Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Sexuality and Shame -- Part 2; Sexperiences

I've been sharing this 3-part essay from my book, Free to Be, over at No Longer Quivering.  Hop over there to join in the discussion and to read some other amazing articles.  Read part 1 here.

By the age of thirteen I’d gleaned enough of a sex education from Stephen King books and porn magazines to start seriously writing erotic fiction.  According to the responses I received on the internet, I had found something I was very good at.
It was exhilarating.  I pleased the opposite sex.  I had power.
Through my teens I continued this hobby on the worldwide web.  In real life I fooled around with more young men than I care to admit, and a few considerably older men, too, kicking things off with my first kiss at the age of fourteen with a twenty-four year old man from Arkansas that I’d met on the internet.  I craved the affirmation.  (I guess that’s about when I decided I’d better make some decisions about sex.)
I managed surprisingly well with my conviction for awhile.  I guess. By the guidelines I had set I simply refused to have intercourse, but pretty much anything else was up for grabs.  (No pun intended.) Really, I had little practical knowledge and didn’t know what I was getting into when I started off. But, it’s okay because I WANTED to be a good girl.  In “real life,” anyway.
Later in life I heard sin described as being like an octopus, waiting on one side of the line of conviction you drew in the sand, waiting for you to get close enough to snatch at you with its long tentacles and drag you over.  I reckoned that’s what had happened to me.  I’d gotten too close and found myself up to my ears in sin of the worst kind.  (So I felt about intercourse.  Maybe there were worse sins that could be committed, but in truth the worst always seem to be those you find yourself committing.)  Once you cross that line, it’s easier to cross again and again, in spite of your best intentions and the choking shame.  I was overwhelmed with shame.
A dictionary definition of shame:  ”a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.”
I suppose the interesting thing, and why I bother adding my voice to this already saturated-with-reflection topic at all, is the origin of the shame and its effect on our culture.  I am not an expert on this (or on anything) and don’t pretend to be (I hope you have figured that out by now), so again, these are just my experiences and reflections.

