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Psychosexual bodywork: should we refer our patients, and if so why?
  1. Susan Quilliam
  1. Freelance Writer, Broadcaster and Agony Aunt, Cambridge, UK
  1. Correspondence to Ms Susan Quilliam; susan{at}

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The setting was central London, February 2011. The event, hosted by the British Society of Sexual Medicine (BSSM), was an excellent workshop on vaginismus and sexual pain. Participants had discussed a presented case study, and had offered a variety of treatment suggestions from exploring the patient's psychological history, through questioning her relationship satisfaction, to suggesting she use dilators. Then came the (metaphorical) hand grenade.

“Why don't we use bodywork?” said a voice from the back. A palpable shiver ran round the room. I pricked up my ears – did I sense a controversy here? I did. The suggestion made by the delegate was indeed that the patient be encouraged to try ‘hands on’ therapy – not just talk about her problem nor retreat to the privacy of her own home to do exercises, but work with the therapist in a way that might include sexual touch. The delegate in question didn't seem to have horns and a forked tail, but nevertheless there was a strong sense from the audience that what was being suggested was heresy.

Being the non-conformist that I am, I was immediately fascinated and before the day was out, had arranged an interview with said delegate and three of her colleagues. I wanted to clarify directly what was being suggested. Did they really mean that a psychosexual therapist should touch a client? If so, why? And, how did it work?

Why bodywork?

In the event, my four interviewees were – despite the sharp intakes of breath at the BSSM – the exact opposite of demonic: delightful, genuine and lobbying professionally for the inclusion of client-controlled touching as at least an option in psychosexual therapy.

I began with the basic question, raised by the interviewees themselves. Why should a Journal reader refer their patient to a psychosexual bodywork therapist? The …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.