Sex That Changes the World

Tami Simon: Welcome to Insights at the Edge, produced by Sounds True. My name’s Tami Simon, I’m the founder of Sounds True. And I’d love to take a moment to introduce you to the Sounds True Foundation. The goal of the Sounds True Foundation is to provide access and eliminate financial barriers to transformational education and resources, such as teachings and trainings on mindfulness, emotional awareness, and self-compassion. If you’d like to learn more and join with us in our efforts, please visit

In this episode of Insights at the Edge, my guest is Kimberly Ann Johnson. Kimberly is a sexological bodyworker, a somatic experiencing practitioner, a yoga teacher, doula, postpartum advocate, and a single mom. She helps women heal from birth injuries, gynecological surgeries, and sexual boundary violations. She’s the author of the book, Call of the Wild: How We Heal Trauma, Awaken Our Own Power, and Use It for Good, as well as the early mothering classic, The Fourth Trimester.

With Sounds True, Kimberly Johnson has created a new audio learning series, it’s called Reclaiming the Feminine: Embodied Sexuality as Spiritual Practice. Kimberly makes talking about our sexual urges and topics like female erectile tissue and the arc of female arousal feel like normal and illuminating conversation, which it is. She’s a courageous spokesperson for women centering our own pleasures and needs and the journey many of us need to make to work through shame and prioritizing other people and not ourselves. Here’s a brave space conversation with Kimberly Ann Johnson.

It sounds, Kimberly, like you went through a major life change when you gave birth to your daughter, and this was 14 and a half or so years ago. In the new series, Reclaiming the Feminine, you say, “Motherhood cracked me open and showed me the absence of both the feminine and the sexual in spiritual practice that I hadn’t known to that point.” So I wanted to start with, how did giving birth change you and your view of the spiritual journey?


Kimberly Ann Johnson: When I gave birth, about a half an hour after I gave birth, my mom came into the room. And I looked at her and I was like, “This is all a lie. This whole idea that we’re equals, this whole idea that I can do anything that a man can do and I can do it better. This whole idea that it doesn’t matter, my gender doesn’t matter, my sexuality doesn’t matter—I feel like I’m living on another planet.” And going through the experience of giving birth just cracked open all of these philosophies that I didn’t even know that I had. I didn’t even know that I had that programming. It just showed me the programming. Because after I was holding my daughter in my arms and she was starting to learn how to nurse, I just thought, this is a radically different experience.

None of the practices that I learned before that seemed to apply in that moment. So it felt like a total rebirth for myself as well.


TS: When you think of what was missing, like what was missing to prepare you for that moment, what was that?


KJ: I wish that I would’ve sat more circles with other women. I wish that I would’ve sat and told stories as a part of my spiritual practice. My spiritual practice was a lot about, “Get out of your own stories, those are just ‘stories,’ don’t pay attention to them.” I wish that my spiritual practice would’ve included more personal and interpersonal relating. And I think if I was sitting in intergenerational circles with women of all ages, I would’ve heard them talking about birth and I would’ve heard them talking about their postpartum experiences. And I would’ve heard them talking about menopause or the grief that they felt of having children and maybe wishing they didn’t or not having children and wishing they did, but all of the different experiences.

That was never a part of the ten-year incubation meditation yoga practice that I did. It was, keep your stories out of this, keep your woman-ness out of this, because that’s a deficit. It’s a deficit to be in a female body. Sure, use your feet a little farther apart in a posture. If you have your period, go ahead and miss a day or two, but don’t bring that in here, that’s just too much. Don’t bring your emotions in here either, just try to mitigate those as much as you can so we can get back to this other thing that we’re doing.


TS: Now, the work that you do now came out of this realization, devoting yourself to reclaiming the feminine. And you have an unusual career. People, I’m sure, are somewhat familiar with what it might mean to be a doula, to be a postpartum advocate, even to be a trauma healer. But in addition, you are a sexological bodyworker. What’s that?


KJ: A sexological bodyworker is a practitioner that includes genitals in treatment. In the state of California, we’re licensed to touch genitals. Usually, only doctors can do that, acupuncturists can do it, physical therapists can do it, but obviously, massage therapists can’t do it, doulas can’t do it. So when I myself was healing from birth, I was treated by a sexological bodyworker, and that’s when most of the healing happened. That’s when my scar tissue started to dissolve and I wasn’t in pain in my pelvis anymore. It’s when my lower back and my SI joint gelled back together, it’s when the central line of my abdomen, which had separated, started to gel back together during the sessions.

All of a sudden, it was light bulb after light bulb, after light bulb of… I was trained as a structural integration practitioner, also known as Rolfing. I’d worked in every part of the territory of the body, including mouths and noses, and the only things that I hadn’t touched were vaginas and anuses. And of course that’s because in almost every one of these fields that we’ve talked about in yoga, we talked about the pelvic floor because that’s gender neutral, but we never talked about vaginas and anuses and cervixes and how that might play into practice energy, overall health physiology.

