How do you feel about giving yourself sexual pleasure? How about talking about it publicly? Do you feel perfectly comfortable tackling the subject?
In high school, I raised this subject with two friends and their reaction was outrage. I dared to talk about a taboo subject! To be honest, I would have forgotten about it if they hadn’t reminded me of it a few years later after watching a few episodes of Sex and the City.
They had discussed together and thanked me. Having had the opportunity to simply talk about giving themselves sexual pleasure had made them feel less lonely and released from a feeling of shame.
The association between shame and sexuality is common. It can of course be linked to sexual assaults but can also include sexual orientation, type of sexual practices, sexual body, fantasies, transgressed consent (suffered or acted), also fertility, infertility, termination of pregnancy, contraception – everything related to sex can be the source of a feeling of inadequacy, of being impossible to love or even a feeling of self-hatred.
Shame is an emotion that teaches us social norms and prevents us from being perceived as different, unsuitable. But the burning of shame leaves us with the feeling that our behaviours if they are deviant make us bad. In fact, it has been shown in one study that it pushes us to secrecy and favours ruminations.
Sexual shame is probably the most widely shared experience of shame among human beings. The good news is that it is possible to reinvent a secure interindividual space, in which to be, to feel, to create and to take pleasure; a space of sexual compassion.
Because ultimately sex is nothing more than a pair of socks. It’s really a crappy image, but all the better, let’s go straight ahead by adding a yellow colour and a cartoon logo. Yellow socks may be appealing to some, but will never please everyone. And it’s fine like that! Let’s keep the joy and the pleasure of putting on the socks that excite us!
To approach our sexuality with self-compassion is to do it with the kindness of a good friend. It is being present to the pain, without judgement, trying to understand our history or that of our partner. It is also to keep in mind that we are not alone in the face of this feeling.
Social networks are today a great tool for witnessing sexual suffering. Many people find the courage to expose themselves by refusing to be judged and thus allow everyone to realise that they are not alone in feeling embarrassed or ashamed.
To free oneself from shame is also to face our own gaze, our own criticism which fiercely tries to protect us from the judgement of others. We are sometimes tempted to flee or hide ourselves; to conceal a belly, an imperfection. But to avoid seeing oneself, or to show oneself, is also to avoid loving oneself, or feeling loved. Finding the courage to smile in the mirror or to the gaze of others is to risk reconciling with yourself.
Sexual self-compassion is welcoming our own suffering related to sexuality. Put it in perspective of our history: Why is this withdrawing hand so violently painful? I very often hear in my psychotherapy practice the pain of rejection that is replayed in sexuality. If the other doesn’t desire me, is it still possible to be loved?
I often explain that there are three sexualities in one. The sexuality of the body, that of the heart, and that of the spirit. You may want (the heart) chocolate cake but not be hungry (the body) and tell yourself that it is bad for your health (the mind). Likewise, you can love sex but be tired or worried that there will be negative consequences. All combinations are possible!
Listening to and differentiating our three sexual experiences and those of the other can allow us to better understand ourselves and better accept a certain confusion or ambivalence. Our mind is complex, delivered without instructions just like the beings sharing our sexuality.
Paul Gilbert defines compassion as a sensitivity to suffering and a motivation to relieve our suffering (self-compassion) or that of others. How is it possible to deal with the shame of having transgressed the consent of the other?
Going from shame to guilt and from guilt to responsibility. I have sometimes received this type of testimony with great emotion, as much by the sign of confidence that was offered to me as by the courage to face the experience of shame. Shame tells us that we are the problem. To go to guilt is to realise that we are more complex than our actions and to face the problem and its consequences.
Getting out of a form of fusion with our actions, leads us to see that our behaviour is problematic, but also that we are able to have different behaviours. By putting this problem in the future rather than in the past and moving from the observation of deconstruction to planning a reconstruction action; we really start to take responsibility.
It is not a question of denying but of confronting the reality with courage and finding the appropriate answers. What if, true sexual liberation was the liberation of a speech that testifies courageously and unleashes the energy of desire?
Image credit: Freepik
Dr Isabelle Leboeuf is a psychologist and psychotherapist. In her practice she integrates hypnotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and compassion-focused therapy.