Women's Sexual Wellness Demands Research and Back to the Body Is a Part of It

Whenever something seems new and makes us uncomfortable, we want others to try things before we try them. We might even want evidence, especially if the offering feels controversial in someway. I have been a student and a teacher of somatic sex education and sexological bodywork for over twelve years -- for the past ten years I have been preaching that this work is a part of a wellness program for women.

Looking for the evidence? Here is your preliminary study that is waiting to be published, which Dr. Betsy Crane spoke about recently on a podcast, and has presented at the 2019 AASECT Conference themed "Let the Body Rejoice: The Interplay of Sexuality Education, Sex Counseling and Therapy" about the impact of Sexological Bodywork on the wellness of women. We believe that the study is the first of its kind. The presentation at AASECT was called:

"Exploring Erotic Potential: Research Findings Regarding Sexological Bodywork at a Women's Back to the Body Retreat, and Perceived Impact" By Dr. Betsy Crane, Elise Becher, MD, MEd, CCPC, Kaci Mali, MEd, Widener University

The conference was held in June of 2019 in Philadelphia, PA and I was able to fly in to be present for the preliminary unveiling of the research findings to date. Though not yet published, the news is good. I cannot present the entire study here, and will be sharing more in person at upcoming Back to the Body events, and the research team is waiting for publication of the paper. This writing is what I can share now, to the best of my ability. The presentation included many quotes from the women, it was too much to put here, but this will give you a taste of what is to come in the months ahead.

Why is this Research Important?

  • Because sexual wellness is important. 

    Because sexual wellness FOR WOMEN is important. There is a gap in what is researched in women's sexual wellness, pleasure, and education, and its impact on a woman as a whole.

  • Outside of sex toy shops, porn, and alternative sex communities…sex is taboo. And, good sex education, beyond the high school health class is non-existent. Perpetuating further shame and disconnect.

  • To mine and the research team’s knowledge, there is very little research being done on the emerging field of sexological bodywork.

Why Back to the Body? What Made Us so Special to Be Researched?

Back to the Body is pretty special. It is an immersion experience unlike any others. And, though each retreat is unique in its location and settings, it is a repeatable container that I have created and maintained for over 10 years. A container of sisterhood and being "just safe enough" to have a comfort zone busting experience around your sexuality. Because it is so repeatable, has a thoughtful curriculum that we teach, and the offerings we explore at each retreat, it can be studied across many retreats knowing the results are not based solely on THAT particular retreat experience, but are attainable for YOU, yes YOU, at each of our retreat offerings. That’s pretty special.

A Few of the Elements We Are Particularly Proud Of:

  • A "safe enough" container,

    no competition, there is enough for all and sisters can have your back, regardless of if that is true for you in your past. As nothing is ever perfectly safe for every individual, a "safe enough" container allows for taking risks, knowing you are supported to do so.

  • Our locations are carefully curated

    to include a setting that enhances your sensuality experience. Good food, optional excursions to explore the area and additional offerings like embodied photo shoots and vulva de-armoring.

  • Our practitioners are part of the community we create

    from the moment women walk into the opening circle, take part in workshops, participate in morning movement, eat their meals, to the moment the circle closes, the masculine is present in a way that is healing and affirming.

  • Just as the masculine is present, so is the feminine. The space at Back to the Body is held by femme leadership. Women are leading, supporting you throughout the retreat, teaching workshops, and sometimes even as touch practitioners.

  • This is Back to the Body…YOUR body,

    the emphasis is on how you see your body,

    all parts. And, we want you to go home knowing your genitals are there again. Your power, your turn on, yup…all that is woven into the immersion experience. Remove obstacles and barriers to your pleasure.

  • The sexological bodywork sessions are a complimentary offering daily at each retreat. At the time this study was completed, they were 90 minutes each day. As of January 2023, session time has been expanded at all retreats to 2 hours each day.

    For your entire session time, you get to have a conversation with your body,

    to dance and to play, with the support of your practitioner. And trust in that professional who will work with you during the full retreat is important.

  • One way touch is really a big deal. When do you, as a woman, get to have one way, not for your partner, only for you, at your pace, at your direction, feeling into your body, learning how to breath and listen to your body, kind of touch? For most women, probably never. This is it. It is not bidirectional. You are not pleasing another person. 

    Your focus is only on YOU and your Pleasure Potential.

  • And, because our practitioners are trained, curated carefully, and stay fully clothed, fully professional, 

    you get to heal and learn about your body in a way that no health class book has ever offered. 

    You set the goals, the boundaries, and ask for the feedback you need to know more about your vulva owner’s manual, and beyond.

