“I still feel guilty when I masturbate,” he told me. He was a 50-some-odd year old man, married, with college age kids, who had stopped practicing the Catholic faith he was raised with at least two decades earlier.
Does this surprise you? It surprised me when I first started this work, now it’s common. I’ve learned that almost everyone walks around with some amount of lingering sexual shame. The likelihood that you’re walking around with lingering sexual shame increases dramatically if you were raised in a religious home. Which means for most people raised Catholic, we’ve got some amount of sexual shame still there.
Sometimes this shame looks like the example I mentioned above. Sometimes it’s more pronounced: like the women who feel uncomfortable buying tampons. Or not allowing yourself to masturbate at all.
Sometimes it’s so commonplace that you don’t even label it as shame: the awkward moments of trying not to make eye-contact with a cashier when you’re buying condoms. Maybe it’s blushing when someone talks about sex. Or feeling a little bit of shame when you get hard or wet watching a sex scene in a movie or TV show.
Sometimes it’s so wrapped up in trying to follow what the Church teaches that sexual desires are merely written off as sinful. Or the teachings saying to ignore sexual urges, to avoid sex at all costs (virgin martyrs anyone?) until marriage, actually appear helpful. This kind of sexual shame is so ingrained that it’s practically impossible for the person under its grips to even acknowledge it as such.
All these places are okay to be in. And they’re so common, you might even call the “normal” though certainly not ideal.
It’s okay to need help in this process. It’s a process that I needed help with. And it’s because the people who helped me were so patient, loving, and supportive that I in turn feel called to be a safe, supportive space to help you.
What’s essential to your growth (both spiritually and sexually) is to say: Shame, I see you. Shame, I acknowledge you. Shame, let’s get some help letting you go.
Over the next week, when shame comes up try this mini-affirmation: Shame, I see you. Shame, I know you’re well-meaning, and trying to protect me. Shame, my sexual pleasure is safe.