Working with Sexual Shame
By Robert Kandell
April 25, 2017
In the first grade, I was in love with a girl named Deanna. She was slender, pretty, popular and had this long, flowing, brown hair that went down to the center of her back. Every day, during lunch hour, I would have my sandwich and carrot sticks from my Emergency 51 lunchbox and stare at her. Every… single… day. It was my first case of puppy love.
She sat at the 2nd grade table, half the length of the hall away, and I don’t think she ever noticed me. I would have given up a limb for just a moment of her attention. I had childlike fantasies of the lunchroom catching fire so I could vault over my table, pick her up, and sprint to safety with her in my arms.
One day, my friend Scottie asked what I was staring at. My face reddened and I stammered, “Nothing, you know, just looking around. Want to trade desserts?” Instinctively I knew that I had withheld the truth around my puppy love even from my best buddy. I could not be caught showing my desire to him or anyone and especially not to the lovely Deanna. It was my first experience with shame around my desire.
The origin of one’s shame is often debated. Are we born with our sexual shame or do we pick up our parental cues on how to be in the world. Children are born with a freedom around their bodies, their genitals, and their openness to the world. We are quickly taught of “what’s proper” and “what’s not”.
Fast-forward to summer camp at the age of 13. It was here where I first learned the joy of masturbation. Late at night, amidst the snores of my bunkmates, I would create a tent in my bed and furiously stroke my genitals. The sensation felt so glorious and in my young mind, I felt like I was communing with god. My body was alive, so good, and then quickly – ejaculation. Stunned, I felt nervous. What just happened? Had I just peed in my bed? Was I going to die? Did anyone notice? Of course, I had to try it again. And again.
My process of masturbating was ninja-like and I learned to be super quiet. It never dawned on me that perhaps all my bunkmates were doing the same thing. I never knew because we never compared notes. I never said out loud, “Fellahs! My masturbation was amazing last night! I learned to do this thing with my finger and then….” We were quick to share baseball cards, comic books, or tips on how to hit the fastball. We never talked about our nightly self-pleasure. We never talked about our desire. We were taught to be silent.
For the last 17 years, I have been teaching and coaching people around their relationship to desire. My overall impression is that people have a very toxic view to this powerful internal drive.
“I can’t talk about that in polite company.”
“He could never handle it if I told him how kinky I was.”
“Maybe when we’re deeper in love, I’ll tell her the truth.”
When I would inquire why people believed they could not, under most circumstances, speak proudly of their desire, their answer was usually some form of two things:
“I am too big for them to handle.” OR “If they knew the truth, they would leave.”
Our fear of abandonment, our fear of being alone, trumps our desire to be authentic. The cost of this choice is that (a) we never feel fully free with our most intimate partners and (b) our partners never truly know the deepest and sometimes most interesting parts of us.
The basis of my belief system comes down to this statement: Withholding is Lying. When you don’t tell the truth, you are minimizing your relationship and moving it towards mediocrity. Regardless of the reason you think you cannot, the truth is you CAN and SHOULD. Our shame stops us from revealing and only harms our relationships. We would rather be COOL than CONNECTED.
The method of revealing oneself can be terrifying. When we are in fear, our vigilance center takes over and the truth, the literal baring of our neck, can be daunting. The process of creating a “safe space” to allow the truth to arise is our best method to reduce shame. Below, I describe my prescription on how to create that space for more intimacy with your partner.
- One (or both) partner(s) overtly make the decision to be truthful about their desire.
- The two partners agree to start this process.
- They may set a container of time (1 day, 1 week, 1 month, etc.) that this process will continue. Setting a limit may relieve some stress with one or both partners.
- Both partners agree to (a) not shame their partner for telling the truth, (b) be active and approving listeners, and (c) allow the recipient to have time to process their own feelings.
- One person reveals a part of their personal self.
- The person receiving may (and is encouraged to) ask questions.
- The person receiving has the space to speak their response to what was said.
- The original speaker can then react to the receiver’s response.
- Repeat until the sensation goes flat.
- Take a break and integrate the truth into your relationship.
- Repeat cycle with the other person.
This process may seem either silly or daunting at first. However, when embodied with trust and a desire to connect, the amount of intimacy that is available is staggering. It is our willingness to speak the truth that empowers our relationship.
We are all born into this society of shame. We all have our own form of shame that is passed down on us. The heroes are the ones that confront these viewpoints, question them, and turn them into power. It just takes one person to stand up and say, “Enough is enough… I want to be real!” Celebrate that person and celebrate yourself. You deserve it.