Writing this, I am in the midst of what I’ve heard described as a vulnerability hangover.
Yesterday, I had a post-therapy dinner with a close friend, and eventually we got on the topic of sex.
This wasn’t new for us. We had talked about sex before. We had even talked about how I felt the sex in my previous relationship was impacted by shame.
But yesterday for the first time we really got into the nitty gritty of it. Into how I felt my parents had shamed me any time they found me masturbating. And also, at the same time, how I often felt shamed for being a prude. Into how, in college when I mostly had one night stands, I felt the shame of being sexual in an unacceptable way. Into how shame, by the nature of it, doesn’t allow us to talk about the topic of shame and so it grows impenetrable layers around itself. Into how ashamed I felt that I couldn’t orgasm during sex.
We talked about his different experience. About how he talks about sex all the time with most (if not all) of his friends. About how different parenting styles played a role, but also how the timing of PCs and the internet might have played a role. He described the first time someone in a group of friends found porn and they would all gather and see things and learn things. I asked him if he felt this happened with girls as well and he said he knew girls in his school did the same. The first time one of them stumbled upon a site, and they all learned things from it. He said they did this in middle school.
I had my own computer by then too, but it never crossed my mind to look for that stuff. And none of my friends ever made this discovery and told me about it. I was never a part of a group like this. I don’t know how much of this has to do with my own shame that I already had built around sex. And how much of it had to do with different locations, different cultural norms, different friends we had.
It wasn’t until after college that I turned to the internet to learn more about sex. And even then, it was a while after that before I started asking helpful questions. It was only about a year ago that, thanks to the internet, that I found out about prone masturbation, and that other women masturbated this way too, and that they also struggled with experiencing orgasm during sex.
A lot of my struggle came from a duality. I was and still am so fascinated by sex. But I was (and still am, though working on it) so ashamed of that fascination and so ashamed around sex. I had to keep my fascination hidden. I couldn’t leave evidence. No one could know.
When I woke up this morning, I felt dread, relief, and frustration. I didn’t want to face the day. But I was relieved that I was finally really able to talk about all of this. And then I was frustrated. Ok, so I was vulnerable, now what?! I keep looking for instant fixes. I keep getting frustrated that things require work.
It is true that vulnerability and empathy are the cures for shame. It is also true that shame, by its nature, by creating the fear of talking about the shamed topic, builds layers and layers upon itself.
So I guess in the very least, I’m am working my way through the shame. Two weeks after this conversation, this vulnerability hangover, one of the groups I attend in Portland had a discussion about sex and sexuality as well. I challenged myself to be open both to the group and in our one-on-one break out sessions. I challenged myself to stay late and keep talking to people. I woke up with another vulnerability hangover, and it was totally worth it.
I don’t think these two conversations have someone turned me into someone else, someone who feels no shame around sex. They were definitely a good place to start though.