Dr. Helen Shepard is a Doctor of Human Sexuality and Sexological Bodyworker. For those who have difficulty with sex, Shepard can help. Through a combination of breath, movement, sound, and touch, Shepard aids in connecting the mind and body.
They work with people who have experienced physical or emotional trauma, are disabled, trans people, people who have scar tissue, or people who feel uncomfortable during sex.
“Whenever there are scars, scar tissue impedes the circulatory system – I am able to intervene and provide a deeper connection with sexuality,” said Shepard. “I work with body awareness with people, I do body scans with people; for people who have dissociation with sex I can help people remain present in their bodies.”
Shepard studied at the Institute of Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco. Established in 1967, the Institute provides a variety of graduate coursework in human sexuality. Despite its long standing, Shepard said that for most people, sexological bodywork is something they’ve never heard of.
“I struggle to bring people to awareness around it,” explained Shepard.
They did emphasise that they were not a therapist, and that sexological bodywork is best done hand in hand with therapy. In therapy, clients discuss their issues, and during sexological bodywork, Shepard is able to help clients practice having body awareness.
“What I bring to the table is different than therapists,” they said. “It’s like talking about yoga – there is some benefit to talking about posture, but having someone guide you in the moment is so powerful.”
If you’re dissociative during sex, you aren’t really in the right state. “With my practice, I can have people on my table doing physical work and I can bring your focus back to this,” said Shepard. “People have in the moment practice doing the things that are going to help them later.”
The process is different for every client, and it depends on the clients specific needs. “I talk with people, I move with people. I do boundary building exercises and trust exercises with movement, sound, touch, and breath,” Shepard explained.
There is always talking and always touch. “I am certified to touch clients bodies, genitalia, and anus.” Shepard said that this process is different than sexual surrogacy, a type of therapy in which the surrogate engages in sexual relations with clients. “I am fostering an environment where people can look at their own sexuality. It’s hands on hands in education.”
“Sometimes I work with having clients undress in front of a mirror and talk about their bodies.” Shepard customizes each session to specifically address each individual client’s needs.
“It’s a really powerful process. I had a client whose partner was dying of cancer. She wanted to connect with herself on a deeper level and wasn’t able to be in her body fully,” said Shepard. “We had a session and there was a lot of release for her.”
Shepard works with men and women, genderqueer people and cis men. “For genderqueer people, it’s about finding someone they can trust. To live as a genderqueer person is to live in a socially violent world.” In working with genderqueer individuals, there are more clothed sessions, and Shepard works with building boundaries and trust.
They also work with couples, but emphasised that the process is very individual and introspective. “[During the] first session I don’t get people on the table. We talk, do breath work, and movements. I teach some fundamentals of what they’ll be doing – breath, movement, and intention.” Shepard will often give clients home play assignments to apply the work at alone or with partners.
Shepard has been doing this for about two years. They identify as non-binary, and would love to see more trans people in the office. They offer sliding scale for those who are survivors of trauma, or those with disabilities. “It’s important to me that the work be given to the people who need it,” said Shepard. “I want the work to be accessible, not just to rich people.”
They believe that sexological bodywork can be particularly beneficial for bodies in transition. Shepard is able to teach people how to have a better connection with their bodies, and provide education about how gentitalia works and how tissues form. Shepard said the work can reduce dysphoria with trans bodies by providing better awareness of how bodies can bring us pleasure.
For example, Shepard educates clients that bodies on all spectrums can experience prostate pleasure. “Basically genitals are all the same, just different shapes. The shape of your genitals does not have to hold you back from amazing sexuality. It reduces the line of division of what female and male genitalia is supposed to be, and what genitals are.”
Issues of sex and body are hard for many people. A variety of factors can detract or hinder the pleasure and comfort most individuals seek from the act and if you are one of those people, there is hope. For those who are looking for guidance, education, and a safe space to connect with their sexuality, Shepard is there to help.
If you’re interested in Shepard’s services, they are based out of Eugene, but they do provide house calls in the Corvallis and Albany areas. Visit their website at Eugenesexology.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Ashley Rammelsberg