Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Nienke Helder has created a set of sensory objects that can be used to rehabilitate women affected by sexual abuse.
Presented at this year’s Dutch Design Week, Sexual Healing is designed to help women who are suffering from trauma-induced sexual problems, such as pelvic muscle blockage.
According to the designer, current treatment available often focuses on a clinical perspective – putting too much emphasis on physical issues, rather than the psychological aspects of trauma.
From her own experience, Helder recognised the frustration this can cause, which prompted her to develop an alternative therapy which focuses more on the emotional aspects of sexual trauma.
“I was really frustrated with the way we treat these kinds of issues. In my opinion, the treatments that I got only made it worse,” she told Dezeen.
“It was totally taking me away from the sexual context; it became really clinical. It was so focused on this end goal of penetration that I totally lost all fun in my sexuality.”
The designer worked with medical experts and women in recovery to develop a set of five objects which invite users to discover their own sexual pleasure.
The objects encourage women to explore what feels good to them, which in turn, relieves fear and pain, and help them regain a sense of security about their bodies.
The first object is an ergonomically shaped mirror that lights up.
“Research shows that if you look at your own vulva, it increases your body positivity a lot. But if you have a trauma, it can really be confronting to look at your own body,” Helder said.
She made the mirror in such a way that it only shows exactly what you hold in front of it, allowing users to take their time and slowly start exploring their own bodies.
The second object is a brush made from horsehair, which is meant to help users become comfortable with being touched again. It also enables them to invite their partner to the healing process.
“If you have a trauma, it can be really difficult to talk about it. But by giving someone an object and making them part of the therapy, it opens a lot of doors for conversation,” Helder explains.
Two of the objects focus on biofeedback and are designed to help the user detect if they are feeling tense or stressed.
“Trauma creates certain reflexes in your body that comes from your subconscious mind,” the designer said. “To break that cycle, you need to rationally understand what is causing these processes in order to overcome them emotionally.”
One is a sensor that is meant to be placed on the abdomen. The device lights-up when the user’s breathing becomes tense, functioning as a signal to relax again.
A second is an object that measures the pressure in pelvic floor muscles. If the user tenses up, the device starts to vibrate, signalling the need to relax.
The final object is a kimono made of silk jersey, which emphasises the need to feel warm and relaxed in the bedroom.
“I made it because the bedroom is one of the coldest rooms in the house,” said the designer. “As I mentioned in my project video, it is important to keep your socks on when having sex because women could not have an orgasm when they have cold feet.”
Mental health is becoming an increasingly explored topic in design, particularly among graduates.
At last year’s Design Academy Eindhoven graduate show, designer Nicolette Bodewes presented a tactile toolkit designed to be used in psychotherapy sessions, while Yi-Fei Chen channelled her personal struggle with speaking her mind into a gun that fires her tears.
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