Show Transcript for Episode 227: Overcoming Shame in Sex

Laurie Watson:                  So we’re going to talk about shame and sex today and what is the right kind of sex to have.

Laurie Watson:                  Welcome to Foreplay Radio, couples and sex therapy. I’m Laurie Watson, your sex therapist.

George Faller:                    And I’m George Faller, your couples therapist.

Laurie Watson:                  And we are passionate about talking about sex and helping you develop a way to talk to each other.

George Faller:                    Our mission is to help our audience develop a healthier relationship to sex that integrates the mind, the heart, and the body.

Laurie Watson:                  Just as we begin, please remember to check out Uberlube. Uberlube.com/foreplay is where you can get this great lubricant and help support Foreplay Radio. So I get this question all the time, especially from women and we have a listener who wrote in and said, “Hello. I’m hoping that maybe you could talk me through overcoming feelings of shame related to sex. I’m a married woman and despite being married for 15 years, I have lingering feelings of shame and thoughts about what is the right kind of sex, what is good or acceptable during a sexual encounter or how I should enjoy sex. I imagine I’m not alone, especially among other women.” You are not girl in feeling inhibited and limited by these internalized messages. Thank you.

George Faller:                    Just stop that.

Laurie Watson:                  Just stop feeling ashamed.

George Faller:                    Just compartmentalize it. Block it away.

Laurie Watson:                  Just leave your inhibition somewhere else. Right?

George Faller:                    No, seriously I mean it’s… Shame is probably one of the biggest turnoffs for either sex.

Laurie Watson:                  Yep.

George Faller:                    Right and it’s, to me, that’s the definition of how to not only be cut off and to hide, but to not like yourself in that space of hiding, nobody could thrive in an environment like that.

Laurie Watson:                  Right. Shame is just feeling humiliated and embarrassed, like you are actually flawed somehow or another, what you want, what you desire is wrong and bad.

George Faller:                    I love how Brenae Brown distinguishes between shame and guilt. Guilt is, I did something wrong. Shame is I am wrong.

Laurie Watson:                  Yeah. I think when I hear this, you just imagine how rigid this woman must feel in bed because she’s always judging herself wondering, is this move right, can I possibly tell him about that fantasy? It’s all bad and she just feels inhibited and shut down and even for having sexual feelings. One of the things I believe is in our culture is particularly for young girls, a sense that when their evidence of their sexuality comes out, they’re caught masturbating or touching themselves or anything. There is a lot of fear in the parent protection. I got to stop that because, oh my gosh, my little girl is being sexual.

Laurie Watson:                  That means she’s going to grow up and be promiscuous. She’s not going to be protected. She’ll be in bad situations, she could get pregnant. I mean the parent’s mind goes crazy sometimes when they see the little girl masturbating or touching herself and so many young girls don’t remember masturbating, but they all do but you can’t be a child and not explore your body.

Laurie Watson:                  I mean, that’s just natural and it should be but how it’s handled can result in, either shame about their feelings about their positive feelings in their genitals or not and I think little boys have less of this, because they have to touch themselves to go to the bathroom every day and for whatever reasons, I think parents are a little more accepting of little boys than they are of little girls.

Laurie Watson:                  A little girl could go her whole childhood without touching her body. She wipes herself with toilet paper. She doesn’t see her genitals. That’s hard to do and so her whole life is just kind of cut off from the part of her body that feels so good.

George Faller:                    Let’s go to the other side of the aisle right, and men have no shortage of shame. It’s I think culturally we all get messages of boys and girls that it’s, you shouldn’t be doing this, that this is bad, that good boys, good girls don’t do that and how do we help people do it differently?

Laurie Watson:                  Yeah. I had a client who received her daughters delight in her body in a really positive way and I think it, for me, I loved hearing it. She said her youngest daughter, and I know she listens to this podcast, so girl, this is you, but she said her daughter would stand naked when she was three in front of the mirror and talk about how much she loved her body and she would prance and how she loved being naked and just dance all around, and her mother fortunately educated and aware, realizing that while she was a little uncomfortable with this and had trouble with her own body, she wanted to give her daughter her own body as her gift and so would laugh with her sort of not at her, but would enjoy that prancing around and tell her daughter, “You’re right, you have a beautiful body, isn’t it special” and those kinds of positive messages counteract what most children are told, cover up, stop showing off.

Laurie Watson:                  Right, showing off is really something that boys and girls are taught not to do and sexually, I mean people basically have to show off. They have to reveal themselves, they have to show their body, they have to show their spirit in it, some sort of force and if they’ve been taught that, that’s a bad thing in their body, then they can’t do it.

George Faller:                    The fun thing for me about doing this podcast is I sit back and I’m learning from you and listening and it also brings up images of stories that I’m replaying in my brain. I remember I was in a therapy session with a mom and a daughter, the daughter was outside and me and the mom were just starting the session chatting and we were looking. The door was open and we were watching the daughter, she was in the parking lot and this beautiful lab dog came running up to her and she was in this beautiful dress and she got down on her knees and she started rubbing the dog and playing with the dog and the dog jumped all over and we were just celebrating her joy, just on what it felt like to be alive and both of us had big smiles on our face and then the dog got pulled away and she comes walking into the session and the first thing the mom says to her is, “Your dress is a mess. Do you see the dirt all over it?” and immediately the girl’s smile vanished.

