From Sexual Guilt to Sex Positive


Note: This post contains information about my sexuality or sex life, if you would rather not know these things about me move along and check for another blog post on another day.

Mike and I took a trip to the three-story Lovers adult store in Tukwila the other day, and had a really great time. The salespeople were all very friendly and helpful, and there wasn’t a hint of awkwardness. They knew their stuff and were sincerely looking to help us enjoy our time shopping. It took me once around the store to relax and be able to talk to Mike about the products we were looking at, but once I did I was really comfortable and appreciated the atmosphere. It got me thinking about how nice it would be if sex wasn’t such a stressful taboo in our society, if we could always relax and talk with others with the same ease that Mike and I could in the store.

Lovers mission statement is “To provide an exciting environment to explore human sexuality and to acknowledge the freedom to do so."

Now, how is that possibly a bad thing?

We once went to a lecture by Dr. Darrell Ray where he talked pretty extensively about The Guilt Cycle, and how it plays such an important role in religion. The Church latches on to sex as a really great way to control their members (no pun intended). They find something that people are naturally programmed to do – in this case masturbating or experimenting as they mature sexually – and tell them that it’s wrong, a very serious sin. When Churchgoer masturbates or experiments with a friend or partner, they feel intense guilt that has been programmed in by the Church. They turn to the Church or prayer, to absolve them of their guilt, which the church will happily do… while reinforcing the idea of how bad this sin is. Churchgoer feels a little bit better, at least until their hormones kick in and they ‘slip up’ again and the cycle repeats. I’ve watched several Christian friends and even a few relatives anguish through this cycle. It’s incredibly powerful.

If you want to control someone, control their sexuality. Sex is one of the most powerful urges that we have, next to eating and sleeping. We become sexually viable in our young teen years, and it’s completely unnatural to abstain from sex until your early 20s. There is a reason that teenagers are so horny, it’s not a choice, its basic biology. It’s generally mentally and physically unhealthy to abstain from sex for so long, especially if you try to eliminate masturbation as well. There may be people out there who can do it, and I’m impressed. By the time I was 18, I was chomping at the bit. Depending on your definition of virgin (mine was vaginal sex) I was a virgin until I got to college, but at that point I was ready to fuck just about anybody. I’m lucky enough that I met my future husband and he didn’t take advantage of that, but let’s back up a bit to get the whole picture.

My own sexual growth and knowledge has been stunted on one side, and accelerated on the other, which has forced me to do some painful growing and balancing in the past few years. Let me explain.

I grew up in a sexually repressive Evangelical Christian church, though thankfully not as repressive as it could have been. Sex was something wonderful and awesome - a perfect gift from God - as long as it was saved for marriage and you only ever had sex with your permanent heterosexual partner. You give up a part of yourself whenever you have sex, a part that you never get back, so don’t you want to be whole for your spouse? If you’re not, all of the other partners that you have will basically be in the bedroom with you every time you have sex. (What a load of bunk.) I got the idea that you didn’t need to work at sex, your wedding night would automatically be amazing since you’d waited patiently for so long. Real life turned out to be just a bit different, but we’ll get to that.

So, from my verbal schooling about sex, I got a good education on what was happening to my body through puberty, the basics on the mechanics of sex, the ‘icky’ knowledge that gay men had sex by sticking it in the butt (I was young and it was said with such disgust), and the idea that sex was perfect when God brought the right man into your life and you ‘became one’ with him. This is the stunted half, there’s so much that I didn’t learn about the way sex really is.

The other half started silently when I was 5ish. I discovered my body and “Hee, that tickles! … Hey, that feels really good!” at nap time and at night. I had my first fantasies, and ‘played doctor’ with the neighbor girl down the street. Young-me was told that pornography was a terrible sin, degrading for women, something that should be avoided at all costs, etc. I was either never told, or could never remember, what pornography actually was. Curiosity eventually won out, and one night when I was home alone, I turned to the internet. I went to Lycos.com (remember that search engine?) and searched for “pornography”. With my heart pounding, and looking paranoid over my shoulder, I was faced with my first “You must be 18 or older to enter” screen and feeling like I was breaking the law, I pushed “ENTER”. I panicked and quickly closed the window. I sat there for a moment, heart racing, sure I was somehow going to get caught. Once I calmed down a bit, I repeated the process and I was hooked. I think I was 12.

