Amidst the ethereal realm of sensuous gatherings at the Back to the Body retreat, a captivating tale unfolds…
One participant reports that during her bodywork session, she experiences a profound trance state. She sees light and color, hears messages from a deep source within, and experiences a sense of profound transformation. She has a deep sense of love in its truest form, and this reconfigures her view on her life in myriad ways.
To the uninitiated, her experience may seem like an otherworldly sojourn under the influence of magic mushrooms. Yet, tales similar to the one she told are common for those who venture into sexological bodywork sessions at the haven of Back to the Body™. During these weeklong odysseys, attendees immerse themselves in sensual bliss, embracing touch and pleasure from skilled practitioners. A new frontier unfolds, as these seekers, unbound by expectations, slip into an erotic trance reminiscent of psychedelic realms.
Curiously, this is not an isolated phenomenon; psychedelic experiences that emerge from touch and connection are more common than one might anticipate. The pages of "Transcendent Sex: When Lovemaking Opens the Veil" by Jenny Wade disclose tales of ordinary women who experience profoundly altered states of consciousness during lovemaking.(1)
Pamela Madsen, the visionary architect behind Back to the Body™, and her adept team of practitioners shepherd women to unlock these trance-like dimensions. Guiding them to delve deeper into their sexual essence, bodies, and unwavering focus on the sensations of the moment, they escort women to untapped realms within.
Pamela began speaking about this phenomenon after her own voyages through sexological bodywork sessions took her to these mystical realms. In those sacred moments, sensations and perceptions underwent a metamorphosis, bringing her to spiritual landscapes, unveiling profound truths about her being. After experiencing this level of transformation herself, Pamela created a retreat model that would support other women to go deep into their bodies and erotic reawakening. The particular elements she includes in her retreats support women to go deeper into themselves, where they can experience layers of their psyches and elements of reality that are normally out of reach. A place Pamela calls erotic trance states.
What are the elements that create this particular magic?
The most important and basic layer of the experience is the creation of a sense of safety and trust. Most women exist almost semi-constantly in a very alert state, ready to attend to the needs and desires of others. Most modern women manage a job, household, children, and relationships simultaneously, and are often expected to anticipate the needs of others before taking care of their own. This constant stress creates a state of hyper-vigilance that becomes the resting state of the nervous system for many. At Back to the Body™, the foundation of the retreat experience is designed to release this perpetual tension and allow women to truly let go, feeling safe to relax and receive without having to attend to others’ needs or be on alert.
Pamela ensures this by first creating a sense of a separate space, apart from regular life, through ritual. Experiences like receiving a special footbath from practitioners, creating sharing circles, and other special, out of the ordinary rituals create a sense of entering a different and particular space, where various feelings and emotional states are allowed. Rituals at the start and end of both the retreat and sessions themselves, create a sense of intentionality through their choreography. Simple elements like lighting, music, and scents can create this sense of alternate space in both the external and internal worlds of women.This deliberate delineation opens up the possibility of exploration and experiencing new and special sensations. Inside this particular space, anything could happen. Being palpably outside of what’s ordinary ushers in space for the extraordinary.
However, in order to make sure that women are truly safe, Pamela does much more than give the impression of it; she ensures it is actually the case. Her practitioners are certified sexological bodyworkers, and additionally are trained by Back to the Body™. They sign legal agreements to ensure their integrity, and follow a strict code of ethics. Practitioners always keep their clothes on, and one way touch is strictly enforced – women are the sole focus of the healing work. This ensures that women can dive into their own experiences without worrying about their safety or the needs of another person. Participants are also supported in their ability to say yes and no, to have agency and boundaries around their sexuality. By doing specific activities and exercises, women are able to practice these essential skills in an environment in which the practitioner is supportive and cooperative, reinforcing the newly acquired habits. This solidifies the sense of safety – it becomes something co-created between woman and environment, a safety that is both within and without.
