How to Take Your Sensitive Nether Region Nerves from Haywire to Harmony
Feeling a little sensitive about the bits of you that hurt?
‘Weird’, ‘alien’ and ‘disconnected’ are words I hear all the time to describe how painful parts of patients can feel unlike the rest of their body. Sometimes your painful bits can be so sensitive that even a light brush of underwear can make you jumpy, or blowing on your skin can make you cringe.
It’s your nerves. They’ve gone haywire.
This feeling is a defense mechanism of your nervous system. With persistent pain, nerves adapt and alter to protect you, sometimes producing more ‘danger’ sensors just in case your brain didn’t get the message.
There’s a bunch of studies that show changes in areas of the brain dedicated to receiving sensory information from the body, which could potentially contribute to the perpetuation and increased intensity of ongoing pain. [ref] [ref]
Adaptations like these can make the bits of you that hurt feel ‘weird’, ‘alien’, and disconnected from the rest of your body.
There’s not enough evidence to support whether or not this ‘reorganization’ of the nervous system is the cause of perpetual pain, but it does show us that pain involves a multitude of complex factors throughout the systems of the body and mind, not just in your tissues. Again, great defense mechanism in the short term, but not so helpful in the long term.
Put briefly, the same system built to protect you keeps pain on repeat (regardless of actual tissue damage or harm).
Biology briefing over, I have some good news. Just because your nerves have gone haywire, it doesn't mean you’re a lost cause. Your nerve sensors are constantly changing and adapting, and can ‘rewire’, which means you can feel calmer and safer in your body to move, sit, play, touch, and get back to doing the things you love.
Knowing that your nervous system and other bodily systems adapt to protect you gives you the opportunity to work with your body and brain in fun and creative ways that help re-establish harmony within your nervous system and your life.
One way to do this is to use sensory integration techniques to restore healthy tolerance to touch.
What are sensory integration techniques?
These are techniques that have been adapted from research studies done with children with somatosensory (perception of sensory stimuli from the skin and organs) integration difficulties and altered pain perception. One study in particular found that after 16 sessions of somatosensory therapy (which included various tactile and proprioceptive stimuli), children had improved pain thresholds and better tactile sense.
These same concepts can be applied to adults.
In their study on tactile stimulation in adults with chronic limb pain, Moseley et al found reductions in pain and improved tactile sense awareness occurred when the study participants had to discriminate between the type of stimuli they felt.
The researchers suggested three possible reasons for these improvements:
Distraction to shift attention from painful cues (outta sight, outta mind)
Exposure to a ‘threatening’ stimulus that doesn’t result in a negative experience (you expect it to hurt, but it doesn’t)
Cortical reorganization (positive shifts in the brain associated with sensory information)
How do you apply sensory integration to your most prized parts?
Here are some fun options that you can do riding solo or partnered up. I’ll describe the activity as though you would do it with a partner and then give you ideas of how you can adjust it to do by yourself.
1. Look around your home to find objects of varying texture, size, weight, etc. Here are some ideas:
Kale! (Who said you can’t play with your food?)
2. Find a comfortable and safe position to do this or add in activities that you normally find challenging - perhaps standing, sitting (on various surfaces, starting with the easiest most comfortable seats), even walking.
3. Close your eyes and have your partner pick an object that they can lightly caress your skin with. (For best results, do this directly on the skin). Begin with areas that you know are safe and don’t hurt.
Slowly move towards the areas that hurt or are sensitive, just kissing the edges of these areas. This will give you an idea of your boundaries.
You want to nudge towards these areas and back off. It’s important for your nervous system to know that when you challenge, there will be an end in sight.
If you’re practicing to help decrease pain with sitting, have someone place the object in your hand and describe in detail what you feel. Then guess what the object is.
4. Describe to your partner the sensations that you feel on your skin without ‘labeling’. Just be curious and use your words.
Texture (rough, smooth, firm, soft)
See if you can draw an image of the boundaries of the object. Give any other descriptive qualities that come to your mind, even color!
If you’re flying solo, you can use the same concepts. Close your eyes and caress your own skin (starting away from the sensitive areas and working towards them), paying attention to the sensations you feel under your hands. Feel what you’re feeling without judgement.
You can also use movement (move in anyway that makes you feel good, which might take some exploration) and pay attention to the ways that allow you to appreciate the movement of the bits that hurt. Alternatively, move body parts that are adjacent or further away. You can even just visualize the sensitive parts moving or performing activities that you want to feel and be able to do eventually without discomfort.
The aim is to do these activities several times per day. Think about it this way: You’re spoon-feeding your body bite-sized information to build evidence that things are safe. The activities don’t have to take long, but allow long enough to check in with your body, take a break, and shift your focus.
Sensory integration is great for retraining your nervous system. It also encourages your brain to shift focus and ‘reorganizes’ the neurological pathways of your brain involved in emotional regulation, rational thought, critical thinking, and areas that receive sensory information from your body (just to name a few).
If you’re looking for more ideas on how to apply these strategies into your life, check out the online DIY Pelvic Pain Relief program (click here if you’re a penis owner or here if you’re a vulva owner).