It appears to be a fairly common thing, what happened in my life regarding sexuality.  A certain duality quickly developed.  I explored my sexuality (as I now believe is natural for people sexually awakening), yet was somehow aware of my culture’s taboos and so sensed that what I was doing was unnatural and worthy of shame. 
Subsequently, in my personality, this manifested itself in astounding titillation at the merest hint of sexuality;  beyond, I felt, natural instincts and curiosity.  I wasn’t necessarily aware of how this worked, but surely there was more stimulation because of the forbidden nature of my thoughts and activities.
As my sexuality matured, so did the mysterious cloud of shame.  The duality and conflict of conscience caused me to develop my sexuality more in some kind of fantasy land than in reality.  There was my real life and there was my sex life.  Since my real life was rather empty and I had a lot of free time on my hands, having been pulled out of public school into a very informal homeschooling situation and so pretty much left to myself from twelve years old on, sex attracted
more and more of my attention as the years passed.  Chronic masturbation, writing and reading erotic literature, pornography, phone sex and physical encounters with boys and men, these things filled much of my time.  (Incidentally, I still tried to refrain from intercourse.)
Separating myself this way caused me to be blind to the ways sex affected my life.  It filled my head and much time was spent in pursuit of it instead of other worthwhile things.  For instance, I considered the guys in my life only with the thought of what pleasure I could receive, with little thought to lasting relationships or marriage and children, so it didn’t matter if the guys I fooled around with were decent.  In fact, I turned away many a decent guy because he didn’t flirt with me or pursue me sexually.  In hindsight, I think I had a chance with some very amazing, good quality men, but I didn’t give them my time because there was no sexual tension.  Nope, I acted on a very base-level, animalistic understanding of self-worth, so I was drawn to the misfits and the way they aroused me; it was fun and their desire made me feel good about myself.  (My deepest apologies to
you dear, kind men whom I caused distress or discouragement.  If you are reading this and know who you are, I’m glad you stayed strong and found women who appreciate you.)
I’m very fortunate to not have picked up any nasty diseases or been raped or worse.  As for pregnancy, well… I wasn’t totally ignorant of the fact that sexual intercourse can result in (and often is the leading cause of) pregnancy, but every sexual encounter of mine was cloaked in fantasy, you see.  In my mind I wasn’t actually doing what I was doing.  It was as though I had stepped out of the real world and into a world where sensuality reigned and real-world rules didn’t
apply and needn’t be fussed about.  If I kept denying that I was doing what I was doing, then it wouldn’t be real.
For the most part I was able to keep these worlds separate.  Under my parents’ roof I occasionally crashed into their authority (became suspect or got caught with a boy) and I crumbled under my shame.  But I handled Mom’s lectures and Dad’s scowls the same way I handled the rest of the disturbing real world; I separated myself, lost myself in imagination.  It was as though they were talking to someone else entirely, not to me.  In classic teenage fashion I even convinced myself that they didn’t really know me, didn’t understand me.
Unfortunately, I think that was true to some extent.  Or, maybe closer to the truth, they knew me, they just didn’t know what to do about me.
The shame that descended on me when I discovered I was pregnant at eighteen nearly crushed the life out of me.  Pregnancy was the reality that could not be denied, could not be fantasized or prayed away. Yet, in spite of the evidence, stubborn denial held me fast.  I even tried escaping the reality by running away to Australia, to the arms of a friend and lover I’d corresponded with via phone and internet for the two years prior.  Halfway around the world; if you tried to run further you’d be running back home.
Shame followed me.  I was not delusional enough to withstand the reality of teen-pregnancy AND a foreign land.  The day I flew home was my nineteenth birthday.  I was almost four months pregnant.  As I was flying backward through time zones, and from winter to summer, I had some time to think.  The day lasted thirty-six hours.  That was the longest day of my life.
A few months before becoming pregnant I had begun attending a local church.  I heard the gospel and accepted Christ as my “personal Lord and savior.”  It was about that time that I met Bobby, actually.  The conflict within me was seriously intensified, to be sure.  My dual natures stood in stark contrast.  The shame… oh the shame!  I had vague but powerful ideas about what and who I should be and I failed to meet these expectations time and again.
Now everyone would know. My parents would know.
Shame kept me from announcing my pregnancy (except to a few close friends); instead, I hid it until I could hide it no longer.  Shame kept me from being able to allow myself a happy wedding surrounded by family; instead, Bobby and I eloped.  Shame kept me from recognizing that Bobby and I were not a good match; instead, the messages spinning around my head made it clear that I had to get married as quickly as possible to make things right.  I may even be able to blame shame, in part, for shoving me forth into devout religiosity.  It certainly helped propel me through the years.
Shame…  ”a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.”
It has made me a little sad, writing this, but now the anger is returning. I’d like to know what the hell is WRONG with sex?!
I can tell you what was wrong with sex the way I did it. Secretively.  Embarrassedly.  Embracing sexuality while trying to distance myself from it, in constant conflict, suffering a constant awareness of sex and denying it.   THAT is foolish.  But where did I, where does our culture, get the idea that sex is wrong or foolish behavior? Isn’t sex one of the most basic, most normal human functions?  These biological urges are written in our DNA, not just for the sake of procreation but for our emotional well-being.  It’s part of being an animal here on earth, as necessary and delicious as eating and sleeping and cheesecake.
There are stories of sexual repression and perversion through all cultures I guess, but it seems so very prevalent in Christianity.  The culture’s suppression of natural desires and functions giving birth to rejection of sexuality and a fascination with it.  Celibate Catholic priests molesting alter boys, frigid adult children of the Holiness movement, Biblically justified domineering patriarchs and their submissive wives and daughters.  I cannot begin to tell all the
stories I’m familiar with.
As Christians, was our professed desire for modesty and purity in service to God what really motivated us to such hatred of sexual sin? Could that be a front?  What about jealousy?  What about our own frustrated sexuality and shame?  Am I the only one who claims to hate the heroine on the TV because she represents the sinful, tempting side of sex but more honestly hates her because I am jealous of her figure and find her so sexually alluring that I can’t take my eyes off of her?  Are we angry because we are ashamed?  Do we feel shame because we are trying to suppress natural human responses to sex?
To be continued...

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