Another essential element of safety is connection. Knowing that we are not alone and isolated allows us to truly surrender into the support of a larger group. It allows us to release the fear of isolation. Since most trauma happens in isolation, and most healing happens in connection, facilitating an intentional sense of connection allows our nervous system to relax into a state of trust. This type of connection and support is provided in many ways at Back to the Body™, from start to finish. Pamela and practitioners do intake interviews with each client at the start of the retreat or beforehand, where they learn each client’s personal story. Knowing what each woman needs to let go and relax is a priority, as well as learning more about her personal erotic journey. Details and preferences are taken into account, and each woman is treated as the unique puzzle that she is. This type of personal connection then expands to include the circle of other participants on the welcome call, and then in purposeful sharing circles as well as casual conversations over dinner or tea. Each woman is also assigned a female support staff that serves as their “safe port”, creating a triadic model of care between participant, practitioner, and safe port. This female guide brings the client into and out of session, and is there to talk over any experiences, needs, or troubles that may arise. This extends the model of support to include intimate, specialized care, so that there is no need that goes unmet.
This type of support and relaxation is indeed an essential element in experiencing heightened levels of sensation and the perceptual alterations that occur alongside it. The human nervous system is wired in a particular way so that each phase of sexual arousal can only occur fully alongside alterations in what is known as the autonomic nervous system. This aspect of our nervous system regulates alertness, and is responsible for both the adrenalized state of high performance and the deep relaxation required for rest. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for what is often called “fight or flight”, while the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for what is often called “rest and digest”. The beginning stages of sexual arousal require a drop into a state dominated by the parasympathetic nervous system–in order for arousal to fully occur, we must first be relaxed and let down our guard.(2) This makes sense if put in an evolutionary context – it only makes sense to have sex when the tiger is not lurking nearby in the bushes. However, many of us get used to pushing past this deep need for relaxation during the initial phases of sex. Yet, it is hardwired in. The result? Far less intense arousal and far weaker experiences of sensation than would otherwise be possible.
The many rituals, protocols, and practices incorporated into Back to the Body™ retreats provide the contextual cues needed for a full parasympathetic response to occur. This causes physiological responses such as greater blood-flow to the genitals, resulting in a fully engorged clitoris and labia, as well as dilated pupils, and an increased receptivity to sensory input. When we are relaxed, our senses widen and our perceptual field expands, bringing with it a richness in sensory perception that is simply not available when we are on guard, waiting for a specific variety of sensory input. In the modern world, we get little practice at experiencing the depth of our capacity for this type of relaxed receptivity. We spend so much time in a sympathetic state that we begin to think of this as ordinary. Real, deep relaxation can feel extraordinary and profound. And experiencing the true capacity of our own arousal from this space is something that, for many women, has been an impossible task. Women are constantly told to “just relax”, but rarely taught how to do so and supported in learning this essential skill. Once they do, it opens the door to a completely new way of experiencing the senses.
Once women are fully relaxed, other elements are added in that help them gain focus and experience release. Before participants experience their own sexological bodywork sessions, they experience a demonstration of another woman receiving sexological bodywork. In this demo, the woman receiving demonstrates how to breathe deeply and release emotion and express pleasure through sound. Seeing another woman allow her body to respond fully to touch encourages participants in letting themselves respond fully to the sensations felt. Instead of trying to control their body’s responsiveness to produce a specific sound or movement, they are encouraged to allow the body full range of natural expression. This frees the nervous system to fully experience sensations and reduces inhibition, another key factor in full arousal. A reduction in inhibition is necessary for desire to be experienced fully. Watching ourselves to make sure we are “appropriate” or monitoring bodily responses introduces a level of neurological inhibition that blunts desire. (3) Yet, many women have gotten out of practice or never learned how to be fully uninhibited. This manifests as a constant level of inhibition even in sex, which acts as a neurochemical “brake” on desire and sensation. No matter how hard you press on the gas, with one foot on the brakes the car won’t get rolling. This state of affairs is reversed by teaching participants how to release the inhibition that is blunting experience, causing the full effects of touch and arousal to be felt, maybe for the first time.
