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.

On Femininity

Last week, I got a hair cut. Scratch that. I cut most all my hair off. I now sport something like a pixie, I have curly hair so adjust your mental image appropriately.

To answer the most common questions I got this past week:

  • Yes, I got a hair cut.
  • Yes, it’s mostly all gone.
  • No, nothing drastic happened.
  • Yes, it is much nicer in the summer heat.
  • Yes, I’ve had my hair this short before, and it’s been about ten years.
  • Sometimes I like it and sometimes I don’t.

When I first left the salon on Friday, I was honestly on the verge of tears. I didn’t look how I thought I would look. That’s been a theme of my life since I decided to stop dieting for good. Then I showered, and I styled my hair the way I wanted it, and I felt better.

Today, the day I write this, is the first day I’ve felt good in my hair. I realized there are slight tweaks I want to make. Things that would make my haircut feel more me and less alien. Until I can go back in, I’m just styling my hair to match. I feel empowered.

I’ve noticed, though, that with short hair, I am more drawn to wearing feminine clothes: dresses, skirts, feminine tops. It’s annoying if only because I still have a pretty minimalist wardrobe, and this decision to throw myself out of balance, has caused a scramble of sorts with my clothes.

You see, with long hair, I fell into a comfortable rhythm of wearing t-shirts and jeans, an aesthetic I love. When I got bored, I’d throw on a dress, or a skirt, a scarf, or a necklace. But it was easy and carefree, and it felt very me. And my hair, my long curly hair, served as its own accessory. That’s why I could go so simple, my hair was a statement piece in and of itself.

But my hair was also a clear message to everyone: I am a woman.

It’s true, with less hair, I feel more seen, and that causes some discomfort for me. I also feel less feminine, and that causes a different kind of discomfort.

I have been intrigued by femininity for a few weeks now. What is it that makes me feel feminine? Is it thinness and frailty? Makeup and jewelry? Long locks and smooth legs? Dresses and skirts?

The truth is, I don’t know.

I do know, or think I know, that I like striking some balance between feminine and not. I had found that balance with long hair and t-shirts and jeans. I had stopped shaving, just to see if it made me feel less feminine. It didn’t, in that balance, with my long hair. Now it does.

It’s as if there is a set of scales and so long as I have enough things on the feminine side, I’m in the clear. So now it seems that there are two things I want to explore:

  1. Am I feeling femininity-related discomfort because society tells me I need to have enough feminine markers to be worthy?
  2. What feminine markers do I genuinely enjoy and which do I partake in because I feel obligated to?

So I guess that’s one of the many things I’m going to explore for a little while. I’m not sure what I’ll find, but I have a feeling it’ll help create the more intentional life that I am striving for.



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.