I was insatiable for a while, learning and looking at everything I could get my hands on. I found a site full of erotic stories that captured my imagination, AOL chatrooms where I pretended to be twice my age and quickly got frustrated with guys who couldn’t figure out descriptive writing and that ‘I give you an orgasm’ wasn’t exciting (which I still find hilarious). I also had a 30-something guy tell me he was newly married but he loved me and his wife said that it was okay if it was just on the internet. Right. That scared the pants off me, I told him I was 13 and then blocked him, and that killed cybering for me. I learned pretty early on what I liked, what got a rise out of me, and what didn’t do anything. I was increasing my sexual knowledge by leaps and bounds, but I didn’t have anything practical to temper it against, and I wouldn’t dream of talking to anyone about it. This is the accelerated half, and the silence of it all has made my sex life unnecessarily difficult.

As I became sexually active, I found that I had no idea if the things that I read about in porn were the way it actually worked and I also quickly realized that I couldn’t vocalize the things that I wanted, including saying no when things were moving too fast. I had good boundaries in mind, but enforcing them was nearly impossible for me. If I had stumbled into a less amazing guy than my future husband when I first got to college, this could have ended very badly for me. As it was, I got off with only days of stress, guilt, and frustration at myself afterwards. Yeah, there’s still something wrong with that picture.

As our relationship grew, we struggled pretty mightily creating a happy and healthy sex life. Some of it was the fact that being on the pill killed my libido, but I think a lot of it came from my lack of ability to communicate. Some people might be lucky enough to get it right the first time, but from everything that I have heard, read, and experienced: it’s all about communication and practice. If you’re missing the communication, the practice isn’t going to help much either.

So many couples are incredibly self-conscious talking about sex, even though they are actively engaging in it. Why is talking about it more embarrassing than doing it? I still have a problem talking openly about the specifics of sex with my own husband. I get embarrassed and shy and it’s damn frustrating. The unrealistic expectations from the church, mixed with feelings of guilt from my Christian peers and teachers, self-imposed guilt from my parents teachings (Don’t make our mistakes!), and silence through my sexual development have been huge hurdles that I’ve had to face in coming to terms with my sexuality and in working with my husband to create a healthy sex life. I read blogs about parents raising their children in sex-positive environments and I’m jealous. But I can only take what I’ve learned and move on.

I am sex positive, working hard to become vocal about it, and I think the world would be happier if everyone else was too.

Never stop questioning,

Valerie

*****Edit*****

Here's a little bit on the sex positive movement to help clarify things:

"The sex-positive movement does not in general make moral or ethical distinctions between heterosexual or homosexual sex, or masturbation, regarding these choices as matters of personal preference. Some sex-positive positions include acceptance of BDSM and polyamory as well as asexuality, transsexuality, transgenderism, and other forms of gender transgression in general. Most elements of the sex-positive movement advocate comprehensive and accurate sex education as part of its campaign."

"Sex-positivity allows for and in fact celebrates sexual diversity, differing desires and relationships structures, and individual choices based on consent."

Being raised sex-positive would mean that all forms of consenting sex and gender combinations would be viewed as normal and healthy, and would include a well-rounded education about the dangers and benefits of sex, physically and emotionally. I definitely don't advocate all teens running around sleeping with each other, I agree with you that most aren't emotionally ready yet, but we can better prepare our children for how to safely have positive sexual experiences when they're ready.