So in sexological bodywork, it doesn’t mean in my session work that I always touch genitals, but it means that I can include that. And it tends to be one of the most powerful places to work because it is so untouched. I like what Gil Hedley calls genitals, because genitals seems so clinical, he calls them pars intima. And so I can attend to those things as part of the whole person. And especially when it comes to birth and gynecological surgeries and sexual boundary ruptures, that’s oftentimes the territory that needs witnessing and attention.


TS: Just to hear your own story, how did sexological bodywork help you with your healing? What actually happened?


KJ: Well, I had almost all of the symptoms that you could have postpartum, which is unfortunate and a bit shocking. I had fecal incontinence, which means when you poop without knowing you’re pooping. I had cervical and uterine prolapse, which means your organs are dropped down below their optimal positioning, I had lower back pain. I had never had chronic pain, I was getting up and down off the floor by walking my hands up my legs so that I could stand up and get back down. I had other symptoms, like I didn’t have enough breast milk to feed my daughter, that were really related to all of these pelvic symptoms I had. I had hemorrhoids.

So with sexological bodywork, I was able to heal all of those things, and also somatic experiencing together with sexological bodywork.


TS: Now, as I’m reflecting on this, I’ve never had a sexological bodywork session, and I’m thinking, well, the person could have this very clean intent. The intent is my healing process, not their own sexual satisfaction or pleasure. And so that’s how we’ll make sure we have good boundaries together. But what happens in the training that ensures that the bodyworker has good and respectful boundaries.


KJ: Great question. Number one, our code of ethics is that as a practitioner, if I’m the practitioner right now, we were talking about when I received the work. When I’m giving the work, I’m always clothed and I always have gloves on. So it’s one-way touch, we’re never exchanging touch. It’s only I’m, as a practitioner, wearing clothes and have gloves on. That’s a superficial layer of boundaries, because we all know this is a very complex area. We do a lot of our own unshaming work, because a lot of boundary crossing comes out of shaming and feeling shame, and because shame is the shroud that sexuality lives under in most cultures.

Actually, in sexological bodywork training, there’s a very little vulva work because there is more of an emphasis on addressing each part. So we have a day just with anuses, we have a day just with penises, we have a day just with vulvas. And a lot of what we’re doing is setting the context for how to have this be a reparative session. I don’t often give sessions unless I know my client knows how to say no, for instance. And if somebody’s not saying no with their words, but their body is saying no, I don’t proceed. Just because someone comes to me and wants something from the session doesn’t mean that’s what we’re going to do.

I’m reading their nervous system the whole time to really understand what’s happening and help them become a good translator of that. In the training, there’s just a lot of experiences and experiments in all different kinds of ways of how to express boundaries. We use Betty Martin’s Wheel of Consent, which is a fantastic tool. And we work The Wheel of Consent a lot. So it’s not just like, oh yes, we learn it. We actually practice it every day with each other.


TS: Can you share with me what that is? I’m not familiar with that.


KJ: Yes. Betty Martin’s Wheel of Consent is a framework for parsing out how we relate and touch each other. There’s four quadrants. So if I’m the doer, usually we think of that as giving, and the person who’s being done to is the receiver. Hopefully I’m giving you what you want, and as a receiver, you’re receiving what you want. But all of the time we get in really bizarre dynamics where we think we’re giving the person what they want, but they don’t actually want what we’re giving, but they think it’s what we want to be giving, so they’re accepting it kind of thing.

So we really clarify those things. The receiver asks the giver for what they want and keeps clarifying if that’s actually what they’re giving. So for instance, if you were the receiver and you wanted me to… You couldn’t just say, “I want a back massage.” You’d have to say, “Kimberly, I’d like you to squeeze my shoulders and use your full palm and hold for about three seconds and then let go.” So I would say, “OK.” And I would start that if that was OK with me. And then as I do it, I would say, “How’s that? Is that what you had in mind?” And you’d say, “Well, you’re not really squeezing my shoulders, I feel more your fingers.” And we would go about refining that.

It sounds really simple, it’s one of us profound things that you can do when touch is involved, because we get up really in our head about what we think we should want and what is OK to ask for. Are we even allowed to ask for this? The person’s already giving it to us. So is it really OK to keep asking for more and keep specifying what we want? So that’s one of the dynamics. The other dynamic is taking and allowing. Now, “take” is a word that has all kinds of connotations in English, and each of these roles has a shadow side to it. The shadow side of taking is what we see, is perpetration, is taking without asking, is taking advantage.

But taking is about touching for your own pleasure. So you as the taker, you’re the doing, but you’re asking the person if you can use them for your own pleasure. And of course, they’re agreeing or not. This is a Wheel of Consent, so they can say, “No, you can’t touch me that way. I don’t want that.” And then you would have to say, “OK. What’s the touch that I want that’s for me?” And I’m not thinking about if you are going to like it or not, I’m thinking about what is satisfying to me. So we start with ourselves. We actually start with objects, and you start just feeling an object.

And as you feel that object, there’s with the sensitivity in your fingertips where it starts to not become the thing like the pen or the stuffed animal or whatever it is you’re holding, and you start to just feel the sensory reception. And then from there, we practice, how do you touch yourself? How would you touch your own skin and your own body for your own pleasure? And then you practice with someone else. So you really parse out these dynamics that become implicit and unconscious.

