Sexual and self-shame come up for a multitude of reasons and from a multitude of different sources. Shame, to me, is a silent killer because it can play out in so many aspects of our lives when we have lived experiences with misogyny.
My clients often struggle for years with feeling wrong in their bodies, in their desires, in their thoughts and feelings and it’s not just sexual. I’ve watched them feel limited in what they can and do experience in life, love, sex, money, career, and self because there’s this voice in their heads telling them they’re undeserving, broken, bad, unworthy, and not good enough.
I feel the weight of the pain they carry and want to wave a wand and make it all better but that’s not how this works, we can’t just wave wands. Quick fixes and lasting change don’t go together. Consistent work, lots of loving support, and a deep desire for something better do work though.
So why do we experience these beliefs of being broken, damaged, or wrong if it’s not true? More importantly, how do we come through that?
When it comes to sex and our bodies most of us lack comprehensive sex education. Christian doctrine has influenced how sex ed is taught in schools, homes, and society for a long time. It’s even influenced our medical system. Sexual pleasure of AFAB people has been seen as dangerous for centuries and pleasure outside of heteronormative ideas is rarely discussed. In fact, we took the clitoris out of the 25th edition of Gray’s Anatomy and it wasn’t until 2005 when Dr. Helen O’Connell fully mapped it. In the 1400s a test of witchcraft was to stimulate an accused witch’s clitoris and if it became engorged that meant she was a witch. Now ask yourself why you may have struggled with orgasm or exploring your body because that message got built upon and twisted to see the clitoris and vulva as something bad, dark, and evil.
That message gets carried to every bit of our bodies and add in all the other intersections at play plus how incredibly profitable it is to teach us there’s something wrong with us of course we struggle with body image too.
Now let’s look at our emotional expressions, in particular feeling bad or wrong if we experience anger, dissatisfaction, rage, or sadness. Many of us try to hide those feelings or excuse away others’ behavior to avoid actually processing any “unpleasant” feelings because they’ve been discouraged for so long. Where does this all come from? Well, pretty much the same places as the misinformation about our bodies. Ever hear of female hysteria? It’s been around way before the Victorian era when they created the first vibrator to help ease it. In fact, the idea of female hysteria goes back to ancient Egypt and Greece! They believed any “erratic” behavior was because the uterus was wandering through the body and that menstrual cycles were creating sickness within so the cures were placing dried flowers and things within the labia or pregnancy as they believed marriage and birth would cure it all.
Now take that and twist it up through generational lines and it’s really easy to see why we’ve learned to stuff down our anger and other emotions, and see generations of dissatisfied, resentful, and angry women within our family lines come from. The entire love and light toxic positivity movement comes from this shit! We’ve been taught to think we’re bad and wrong for what we feel, and experience and we fear becoming like women in our family lines who have always been critical, cruel, dissatisfied, acceptant of poor treatment, and the answer to not being them is to process the feelings and let go of the weight.
So, we know what’s gotten us here, how do we change it?
First, take some time to sit with all that because it’s a lot and I haven’t even given you the full history. Take a moment to journal on what knowing a bit of this history brings up for you in relation to your own experiences.
Next, some deeper IFS (internal-family systems) and timeline work can help shed so much of this. I do healing sessions with clients as part of all my containers because the release is so needed and so powerful. If you’re not sure what this looks like let me explain a bit and while you can do some on your own, please look at what your personal limits are. It’s a lot to hold this energy. For IFS, we have 3 main goals:
1. Identify what sub-personalities or familial parts are living within causing pain or blocks and we’re freeing them from holding such a powerful role in parts of your life. So, if throughout your family lines there’s been a theme of anger/resentment or taught sexual shame and that’s impacting aspects of your life we help that part release the hold.
2. Restore self-trust and step into radical self-love and empowerment. With those subparts freed we can now put you in charge of yourself so you can figure out what’s true for you based on what you desire.
3. Integrate the whole team! Those subparts exist so the third goal is to give them a new, empowered role that you choose with you driving the bus. This is the most powerful part to me because we’re learning to see all parts of us as valid and that leads to us recognizing we are whole, worthy, and deserving and that’s just beautiful to me.
What else can you do? Well, I have a ton of practices I do with clients but the one that I love for a multitude of blocks and wounds is mirror work! Mirror work allows you to see yourself more clearly by doing practices like telling yourself what you’re proud of yourself for, what you forgive yourself for, and what you desire for yourself. Seeing yourself saying the words can be jarring at first but also immensely helpful. You can also use the mirror to tell yourself what you like and love about yourself, observe your body and reframe the beliefs you’ve developed about certain body parts. You can get to know your body more intimately which is highly important in releasing any shame around it, especially your genitals. Seriously, I love this work and there’s so much more to do so experiment, seek support, and remember…. you and your body are not broken!