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The term body armouring was coined by psychologist Wilhelm Reich. His book Character Analysis deals most directly with body armouring.
In Reich’s research, he found the functions of body armouring to be that it:
- Keeps potentially explosive emotions in and;
- Wards off the emotions of others.
Reich noticed men have trouble taking away armour because they are so accustomed to suppressing feelings and emotions.
An armoured person does not feel their armour as such. Reich believed that mind-body work is necessary for people to rid themselves ofthis armour. Armouring is the sum total of the muscular attitudes which a person developsas a defense against the breakthrough of emotions, especially anxiety, rage and sexual excitation.Character armour is the sum total of all the years of the muscular attitudes that have also been incorporated in the person’s character.
How body armouring manifests in our sexuality
Body armouring is our emotional defense against feeling on all levels, including sexually. This can manifest in the body in a large range of responses to feeling. Reich’s research talks about the loss of sensitivity through body armouring. My work with people has shown me that hypersensitivity is often the consequence of body armouring.
On the one end of the continuum of body armouring responses in our sexuality is a total lack of sensitivity to feeling and on the other end of the scale is total oversensitivity.
Body armouring, sex and hypersensitivity
Examples of hypersensitivity are fear of or hypersensitivity to touch, premature ejaculation and vaginismus. On the level of the heart, oversensitivity reveals as too much superficial movement in front of heart (emotions covering up other emotions), emotional overextending and heartbreak that doesn’t move. On the level of consciousness, hyper-arousal can manifest sexuality as over focus or obsession. Let’s take premature ejaculation as an example of a physical manifestation of hypersensitivity.
The 1948 Kinsey Report suggested that three quarters of men ejaculate within two minutes of penetration in over half of their sexual encounters. A. Kingsey. Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male, Indiana Press, 1975. 64
The ejaculatory response in the body is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system – our fight, flight and arousal response. When the sympathetic nervous system is overactive – for instance, if someone feels anxious or under pressure – this would contribute significantly to the chances of ejaculation occurring prematurely. The body becomes hyper-aroused and extremely sensitive to the extent that any stimulation pushes the sexual impulse over the edge.
Premature ejaculation is treated medically by increasing serotonin levels in the body. Serotonin is a mood-lifting biochemical that is a function of the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls our release and relaxation response. What this indicates is that premature ejaculation – as with other hyper-aroused states of body armouring – is linked to an over activity of the nervous system’s flight- or-fight response, and a lack of access to the release-and-relaxation response in the nervous system.
Body armouring, sex and lack of feeling
If the sexual body is feeling too little, this results in sexual numbness, indifference and flaccidity. As a result of armouring, the sexual impulse can also be changed from something soft and gentle to something harsh and brutal – or lacking feeling in sex. Inability to express sexuality causes rage, which must also be repressed, and then sex becomes mechanical and brutal. Body armouring can manifest in ourconsciousness around sex as distraction and lack of presence. On the level of the heart, lack of sensitivity manifests as numbness or disconnecting heart and sex.
For more on the topic of body armoring and how to work with it, read my book Basic Sexual Shadow work.