And most of us live in one of these quadrants most of the time where we feel most comfortable. Most healers feel most comfortable in giving because you don’t have to be that vulnerable in the giving. And so I feel like full satisfaction, not just in sex but in life, comes when we can traverse these domains and we really are able to feel that whole nervous system range within these dynamics of giving, receiving, doing, and being done to.


TS: Now, you mentioned the importance of doing our own unshaming work, and I think that’s important. You mentioned in the profession of being a sexological bodyworker. But all of us, I think, and especially in approaching a series like Reclaiming the Feminine: Embodied Sexuality as Spiritual Practice—doing unshaming work is part of the journey. Can you talk some about that? What is that work and how do we do it?


KJ: Yes. Oh, shame. Shame is that thing that’s sometimes invisible and sometimes just feels like a heavy blanket that sits on you that causes you to turn away from yourself or turn away from someone else. And the thing that makes us feel unlovable, the thing that makes us like there’s something that if this thing were to be revealed, somehow we wouldn’t be deserving of connection or love. There’s so many ways to go about it with our sexuality. I could give a lot of examples, and I do in the audio program. I think just coming into the body itself and recognizing, especially as women, that our body is not an obstacle to being more spiritual, because a lot of people have that like, “If I’m more spiritual, I’m less sexual or if I’m more sexual, I’m less spiritual.”

I’ll tell you one thing that happened for me that really, really, really surprised me. In my sexological bodywork training, in my little cohort, the other women in my cohort, and there’s all different genders in the training, but I happen to have a couple of women and a couple of nonbinary folks in my cohort, and they were all sex workers. So I was the only person in that little group that didn’t have a sex work history. So that in and of itself brought me up against a lot of internalized prejudice that I didn’t even know that I had, a lot of assumptions, a lot of associations.

Like street work, basically prostitution, I think my assumptions were that people were really down-and-out if they were doing sex work, that they weren’t educated, that they didn’t have any other choices, and so that’s what they were doing. And actually, in the case of the group that I was in, two of them were moms and one of them had been a performer and then she decided to switch to sex work. So they had done it fairly consciously. Well, one day I came onto our call and they were in the middle of something. And they were talking about… kind of shop talk.

And I’m a survivor of sexual assault. And they were talking about staged sexual assaults in their practice and how that’s what people wanted. And I just had a complete freeze response and I started to shake and I just felt completely disoriented. They all understood and they said, “Oh my God, we’re so sorry. We’re talking as if you’re like a part of this world and you’re not, and you don’t know about this.” And so we were able to really talk about it. The next day, I went to my office, and I had three clients. The first client was a man I’d been seeing for four months weekly, and that day he chose to tell me that his first sexual experience was with a sex worker because he was 25 and he was still a virgin and he didn’t know how to get connection, and so that’s what he chose to do.

The next two clients, who were both females, told that they had done escort work. And so for me, there was a direct correlation between taking the shame off of what that meant and people being able to bring their full self into the session room with me. And I think how that relates to someone listening who might not have anything to do with these worlds, is that when we face some of these schisms that are in ourselves or some of the places that feel their shame, we’re available for more, we’re available to both receive someone else, but also offer ourselves in a different way.


TS: What I hear you saying, too, is that your judgment was actually an obstacle to your own openness. That’s part of what I heard and what you were saying as well.


KJ: Definitely. And I think my judgment was related to fear and was related to… A training like sexological bodywork is confronting every single day. The day I walked into class and my teachers who were friends, and were a man and a woman, were naked in front of the class, I just felt like I was a four-year-old, like, oh my God, the teachers are naked. I can’t believe this. Where am I supposed to look? What am I supposed to do? There’s so many ways that they are creating experiences of unshaming in real time that, yes, a lot of the judgment was ways that my system was trying to keep me feeling separate and maybe better also, like, well, I’m better than that or I’m different than that.

And so when I saw these women were people in my cohort, they were people that I already liked, they were people that I already had a connection to, and that was a part of them, it was really powerful.


TS: I want to just address the listener right now, who might have some level of feeling uncomfortable. And I’ll say confessionally that I noticed I had some level, at different points, of feeling uncomfortable engaging with the whole audio series and some of the descriptions of entering our own sexuality and touching places where maybe it could be shame or it could be feeling somewhat shut down or not as open and liberated as we’d like to be. What could you say to that person right now so that they can engage in our conversation with the most genuineness and get the most out of it?


KJ: I would say that if you’re feeling uncomfortable right now, it would be totally usual and normal, because this is the world that I sit in, so I have a bit of fluency with the words that I’m saying and how we’re talking about it, but it’s not a usual conversation. The foundation of all of this, of everything that I teach is lovingkindness. I call myself a devotee to reality, a devotee to actually what is, so a lot of clients that I work with wish that they were multiorgasmic, or maybe they just wish that they could even go on a date, let alone… Just any relationality feels threatening. We have to start where we are. And I think listening to a conversation like this already is part of moving forward out of unshaming and recognizing what makes us uncomfortable. 