12 comments:

  1. I still remember a million years ago when me and a friend were first discovering pornography. We already thought that 'the authorities', and then our parents, would KNOW somehow. So, when I tremulously clicked that "I am over 18 - ENTER" link, we flew into fits of terror when a dialog box popped up proclaiming "Illegal Operation: This window must close". We were sure we'd been caught :)

    (Warning, TMI incoming)
    Back to your main point, I find it equally frustrating and difficult to talk about sex, and I'm not burdened with a religious upbringing. In my last relationship, I didn't mention that my first time with her was my first time ever, until much later. That sort of thing continued throughout the relationship. Later, she tried to let me know I wasn't performing a particular activity that she wanted in bed; this was never a conversation, but something I ended up having to infer from a tangentially related statement as she hid her face in her hands, embarrassed to even be talking about it.
    (/TMI)

    Our whole culture is saturated in this guilt about sex. It may have religious origins, but it permeates everything we do and everything we say. Violence, explosions, and buckets of gore are perfectly acceptable for children, but god forbid so much as a nipple be visible on television.

    This also plays into the romantic notion that sex has to be spontaneous, unplanned, and definitely not discussed. If you talk about it like you'd talk about, say, getting lunch (another biological need), then the mystical romance of it vanishes! Well, not really. But that's the "common wisdom" that causes problems for couples across the country.

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  2. My first discovery of porn was in middle school. At the school computer lab my friend and I were looking up cheat codes for games and he jokingly told me to go to www.xxx.com. He the proceeded to freak and make me close it when I took him at his word. That evening at home I went back to find out what the big deal was.

    I don't think your story was TMI Justin, but the warning was considerate. :) That is exactly the kind of thing we need to get comfortable talking about with one another to have more sex positive culture, and more positive sexual lives with our partners.

    Speaking of Romanticism, Meming of life has a good series of rants about how he hates the Romantic movement and its lingering effects. Kind of long, but definitely fun. http://parentingbeyondbelief.com/blog/?p=5087

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  3. Thank you for sharing something so personal about yourself. As I was reading, I kept thinking, "Wow, some of this sounds so familiar." My personal sexual struggle was less on the church values and more about family rules and expectations for young women. My mom and aunts made it clear to me that men will take advantage of you and leave you high and dry. Lucky for me, while in college I came to the realization that men are people too, and I am happy to report that I haven't experienced sexual guilt in well over five years.

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  4. Excellent post, Val!

    After reading this, I wish even more that Jonny and I lived near you and Mike. There's so much I connected with when reading this.

    I relate to the discovery of internet porn. For me, it was adult fan fiction, espeically slash/yaoi stuff. Once I found it, I couldn't stop reading it even if it felt "wrong". It was a bit easier to get away with too since there were no pictures.

    I also relate to the embarrassment when it comes to sex. The guilt is gone, sure. However, that hasn't necessarily made it easier to talk about with other people or even with Jonny. I actually remember having this exact discussion where we were trying to figure out we were so shy about the subject.

    I'll stop myself before I ramble too much. Just want to say thanks for writing this. I don't feel so alone anymore :)

    ~Emily

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  5. Judging from the comments and discussions that have come from this post, this is definitely a societal problem, and not just a religious one. I think that makes it even more important to talk about, and attempt to change for the next generation.

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  6. Thank you so much for posting this. This stuff has been going round and round my head in circles a lot lately. I didn't even have a good physical education. I remember being assured that after marriage my husband and I would "fit together in a special way." For the longest time I thought I'd grow an extra part when I got married, like a puzzle piece. I really and truly believed this because no one had told me otherwise.

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  7. I consider myself fairly liberated and forward thinking when it comes to sex (something my brother and sister-in-law may not want to know). I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a… healthy… sexual appetite, and find passion to be just as important as conversation in any relationship. But I’m not sure I agree with every point you’ve made here.

    Yes, growing up in a Christian family is difficult when you find yourself hitting your teenage years and roaring with hormones, and I find myself often blatantly disagreeing with the church 99.9% of the time (I’m bisexual after all, and refuse to believe that I will burn in hell for that). No, I don’t think sharing your body before marriage is a sin. Sharing your body is not the same as sharing your heart, and I don’t think you drag every previous lover into your marriage bed with you once you’ve found the person you want to share your life with. You leave your past relationships in the past and commit yourself to a life with your spouse.

