Today I want to talk about two of the dirtiest words I know: shame and guilt. To me, they are “dirtier” than any word I could use to describe a body part or sexual act. Yet lots of people feel guilty about sex. Both survivors of violence and plain Jane’s will confide their mixed feelings: an interest in being physical with their partner and a simultaneous sense of reluctance and negativity.
So what’s up?
Emily Nagoski recently share a bit of behind-the-scenes knowledge about why this happens. She has a book coming out next year and there is a whole chapter on this topic. Consider this your exclusive (paraphrased) sneak peek!
Basically, in the most primitive parts of our brains, we have a fear + pleasure switch. Think of it as your fight/flight/freeze/f*ck center. Being chased by a lion = amp up the fear. Being stroked by a partner = helllllllo pleasure! But what happens if both parts of this center are activated at the same time?
Well, the emotions get all tangled up. Say as a infant and child your parents constantly reprimanded you and pushed your hand away whenever you touched yourself. Your pleasure switch was activated while you were getting in trouble. Therefore, your supah smart brain learns pleasure = fear + embarrassment. The same often happens if you experience or witness sexual or domestic violence and even if you simply were forbidden from discussing ‘it’ in your home. On a larger scale, society reinforces this connection in so, so many ways.
Do you see how this very old part of your brain, an area even the bittiest animals have, can get all confused?!
Now let’s take this one step further. Your mind now thinks pleasure is bad because it brings up all these gross feelings. What happens when you want to feel pleasure? Well, your brain does some very simply math and determines that your desire for pleasure is wrong because that is what is was trained to know.
Bring on the actual dirty words.
Yes, this is your brain’s way of ‘protecting’ you. But, guess what, your brain ain’t always right! Last week I wrote, “[…] sex is neither fundamentally good nor bad.” This is so important here because it means that we can change this connection. But first we have to understand it.
So why am I sharing all this? To remind you that you are not alone if you have ever felt shame in the bedroom. Regardless of your past experiences, this is a very normal experience. In fact, most everyone struggles with this to some degree because its part of the world we live in. This is especially true if our fantasies fall into the ‘taboo’ area.
I also want to give you hope that there are ways to work around it. I can’t promise those feelings will leave forever, but it is possible to make them less common. And that is a topic for another week…
Do you know someone who feels shame or guilt for wanting sex? Be sure to pass this post along. They’ll thank you for it and so will I!