I think we have the idea that being sexually open means being available to anything all the time, and this conversation could be a part of that. I don’t see it that way. I see it as an honoring of our true capacity, an honoring of all of the parts of ourselves that contribute to being a human. And unfortunately, the sexual apart either gets hyperemphasized and is out there, out front where you can’t even perceive some of the other things sometimes, or it gets hidden so that it’s separate from everything else. So I think it’s a path that is lifelong. There’s no destination because we’re growing, changing, aging.

And all of those things, the people that we partner with, where we’re at in our professional life, our personal life, all of those things influence how we arrive to this moment, to listening. Most people that I know feel that there’s more ability to them sexually then they’re able to access, and they feel a little bit of grief about that because it’s like there’s this place sexually that either, maybe they’ve touched a couple of times and couldn’t get back to, or they just know it. It’s like a treasure chest, but they don’t quite have the key to it.

And so if someone listening might feel that way, it’s just an encouragement to take a baby step in that direction. I don’t have any idea at all that there’s only one way to have healthy sexuality or that looks some way, it’s going to be so individual for each person.


TS: Now, you mentioned that many, many people have some sense that there’s greater depth or actualization or pleasure that’s available to them. And in the series, you talk about how a large portion of the people who come to you are women who want to want more sex. And I thought this was really interesting. First of all, why do the women who are coming want to want more sex? Is it because they’re in heterosexual relationships and they think, I’ve got to please my partner in order to keep him happy and keep him? Is it just a cultural pressure like, you should be having sex three times a week. That’s what this report says? Or, you’re not even having sex once a week? So I’m curious what you think of this as a pattern.


KJ: Yes. I think both of those are reasons. And I also think that there’s pressure now coming from everywhere. It’s like the doctor tells you should have orgasms, it’s good for your health. All of the crew that’s about conscious relating is telling you that you have to have a certain amount of sex because sex is really the real thing and that’s the real thing that creates juice in life and the real thing that creates relationship. I think there’s pressure coming from all directions on female pleasure. And the wanting to want it, though, also is because there tends to be these times when there’s a big opening or closing.

For many women, after they give birth, their sexuality is radically different. And so the wanting to want it, I think, is genuine internally of like, I used to be this person and I knew how it worked maybe, and now I’m this other person, and I don’t even have a language to describe how I feel or what I might want. And then there’s the external pressure of—there’s all these kinds of things that people say, “maintenance sex,” which is what doctors say—you should just have sex once a week just like you maintain a car, type of thing. I don’t recommend that. 


TS: That’s right. Keep the oil flowing.


KJ: Right. So there’s all these mechanical suggestions. And all of it really boils down to an absence of vocabulary to be able to describe shifts and changes, and that our sexuality, like any other part of ourselves, like our spirituality—I know there are some people, I know a couple of them, who’ve had the same spiritual practice for their entire life and that’s OK for them. Like a stronger yoga, that’s the only thing they ever want to do. But most people go through shifts and changes with how they worship and where they worship and the teachers that they go to. Our sexuality is similar; it evolves over time. 

We have a lot of negative impressions like, oh, it only gets worse or you just get older and your biology shifts in a way that’s unfavorable to your sexuality, which that’s not true either. But the ebbs and flows of what we might be available for—let’s just take the fact that we’re coming out of a two-year pandemic where a lot of us have had helplessness, immobility, tremendous loss, a lot of insecurity. I would imagine that that really affects people’s availability for sexuality and the sex that they might want to have. So it’s this pressure to want more.

I think what I was also talking about was that I’m never going to help somebody want to want more. I’m only going to help them find out what they genuinely want.


TS: Which is my next question. How do you help people figure out, OK, let’s get everyone—the doctors, the partner, the culture—quiet. I’m going to figure out what’s my truth. How do you help people know what’s actually their genuine sexual desire or longing?


KJ: So many ways. And I think that there are multiple, I don’t think there’s just one longing, I think we have all kinds of longings to drop into it. I have worked with a lot, a lot, a lot of mothers. And so what that really comes down to is, it’s very hard to get your children out of your consciousness and your partner’s needs out of your consciousness. So just returning to me, and also spiritually, this was a huge obstacle for me. I was so good at dissolving myself. I was so good at fragmenting and getting into universal space and quote unquote, “dissolving my ego.” But unfortunately, I didn’t have that strong enough of an ego to begin with to start dissolving it.

So just consolidating energy and being able to come into the physicality is already a huge boon on the path of discovering what you want. But then it’s listening to physiology. A lot of women, what they need in my office is they need either swaddling or they need rest. So instead of saying like, yes, I’m going to teach you tips and tricks, and I’m going to give you a self-pleasure practice—because that’s the common advice everyone gets. “You’ve got to start a self-pleasure practice and you’ve got to do it 30 minutes a day. Whether or not you want to, you just have to do it.”

What is the underlying need? They’re afraid, because they’re afraid if they rest, they’re never going to stand up again or they’re never going to want to get it again. But actually, after they get a little bit of rest and space, they can just hear themselves again.


TS: That’s very interesting, swaddling and rest. So people come to you and if what’s really genuine is to be wrapped in some blankets, that’s what you offer them.