Several themes emerged from the qualitative data of interviewing more than 100 women* and the quantitative data of the surveys each woman took:

  • Importance of safety and the container

  • Connecting to self and others

  • Feeling acceptance and permission

  • Exploring arousal and pleasure

  • Transformative life changes

FEELING CONNECTED TO ONE'S OWN BODY Many women experienced a whole new way of being in touch with and experiencing their own bodies after attending a BttB Retreat---as if a switch allowing them to experience the world in a more physical way had been flipped on.

BECOMING AWAKENED TO ONE'S SEXUAL SELF Retreat participants spoke of having been dead or asleep before a BttB Experience. A common comment centered around the transformation from experiencing none to almost no arousal in their daily lives to being turned on much or most of the time after.

"The retreat completely burst me open! I went from having no sexual desire to now being turned on and hungry for sex almost everyday. That means I now feel sexy and sexual in my body all the time. I am aware of it. I like it not only because it's fun and invigorating, but because it's empowering."

BONDING/FORMING FRIENDSHIPS While it wasn't true for all participants, a high percentage remarked upon how remarkable it was to experience the rapidly formed and very deep bonds with other participants that grew out of the shared experiences in the safety of the BttB container. A large number reported forming long-lasting friendships of a deeper and more authentic nature than they experienced in most of their previously existing relationships.

FEELING ACCEPTANCE AND PERMISSION Knowing and Accepting bodies/genitals --Women reported coming home with a deeper understanding of the beauty and capacity of their bodies and a much greater level of acceptance and appreciation for their own forms in their current state. They described learning to let go of wishing some body part were different, embracing their bodies as they are, many of them for the first time in their lives.

RELEASING SHAME The retreats offered many participants the opportunity to shed long-held negative and limiting beliefs absorbed from cultural messaging and picked up during previous experiences, sometimes many decades earlier during childhood. For some women, releasing the burden of carrying these beliefs was described as life changing.

OWNING OUR SEXUAL SELVES Many of the women experienced profound shifts in the extent to which they felt empowered to take ownership of and responsibility for their sexual experiences. They described operating with a degree of agency around their sexuality that was completely new to their lives.

EXPLORING AROUSAL AND PLEASURE Women spoke movingly about learning about arousal, that it takes time, and that it can be something to relax into and enjoy for itself; they didn't need to "chase orgasms." They also talked about awareness of other women's pleasure, and the "permissioning" that provided them.

ON THE TABLE: EXPERIENCING BODYWORK Participants talked about meeting via skype with the bodyworker with whom they would be working with at the retreat, to discuss goals and other info about themselves. At retreat they wore a light robe to start. Slow sensuous massage enabled experience and arousal. What happened depended on what women wanted; may include sex toys and kink. Validation of their body and their sexual response was key.

KNOWING AND ASKING FOR WHAT I WANT Participants shared that one of the biggest impacts of the retreat was learning what they really enjoyed sexually and wanted, and didn't want. This translated into the challenge of asking for what they wanted, both on the table and at the retreat and once they got back home. They were also more aware of how to pleasure themselves, and not rely on a partner for that.

GREATER SEXUAL EXPECTATIONS Having learned what they want led to changes in expectations for their sexual lives. This sometimes created challenges with a partner back home as husbands and partners varied in openness to this change. Some chose to pursue non-monogamy and kink communities.

TRANSFORMATIVE LIFE CHANGES A number of significant life changes were reported after returning home, such as greater professional assertiveness, leaving jobs, changing careers, moving to a new area, getting a divorce, finding new partners, and having an overall stronger sense of self.

HEALING FROM PAST TRAUMA/HURTS Many participants commented that the somatic components of the retreats helped them heal from past hurts, trauma, abuse, or negative experiences in ways that traditional talk therapy previously had not.

EXPANDING SENSE OF SPIRITUALITY Some women reported having spiritual experiences during their bodywork sessions such as seeing colors or a higher being. They also reported incorporating erotic spiritual rituals into their daily lives.

MANIFESTING AUTHENTICITY/AGENCY Finally, many women told stories of going home and presenting their truest selves to the world in an unapologetic way, embracing their ability to own, change, and create a life full of pleasure.


  • Women attending these retreats reported positive effects related to: 

    Arousal, sexual self image, body image, feelings about genitals, sexual assertiveness, sexual satisfaction, and experience of sisterhood.

  • I think the important thing I want you to know is: 

    These are normal women coming to retreats.

    Normal women, like you and me, wanting to connect to their bodies. It is possible.

  • Research-based knowledge is needed to inform discussions on the ethics and efficacy of hands on work. And to support mainstreaming this work into the menu of wellness options available to women!

Stay tuned for more to come with this emerging work!

Curious to learn more about how this work could support you? Please book a free consultation with our team!

Loving you from here,

Pamela Madsen

*Over 100 women surveyed, resulting in a 45% response rate n=64 for the past participant surveys, 35% response rate, n=35 for the pre- and post- retreat surveys, and a 56% response rate, n=21, for the individual interviews. This number may change as of the time of this presentation, the full study was not completed.