    But I don’t know that I would want my kids raised in a “sex positive” home. Perhaps a sex neutral home? It’s natural, with the right person it’s beautiful, but at the same time I think it’s better to steer kids away from sex than towards it.

    Yes, biologically we are designed to have it, just like every other creature on the planet. But isn’t the point of being human that we can rise above our base biological urges? That we are emotional creatures who can feel and think as well as respond to our basic needs? And most teenagers I’ve met are simply not emotionally ready to take that step yet. Some are, yes, but not all.

    And while I would never want my own children to feel guilty for giving in, I would prefer they wait until they find someone truly special. I was 19, I was tired of fighting it, and I gave it up to a friend. I wasn’t ready, and I cried to my mother the next day on the phone. Not because of some deep seated guilt the church had pushed upon me; I don’t give a flying fig what the church, or anyone, thinks of me or how I choose to live my life. I simply wasn’t emotionally ready to deal with the fact that someone had touched me so intimately.

    I know it’s not the same for everyone, but there are those kids out there who are as sensitive as I was, and I don’t think there is anything more or less wrong with that then with people being fully in charge of their sexuality.

    All that being said, I did like what you said about couples being self-conscious talking about sex. This is something that has frustrated me to no end with boyfriends. Why is it so much more difficult to *talk* about sex than to actually *have* sex?

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  8. Here's a little bit on the sex positive movement to help clarify things:

    "The sex-positive movement does not in general make moral or ethical distinctions between heterosexual or homosexual sex, or masturbation, regarding these choices as matters of personal preference. Some sex-positive positions include acceptance of BDSM and polyamory as well as asexuality, transsexuality, transgenderism, and other forms of gender transgression in general. Most elements of the sex-positive movement advocate comprehensive and accurate sex education as part of its campaign."

    "Sex-positivity allows for and in fact celebrates sexual diversity, differing desires and relationships structures, and individual choices based on consent."

    Being raised sex-positive would mean that all forms of consenting sex and gender combinations would be viewed as normal and healthy, and would include a well-rounded education about the dangers and benefits of sex, physically and emotionally. I definitely don't advocate all teens running around sleeping with each other, I agree with you that most aren't emotionally ready yet, but we can better prepare our children for how to safely have positive sexual experiences when they're ready.

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  9. Ah, OK. You didn't actually state what the sex positive movement was and I misinterpreted the meaning based on other things you said. I'm a fan now that you clear that up, especially from a bisexual standpoint...

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  10. Thank you for being open and honest here. I can totally relate to the frustration and inability to communicate with a partner. My own sexual repression didn't end until I was in college; I didn't know where my clitoris was which made my first few sexual encounters quite confusing and awkward. It wasn't until I got involved with the Vagina Monologues that I started to feel okay about sex. I began the production blushing at the thought of having to moan for the audition, and I ended in an empowering conversation with my mother where I convinced her to shout VAGINA in a fabric store. (Best part? Nobody freaked out about it at the store, lots of smiles and giggles from the other women.)

    Even on my own computer I blush and panic a bit when I visit pornographic sites; it's been ingrained so deeply that I don't want it on my history for fear someone else will stumble upon it and judge what I'm looking at. It shouldn't be that way, it's personal, it's natural, and it's not something to be ashamed of. I've embraced myself but I need to work on being comfortable with the idea of sharing it.

    I personally love the idea of the sex positive movement; particularly the full disclosure portion. I have the privilege of knowing a family that open and honest and they are the closest knit family I have ever known. Honesty is the best policy, for everything.

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  11. Tips To Overcome Guilt Feelings

    Putting just, Guilt Feelings is a natural experience or emotion that appears when we feel that we have performed something that is not right and has now caused harm to someone. We are going to discuss some tips to Overcome Guilt Feelings.

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