KJ: Yes. It’s happened before where people ask me to get very far away from them, they want me to build them a nest and comfort them but then to move very far away. They need space. They need to feel that the space is theirs because inside their house, they’re nursing children or being pregnant, they just don’t feel like they just can feel that there’s space for them. So yes, the sessions look all kinds of ways, including jaguar work, which is like activating healthy aggression as well. But oftentimes, there’s an underlying exhaustion or freeze that just needs to be attended to and not pushed through.

Because the woman is always the identified patient as well. So she’s always the one that her body’s not working the way it should be or it’s confusing. Even if the female in my office is the one that wants more sex in a partnership, she’s still the one that thinks that she’s wrong, she shouldn’t want as much. She shouldn’t want as much as she wants. And then if she’s the partner that wants less frequency, she also thinks she’s wrong. And the wrongness is the shame part. So how do we, again, set that a little bit aside to just feel, what is the genuine thrust that’s underneath it?


TS: Now, I can definitely understand a woman who’s given birth recently has young children saying, god, I just want swaddling and rest. I get that, and I get how you’re offering that to someone—it could be so positive and healing and on target. Now, this person’s partner could be saying, hello. Hello, what about me? What about me? Don’t I get a say here? What about my needs? How do you deal with that? 


KJ: It’s a both/and. So I don’t believe that it’s OK to say like, well, you just deal with yourself. We’re married or we’re partners, but I’m not responsible for your sexuality. It is a relationship, so there is mutuality, but there’s also a part of maturing in our culture where we also need to be responsible for our own orgasms. So it’s both. And we also need to open the palette of what engagement looks like, so that most people that are in that position saying, what about my needs? Why aren’t you available to me? Or when are you going to be fine, have your time, but when are you going to be available?

But honestly, in my experience, people’s partners are really super patient and they’re waiting for their partner to just tell them what’s going on. They want orientation, they want to know that their partner’s still attracted to them, and that they’re still desirable. They’re usually not pressuring. In fact, oftentimes if it’s a male partner, I’m encouraging the male partner to speak up for what they want more, because they’re just assuming, well, I just have to wait and just wonder. And not come forward with, hey, this is an important part of the relationship to me, and of course, I don’t want to hurt you. And of course, I want to respect your timing, but we need to come back to each other. And I’d like to work with you on this. Maybe you’re not available for the sex that we used to have, but what are you available for?

And because our language is so limited, it’s most men, maybe not in Boulder, but most of the other men in the world, they’re not trained to say, I want more connection. Or I just need to know that I’m still important to you, or I even need to know that you even look at me anymore, because you’re always looking at the baby or you’re looking elsewhere. That’s what they’re looking for is to say like, yes, sexuality is on my radar and I’m going to attend to it, and here’s how I want to attend to it. It takes a lot of maturity. But even without children, I think in every person’s life, there are points of huge experiences that change how we feel about our bodies, that change how we feel about our spirituality, our availability, and all of those are going to influence how we arrive to the other person.

So hypothetically, I would say, the person needs to not expect that it’s just the woman’s problem to heal and to figure it out and then come to them when it’s figured out—that they approach it with like, hey, I’m still interested, and how does this sound? And what does sound  good to you? And principally, there still is an idea that sex is something that women give and it’s like a gift that we’re giving. And when you think of it that way, most women say, I’m gifted out, I don’t have anything more to give. I don’t want to give anything. But there’s no reason why sex can’t be something that you either receive or take. What’s the sex that a woman’s going to take then? So reframing it also is something that has been really powerful.


TS: Yes. In the audio series, Reclaiming the Feminine, you introduce this idea of feminist sex. What is that? What’s feminist sex?


KJ: Feminist sex is sex where women’s pleasure matters, where I don’t think it also means that it’s the only thing that matters. It means that the female arousal trajectory, I wish everybody in the world knew that female arousal takes somewhere between 35 and 45 minutes, that women have just as much erectile tissue as males do. And that most male erectile tissue can engorge in 30 seconds to a minute and a half. So feminist sex means our anatomy and our arousal trajectory matters and is considered. And it’s not like, oh, foreplay, it’s so annoying. I wish I could get to orgasm faster, or I wish I could do this faster.

It’s like, no, actually that’s how the physiology works. So feminist sex is slower sex and has a range so that all of the participants or both of the participants, or whoever’s participating is respecting our physiology.


TS: Now, besides 35 to 45 minutes for arousal to fully be present, is there anything else about the female arousal process that’s important to know?


KJ: Well, when it comes to the female nervous system—and probably a lot of listeners are familiar with polyvagal theory—but the social nervous system is something that’s a part of polyvagal theory. So not just sympathetic and parasympathetic, but there’s also a social nervous system, which is the first branch of determining safety and how we relate. And our social nervous system, it’s only… Animals have very complex social systems, but they don’t have social nervous systems, just primates and homo sapiens have social nervous systems. The social nervous system is primed, it’s telling us who we can trust based on our facial expressions and our vocal tone. And it’s the ventral system, so from the heart up through the throat, nose, and mouth.

