Shame. It plays a central role in the common language and activities of most sex lives.
Sexual shame is actually woven into our collective culture and deeply influences our individual sexuality. Have you ever noticed—the so-called “normal” language that we use during sex includes so many negative words, doesn’t it?
“Let’s be bad.” “Talk dirty to me.” “You’re so naughty.” “She such a filthy girl.”
Isn’t it time to stop having “dirty” sex? Really, how on earth can we call sex “love making” and expect people to have positive attitudes about it when we also call it “nasty”? I’ve never heard the sentence “nasty lovemaking.”
First, we say sex is loving, connecting, affirming of a love relationship, and brings great joy; then, we say sex is “getting off”, hot, and all those synonyms I wrote above. These two attitudes are in conflict about the same act, the same component of human nature, and that’s one reason why sex is the focus of so much confusion.
Years ago, as a new psychologist, I puzzled over this myself when I began study sex therapy. It led me to write books and articles on the “real” nature of sexuality. From working with countless men and women on their sexual issues, I came to understand the role of shame in sex. Yes, shame. That dreadful emotion that makes us hide, change the subject, and avoid; that makes us feel bad, perhaps like failures, maybe not deserving of life or love.
I’m talking about sexual shame, in particular.
Here’s what became clear, as I assisted people in discovering healthy sexuality: When a personal sense of sexual shame decreases, the idea of sex as dirty declines, as well. And then, they get to discover “clean” sex. (Which is not at all “boring” or “vanilla” like people seem to think.)
Beyond my research and client work, I understand the tie between sex and shame intimately. Because I’m one of those people who relied on shame for sexual arousal. When I was young, I got aroused by certain kinds of porn or other sexual stimuli. I thought my arousal was normal, as most people seem turned on by the same things.
Those “nasty” images in porn or stories made me feel an intense, sort of overwhelming sexual response. It was a singular, driven, very narrow sensation. I could easily get off. (Which is always a good thing, right?)
But, over the years, as I healed my sexuality from abuse and the cultural perception of sex as nasty and dirty, my experience with (and view of) sex expanded, spreading out from my body, encompassing so much of myself. It was very different from the driven experience of old.
Recently, when I was writing porn scenes for my transformational fiction novel, Sex From the Man’s Point of View, I began to wonder if traditional porn would still arouse me. I figured, since I was exposing my readers to it, I should at least know what it was like.
Here’s what happened—I searched for various kinds of porn. I watched penises going in and out of vaginas, in and out of mouths, and then in and out of anuses. I saw two women being sexual with each other, several pairs of women, then two women with a man, several men with large penises, and women with no hair on or around their vulvas.
It didn’t turn me on.
I watched sexual scenes that previously would have triggered me into intense arousal and desire. I watched for hours, and then more the next night. But still, nothing.
Many sexual addicts, who have scrapped their old version of sex in order to discover a new one, find that they no longer respond to sexual stimuli that would have been arousing in the past. (A caution here: the kind of stimulus most closely related to their addiction may still be arousing. It is more entrenched than ordinary stimuli.)
I realized that I’ve gone through the same process they have. Although, for me, I never set the objective to stop reacting to porn; for me it was simply a natural fallout of healing my own sexuality.
How did I do it? Well, while writing about how healing sexuality in my book, Reclaiming Healthy Sexual Energy: Revised, I actually took my own advice! The short version, expanded in my transformational fiction novels on Kindle, is this:
- Talk openly and non-erotically.
- Replace “having sex” with exploring sexual activity for emotions and sensations attached, in order to remove the ones that inhibit a loving use of sexuality.
- Learn about body memory.
- Learn how to honor this form of memory and then release them.