Fearless Friday: Shame and Sex

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.

Fearless Friday: A Sad Fantasy

I can’t remember the first time I had this fantasy, but it was when I was younger, much younger. I can’t really guess beyond that. It would be a guess based on nothing.

I used to fantasize, at first when I’d be flying back and forth to Israel, that something would happen to me. That I would be hurt in a freak accident either when I was in the country or on the plane.

I call this my semi-suicidal fantasy, because I feel some strange need to label it.

I never fantasized about taking my own life. And usually I only fantasized about getting hurt, not getting killed.

But really, all these fantasies were rooted in something totally different, I wanted to know who would show up. Who would show up to my hospital room or to my funeral. I wanted to know who loved me.

When I read Hunger by Roxane Gay last week, I was floored when she wrote, “When I broke my ankle, love was no longer an abstraction.”

I suddenly had a realization, not that I was seeking proof of love, I knew that all along, but that I wasn’t necessarily alone in this doubt of the love around me.

I want you all to know that I am seeing a therapist, that she knows about this fantasy, that I’m working through it. I feel a need to tell you all that it doesn’t happen as often now. That when it does, I know what to do, who to turn to. I wish I could tell you that I’m healed, that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am loved now. But healing is work, and I’m still working.

I mostly just want you to know you’re not alone. I was very confused by this fantasy when I was younger. I was scared of it. And I was also ashamed of it. Sure that something was wrong with me that I was thinking this way. So I told no one about it. Now I’m telling you, on the off chance one of you reads it and feels less alone, less ashamed.

Fearless Friday: Non-Monogamy

One of the times I felt completely and utterly alone in my life was the week Peter and I decided to try an open relationship.

It was about a year into our relationship when he raised the question, and it caught me completely off guard. It wasn’t something I had ever even considered, and neither of us had ever been in an open relationship.

My first reaction was one of resistance, I was sure he was manipulating me, trying to get me to concede to his cheating on me, to be an active participant in it. But it also piqued my interest. I kept coming back to it on my own. Kept asking questions. Kept going online.

After a few days of conversation and consideration and research, we came together and agreed to our set of rules about being open, and we were off.

This all happened only a couple of months before we separated, and to be honest, I had no desire to partake personally. I knew by that point in my life that casual sex was not for me. Peter only partook once and while I found hearing the details of his tryst was a turn on for me, he didn’t seem to take to it at that point.

All in all, I considered this a successful experiment in that we each learned things about ourselves and each other.

And still, having had no one to talk to about the experience, I felt a pang of loneliness and isolation. I felt very other.

There were a few friends that I eventually told, after the fact mostly. And even then, I was hyperaware of most of their reactions of shock and what sometimes felt to me like repulsion (story, I know). Even the couple of friends I told who didn’t respond with shock couldn’t fully empathize, they had never been in an open relationship, had never experienced what I had.

A few weeks ago, this all changed. I was meeting with some friends for out monthly body positive book club (which for the most part has become a monthly conversation about not-books). It was just me and another woman for a while when she opened up to me, in a slightly bashful way, about how her current relationship is non-monogamous. Internally I leapt with joy.

We ended up having a long conversation about non-monogamy and about telling others about non-monogamous relationships. It even seeped heavily into our “book club” discussion. I suddenly didn’t feel like the “freak” I had believed myself to be for so long. Until that moment I had been completely alone with my experience, and in that moment, that moment of connection and sharing, I suddenly felt, in seeing and understanding and hearing another, seen and understood and heard.

I am so grateful for the variety of people I spend my life with nowadays. I am so grateful that that woman had the courage to tell me about her relationship when she had no way of knowing about our shared experience. Maybe I can take this as a lesson to be more open, maybe more of my friends have experienced non-monogamy than I know and the shame of talking about sex and relationships has stopped me from learning that.

For now, instead of all the maybes, I’ll bask in the glory of human connection. It truly is a beautiful thing.