Females are more subject to both the shadow, specifically to the shadow side, what I would call, that’s our reunion term. So what happens to the social nervous system under threat? When the social nervous system is under threat and we feel like we won’t belong unless we fit in and we do what everybody else does, then we have fawning, which is tolerating, appeasing, being really nice, going ahead with what somebody else wants because we feel if we stand out, then there’s going to be a disconnect. It is really only in our reproductive years that that’s most highlighted or prominent because it’s the way that estrogen and oxytocin work together.

And then when we go into menopause and we have less progesterone, estrogen—overall, those bonding hormones that are really there for us to be incredibly attuned horizontally to the other member of our kinship. And that’s why you see that, in general, when women go through menopause, they don’t care as much about what everybody else thinks. They don’t care as much about pleasing everyone else. That’s when a lot of women get divorced. They’re like, forget this, I’m not going to sacrifice myself for everyone else.

So in addition to the female arousal system, which is how engorgement works and how actually the erectile tissue works, it’s also so much harder for a female system to shut down the voices of: is what I’m doing OK? Am I allowed to want this? Does so and so else want this? I heard this person did this. And then social media just exemplifies that and exaggerates it so many times because we have so many ways to compare with both imagery and words.


TS: Now, this notion of erectile tissue in a woman’s body, can you help me understand that?


KJ: Erectile tissue is corrugated tissue and it’s where blood goes. So that’s what engorges. So just like you can see a penis go from flaccid to hard, and it will change shape and it will change length and girth, the same is true for a vulva. So the erectile tissue in a vulva, we used to think of the clitoris just as like a little bulb, which is just one tiny structure of the clitoris. The clitoris actually has wings, or in English it’s called legs. And then there are vestibular bulbs that go around the opening, and then there’s erectile tissue that’s in the perineum, and there’s also erectile tissue around the urethra. So around the place where female ejaculate and urine exits, there’s erectile tissue.

And that tissue is usually called the G-spot, but in anatomical language, it’s called a meatus. It’s a thick spongy material. So if you take your tongue and you run your tongue across the roof of your mouth, you feel ridges. That’s the type of tissue, but it’s softer than that. And that tissue is meant to be incredibly expandable. So it’s there for arousal, yes, but it also really helps in the birthing process because when that tissue is stretched, it’s very soft and spongy and shape shifting.


TS: Now, in the audio series that you recorded with Sounds True, Reclaiming the Feminine—embodied sexuality, spiritual practice, you teach a lot of different practices. And one of the first practices you introduce is how we can build our arousal capacity. And so I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about that, and why do we have to build our capacity? Why wouldn’t we just have, oh, I have unlimited capacity or I have great capacity. Why does our capacity shrink? Or why is it something we need to build and how do we build it?


KJ: We need to build tolerance. Well, I don’t really like the word tolerance, but why does it shrink? It’s a good question. I think family messages, our own life experiences, cultural messages, religious scripts, all of those things that tell us what’s appropriate, what’s not appropriate, what’s good, what’s bad, how connected we are to wanting to be a good person and what we think falls inside that category… Big question, why do we need to expand it? Well, nobody needs to do anything. So if you’re listening and you feel really satisfied with—


TS: No, I want to build my arousal capacity. So let’s go in that direction really.


KJ: OK. We need to build it because we tend to do a lot of things that slow down our valve system. So meditation slows our valve system, yoga in general slows our valve system. So when we start to feel more activation, we can associate it with anxiety or anger, and if anger’s unwelcome… So when we start to stretch into that more sympathetic, healthy aggression state, we’re likely to either collapse or default. Especially female nervous systems that have been more habituated it into prey responses, flight responses, freeze responses, down-regulation, we need to practice up-regulation. Just like there’s all kinds of jokes all over the place about men who ejaculate too fast, women can also get in the situation—females—where we either climax really fast, but don’t have capacity for a bigger orgasm, or we just don’t feel there’s any modulation, so we are always going to the same place every time.

And that same place every time—I only come in this position—that can be really frustrating. And if you’re looking to build your capacity, and I think to me, building capacity also means new pathways, also means availability for something that might be interesting that wasn’t interesting before.


TS: OK. So a listener says, take us through it. How are we going to build our arousal capacity? What are we going to do?


KJ: Right now?


TS: Yes. Give me a sense. Give me a taste.


KJ: OK. Well, one thing that we could do together is we could breathe in and out through our mouth three times. And when you’re breathing in through your mouth, make your mouth like an O-ring, so you’re like a boba straw and you’re pulling in the air through your mouth. And then as you do that, squeeze your pelvic floor at the same time as you breathe in. And when we breathe out, we’ll just make a sound like an awe. I feel like that’s kind of funny, it makes me want to laugh a little bit, but my palette feels a lot more open, I feel hotter. So it feels like it built some heat. And I feel more awareness in my whole erectile tissue and pelvic bowl. What do you notice?


TS: I notice like an increase of inner electricity or something like that, or just some feeling of buzzing aliveness. And that was one of my questions was, you can think about arousal capacity as something that you build so that it’s a capacity you have in a sexual interaction, but it could just be building your capacity for an increased intense aliveness. And I’m wondering what you think about that.


