vulva anatomy:

  • Mons pubis
  • Sacrum
  • Ischial tuberosities (sit bones)
  • Inguinal region
  • Outer labia
  • Inner labia
  • Clitoral head
  • Clitoral shaft
  • Clitoral legs
  • Vestibular bulbs
  • Urethral opening
  • Introitus (vaginal opening)
  • Perineum
  • Perineal sponge
  • Vagina
  • Urethral sponge
  • Cervix

Image from Sheri Winston’s book “Women’s Anatomy of Arousal”

A mapping session lasts about an hour and starts with down regulation of the nervous system for relaxation and attunement. Nervous system tracking throughout the process serves as a guide to be sure the body has time and space for integration.

If you have any questions about this offering, please reach out to me. I’d love to hear from you! If you’re ready for a mapping session, get in touch here.

Edited to add: 
I’ve had some questions coming in to further clarify what this service is or includes. It’s normal to need to hear this information in different ways and a few times for it to fully register. That’s the nature of working with this territory that often remains unspoken in the collective. A mapping session lasts about 90 minutes and would include some grounding first, usually in the form of bone holding (like craniosacral work) and then we would move towards vulva mapping as you’re ready. I wear gloves for the process and tell you exactly what I’m doing as I’m doing it as well as what I’m touching and where we’ll go next. Of course we can pause or stop at anytime. I’ll encourage you to really be the one guiding the interaction. I sit on the massage table with you so we can maintain eye contact as needed and both be comfortable. This is not a clinical experience. I don’t take a health history or ask you about previous trauma, although you’re welcome to share what you want me to know. Mapping is step one for pelvic healing and sexual reclamation, speaking from personal experience and professional understanding.

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