Next, elements are added that help the participant develop a sense of intense focus on the sensations occurring in the present moment. Sensory deprivation from blindfolds and specific wordless music help women tune in to the subtle layers of sensation in touch. Practitioners assist women through coaching to bring awareness to micro-sensations and micro-movements, noticing the richness of the somatic terrain. A reduction in normal dialogue reduces mental chatter–space is opened up to fully focus on the moment. Laundry lists and to-do lists as well as social expectations are let go, and a focus on sensation allows it to unfold and expand in consciousness. Lengthy sessions of up to 120 minutes allow an experience of timelessness to occur. This is often the beginning of more intense erotic trance states. As the mind clears and calms, altered states similar to deep meditation begin to take hold.
This intense level of focus is then amplified by adding increased sensation. Instead of focusing on the genitals, practitioners include the entire body in their work. This lengthy bodywork stimulates specialized receptors in the skin, designed to release dopamine in the brain and facilitate sexual receptivity. (4) The lengthy periods of touch and arousal allow the release of serotonin, the same neurochemical stimulated by classic psychedelics, to take place. Due to the particular dance of neurochemicals that occur during sex, this larger amount of serotonin release could only occur over a long period of time, during extended arcs of time where orgasm is delayed and arousal is built up. (5) This extending arousal and the build up of pleasure that is caused by it further crowds out ordinary thinking and attention to an inner monologue. This crowding out of ordinary consciousness can become so intense that it even pushes out our normal sense of ourselves, something that takes up space, neurologically. When pleasure becomes intense enough, the mind is calm, and focus is heightened, the boundaries we erect between ourselves and others, ourselves and a larger sense of the world, or ourselves and love itself, can dissolve. (6)
This is the magic that can yield true erotic trance. With the support of an erotic guide, emotionally attuned to the participant and guiding to breathe, relax, and release, women shed layers of wounding and constriction. They cry, laugh, and remove years of armor. When they release the perpetual clench of emotional holding and relax enough to become quiet, they experience the fullness of their arousal and of the moment themselves. When they dive into the richness of sensation that occurs in these states, the pleasure and focus saturates their consciousness and drives the experience deep and wide. As walls come down and boundaries dissolve, they let in not only new experiences of pleasure, but new experiences of self, world, spirit, and love. This deep and expanded type of consciousness connects them to aspects of their own wisdom and deep knowing that have been lying in wait behind walls of closure. Once they connect with themselves and the wider world in these new ways, nothing is ever the same again.
Wade, J (2004). Transcendent Sex: When Lovemaking Opens the Veil. Paraview Pocketbooks, New York.
Pfaus, J. G., Scepkowski, L. A., Marson, L., & Georgiadis, J. R. (2014). Biology of the sexual response. In D. L. Tolman, L. M. Diamond, J. A. Bauermeister, W. H. George, J. G. Pfaus, & L. M. Ward (Eds.), APA handbook of sexuality and psychology, Vol. 1: Person-based approaches. (pp. 145–203). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/14193-007
Pfaus, J. G. (2009). Reviews: Pathways of Sexual Desire. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6(6), 1506–1533. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01309.x
Elias, L. J., Succi, I. K., Schaffler, M. D., Foster, W., Gradwell, M. A., Bohic, M., Fushiki, A., Upadhyay, A., Ejoh, L. L., Schwark, R., Frazer, R., Bistis, B., Burke, J. E., Saltz, V., Boyce, J. E., Jhumka, A., Costa, R. M., Abraira, V. E., & Abdus-Saboor, I. (2023). Touch neurons underlying dopaminergic pleasurable touch and sexual receptivity. Cell, 186(3), 577-590.e16. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2022.12.034
Komisaruk, B. R., & Rodriguez Del Cerro, M. C. (2021). How Does Our Brain Generate Sexual Pleasure? International Journal of Sexual Health, 33(4), 602–611. https://doi.org/10.1080/19317611.2021.1989534
Safron, A. (2016). What is Orgasm? A Model of Sexual Trance and Climax Via Rhythmic Entrainment. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology, 6(1), 31763. https://doi.org/10.3402/snp.v6.31763