KJ: Yes. And an availability to life, the possibility full engagement, of inhabiting every cell and being present internally and available—but not available meaning I’m here for anything, available to feeling that you could mobilize what you’re available for and sustain that mobilization to get to a place that you want to go.


TS: Now, you mentioned this term jaguar work as something that you teach women. What is jaguar work?


KJ: When I was in my office and I was working with a lot of women, a woman came in, she was wearing a hat, many layers of scarves. I live in Southern California, so it’s not cold. It was weird for someone to come to my office with a hat and a lot of layers. I thought, OK, I’m going to have her be the wolf and I’ll be the rabbit, because she’s in rabbit energy, she’s hiding, she doesn’t feel safe being revealed. So she’s freezing and she’s all covered. The moment I told her that she could be the wolf, she started to act like a rabbit without wanting to. So she got down, she started cowering and shaking and telling me, I don’t know why this is happening.

And that was a huge aha moment for me, recognizing that it wasn’t that she didn’t want to be the wolf—she was a feminist. She wanted to have predator energy or hunter’s energy, but her system couldn’t do it and specifically went the opposite when the idea was even proposed to her. So I recognized that I needed to help the women coming in my office learn how to develop hunter’s energy. And because so many people have been in the prey position—either sexually or in birth or with doctors or all of the ways that they felt they couldn’t say what they needed to say or move the way they wanted to move or be available to life because they were always getting pulled into helping everyone else and not helping themselves—I developed a process to help them activate what I call “jaguar energy.” Because that’s the energy that resonates most for me. And it’s also a name that somebody gave me.

I used to live in Brazil and my practitioner just happened to have been from the Amazon. And I was talking to him at the moment about how fragmented I felt between being a single mom and having to be the unconditional love and the disciplinarian. And when I said that, he said, “You’re a jaguar, and it’s the females that teach the cubs to hunt.” And he just fractured this polarity that I had created. 

I was feeling really sorry for myself and just said, you need to learn about this, how the jaguars, how do they teach their cubs to hunt?—and start tracking that. And so I did, and I started developing this hunter energy inside myself so that I wasn’t in collapse, I wasn’t always going into freeze or confusion or helplessness or sadness, that I could actually feel the power of healthy aggression. So that’s the foundational work that I do with everyone who both comes into my office and who studies with me.


TS: I notice that I am very drawn to the idea of having healthy aggression available to me, but the notion of being a “predator,” something in me is just like, really? You know I’m a human being. I don’t want to be a predator. So help me with that term.


KJ: I think that most people would cringe because look at who we see as predators, Harvey Weinstein, but that’s not a predator. That’s what we’re calling in the English language, a predator, that is feral behavior. The only animals in the wild, like a wolf in a hen house, that’s a hen house, it’s close to domestication, and so that’s why it’s out of control. An actual predator only ever kills what it needs. It doesn’t kill anything else except for the food that it needs. The rest of the time, it chills out, it plays, it hangs out in the cave, it saunters along the plains, whatever else the animals are doing.

I totally understand why someone would not want to be associated with a predator, but the people who least want to be associated with the predator are the people who have been the prey the most of the time, which is why I continue to use it. I could easily just stop using the word predator and use the word hunters, but I continue to use it because I’m trying to get to the biology. Because what happens is when we’re over-identified with the prey, like in my case, there’s a lot of reasons why I was bullied in school, grew up in an alcoholic household. Then I become a vegetarian, then I become a yoga practitioner. Then I develop all kinds of viewpoints that all reinforce not having healthy aggression, that all reinforce always being good and seeing everyone else’s point of view and putting myself in the shoes of another, and not being able to have my own shoes and look at the world through my own eyes.

So having predator energy is not being an alpha female, it’s not walking around the world with your biceps cocked looking for a fight. A healthy predator energy is I have intact self-protective instincts, and I know from the depth of my own that I can defend myself if I need to, therefore, I probably won’t need to. And sexually, it means that if we want to “surrender” or we want to “be ravished” we’re actually, we’re not doing that because it’s the only thing that our system can do, is be disengaged or flaccid or tolerant. We’re doing it because we actually could occupy the full realm of, I can get what I want if I wanted to, but I’m doing it out of preference, not out of default.


TS: I’m totally behind you and I’m still uncomfortable with the word. I’m seeking other words that enable—


KJ: What do you think about hunter?


TS: Hunters, even that honestly I have to say, it makes me a little uncomfortable, but something about being in a type of healthy goddess, empowered, roaring, able to use aggression as protection, honoring my own needs, speaking up, all of those qualities, I’m 100 percent behind. But there’s something at the expense of another, which is what I associate with the predator, even the hunter, there’s a death of some… That’s where I think it is hard for me to bring those qualities in under that label.


KJ: Yes. So just curious, because I think that, of course, if we were actually being attacked, which does happen sometimes where our system is going to fight, move towards the aggressor or flee, move away, or we’re going to collapse. In that situation, from a nervous system perspective, and what’s going to have the less residue is if we’re able to fight or get away. But our system sometimes registers it’s not possible and the system chooses something else. I just wonder what—I’m not suggesting again, that this is what—because I don’t know, when I’m hearing you talk, I’m imagining like, then there’s going to be gladiators out in the streets again or something like that.

I’m not suggesting we’re actually doing it. Some of the time, yes, 100 percent wish my parents would’ve told me when I was in fifth grade to turn around and either yell or roar or maybe even push someone back who is taunting me, because being nice and ignoring—which is what I was taught to do, ignore it, pretend like it doesn’t get to you—that actually turned in on me. And I see so many women with autoimmune disorders and sickness because that anger that could be directed outward is actually going inward. But maybe if it’s the energy that’s activated and you were saying like, goddess, like a fierce goddess, to me, the animal energy is just different.


TS: Yes, that’s OK, I’m going to ponder this. And I think that you’re pointing to a capacity and something being a fierceness being turned on that’s so important for women. And I really appreciate you pointing to it and bringing it right to the forefront.


KJ: But I wonder if for you though, if you already have a lot of that intact inside of you, because you’ve been running your own business for years and you’ve had to be in environments where you’re not going to collapse, you can’t collapse.


TS: Yes. My own journey is learning to be more accommodating and making room for other people. And that’s more been my growing edge. At one point you said, lovingkindness is at the basis of what I teach, it’s at the core of the work I do. And one of the practices that you brought forward in the series—it’s so simple, and I loved it so much—is lovingkindness with our hands, working with ourselves. And I wonder if here, as we’re coming to a close soon, if you could just share what that practice is and how people could explore it.


KJ: I like to use my hands and place my hands on different parts of my body and I invite anyone who’s listening who can do that right now to do that. And so sometimes with lovingkindness, we just repeat the words either internally, or we say them out loud, “May I be filled with lovingkindness.” And in this case, it’s like, as I’m touching myself and just feeling the contours of my head, having the energy of lovingkindness in my hands too, may I be filled with lovingkindness, so that it really feels like, directly, my hands are sending it back into myself. And one of the ways that I came up with this was because whenever I would teach lovingkindness in my yoga classes or in women’s circles that I was leading, I taught some groups about spirituality and sexuality and yoga studios in Brazil.

All the women could easily say, “May you be filled with lovingkindness,” but it was so hard for them to say, “May I be filled with lovingkindness.” Or “May all beings including myself,” so I would always add including myself. And the including myself would always make people cry because it was so much easier for us to send out that love. And that relates to the giving part of the Wheel of Consent. I can give it, but I can’t direct it to myself. So using the hands is just a way to also just bring our attention back into this physical body of ours. And there’s so many ways that our body is that sometimes feels like it’s not the way we want it to be, or that it’s betraying us somehow, and I just find that this is a very direct and simple way to have tangible lovingkindness.


TS: What do your hands feel like when you do that?


KJ: What do they feel like? I feel more the space that I’m contacting, but they also feel, if I gave them a color, they would feel like light yellow and a little bit warm.


TS: Now, I have to say, Kimberly, your audio series with Sounds True, Reclaiming the Feminine, is hugely substantive. You cover so much ground, from all the exercises that you offer, the whole journey into the pelvic floor, where we spend quite a bit of time, not just familiarizing ourselves but really learning what it might be like, to instead of bringing our energy up and out, bringing all of our energy in and down. There’s a whole section on what feminine spirituality might be like in difference to the ways that many of us have been taught, spiritual paths based on traditions that were formalized by men. It’s a beautiful, beautiful series.

And we create track markers, little titles for each little part. And the very last track marker is “Having sex that changes the world, beginning with yourself.” This notion of having sex that changes the world—and I wonder if we can end on that note—what might that mean?


KJ: Sex that changes the world requires listening, requires slowing down, requires bringing a lot of the tools that we’ve developed interpersonally or in spiritual practice, but in one of the most vulnerable spaces. Erotic energy, which to me is life-force energy, which is arousal energy, is the place where we can heal. It’s fast, it’s efficient, even though I said that it’s also slow, but the healing potential that arises when the life force is actually moving can get through so many layers that we spend years and years and years trying to excavate and talking and analyzing and skimming around. So sex that changes the world to me is about how we loosen some of these shaming patterns that keep us adherent to values or directions that aren’t actually true to ourselves.

And it can reveal to us our own, what I would call swadharma our own personal purpose and path. So the truer we are to where that movement is happening, the closer we get to that which we were put on this earth to do, that’s ours alone to do. 


TS: I’ve been speaking with Kimberly Johnson, she’s the author of the book, The Fourth Trimester and a book called The Call of the Wild: How We Heal Trauma, Awaken Our Own Power, and Use It for Good. With Sounds True, she’s created a new audio series. It’s called Reclaiming the Feminine: Embodied Sexuality as Spiritual Practice. Kimberly, you’re a fun person to talk to. Thank you so much.


KJ: Thank you.

TS: Thanks for listening to Insights at the Edge. You can read a full transcript of today’s interview at That’s If you’re interested, hit the Subscribe button in your podcast app. And if you feel inspired, head to iTunes and leave Insights at the Edge a review. I absolutely love getting your feedback and being connected. Sounds True: waking up the world.

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