George Faller:                    The mom’s smile vanished. My smile vanished. So this is this cultural message that so tries to kind of… For me the worst part about messages that our bodies are bad or we shouldn’t be doing anything, is if you could talk about that, you can repair it, then it’s fine. It’s just that mist that we talked about last time.

George Faller:                    You can repair as the key, but a lot of times kids have nowhere to go with that message. They can’t talk about, they can’t repair it. So the only place they can go is then be stuffed and internalize inside them.

Laurie Watson:                  Yeah. This pleasure that the daughter has, sensual touching the dog, enjoying the presence of another being is suddenly trumped by her mother’s anxiety of you don’t look, your dress is dirty for this therapy session, when the therapist is like enjoying the whole moment too, loving the fact that the child is having this wonderful experience-

George Faller:                    Mom’s got a lot of pressure on her to kind of deliver a daughter who’s going to conform and succeed in the world and to do that you have to learn to kind of suppress yourself but yes, what kind of training is that doing to a developing brain that starts to get you to turn off your emotional signals and start focusing on your performance.

Laurie Watson:                  Your passion, your joy, your sense of connection is now told that, that’s not good, that’s not the proper value, which I think that for women particularly, the shame in sex is often about appearance. That they’re not good enough, they’re not beautiful enough, they’re not attractive enough, sexy enough. Whereas for men, the shame often goes more toward performance. They don’t know enough. If they knew more, they would be able to make it happen for her or their penis isn’t hard enough, whatever.

George Faller:                    Or large enough.

Laurie Watson:                  Or a big enough, definitely. I mean I think that’s a huge fear for men, but our listener internalizes that, maybe I’m not good and what I want isn’t good, and where are the parameters so that I know either by Laurie telling me that this is okay and this is good, or by my husband telling me that this is, I’m okay with my sexual thoughts and fantasies and what I want to do because she doesn’t have internal freedom to figure out for herself that all of it is good. I think as long as two people are not hurting each other, what they do in bed is sacred. If they both want it, they both enjoy it. It’s good.

George Faller:                    Well, let me pull you, zoom out for a second because I think most of us see shame is there’s nothing good about it at all. It’s like a cockroach. We might as well eradicate it from our species yet why would it be so universal? So for me, I’m always trying to connect with a function of something before I try to fix it or correct it.

George Faller:                    So even with shame, I think for most people, like if you imagine that little girl who gets told she’s bad because she’s running around naked or she’s masturbating, that shame feeling gives her motivation to change to be a different person. There’s actually hope in shame that I can maybe do something different where I can fit in. The worst feeling is the rejection to be isolated, to be if my mom’s not going to love me, then where does that leave a child, but if I can change, my mom will love me again.

George Faller:                    So that shame, it is a great motivator. I know a lot of the times in my life where I was feeling kind of down, it was the shame that led me to read another book or take a class to try to do something to kind of get me out of that place. So I think just to see the benefit for some people, shame is like an energy boost. It gives them hope that they can be a very different person. It comes at some tragic costs but I think-

Laurie Watson:                  Okay. I think I’m not following you. So help me understand. You’re saying that feelings of shame lead us in to be disconnected or to feel not good enough and then that motivates us to perform or to get reconnected, but at a cost of the essence of who we are perhaps.

George Faller:                    Yep, and a lot of people are willing because love is so important to be fit in, to be wanted, that we’re willing to lose ourselves to kind of have others want us.

Laurie Watson:                  Oh yeah, and that strikes me a lot for this woman who represents so many women I’ve talked to, and we need to come back to this, but this woman who is saying, I’m going to sacrifice my sexual energy, my sexual self, to be the good girl who doesn’t know anything about sex, who is righteous and naive and because that is a cultural message that says, now you’re good as a woman. She’s willing to sacrifice herself.

Laurie Watson:                  The cost is her own eroticism.

George Faller:                    So the tape is trying to motivate her to be somebody else, right for their partner. I mean that’s a loving thing to do. You’re willing to kind of make yourself disappear and be who you put a mask on, be who you’re supposed to be, and shame gives you great energy to make that jump to put yourself aside, but again, the costs are so horrific because you’re losing pieces of yourself daily.

Laurie Watson:                  And most partners obviously want a full sexual partner, who brings themself as they are. Okay, let’s come back. It’s fantastic that we have our sponsor Uberlube again, Uberlube.com/foreplay is where you can buy your own discreet lubrication that comes directly to you. We just think it’s a really fantastic product. I’ve been giving it out for years to patients and recommending it. I have it in my office, all of my sex therapists here at Awakenings give it out and recommend it because it’s not sticky. It has a great glide. It doesn’t leave a residue and it’s classy.

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Laurie Watson:                  Again, Uberlube.com/foreplay. Hey, just a word to our Patreon supporters. Thank you so much. Many of you have been really faithful for a couple of years at least in supporting us and we’re really grateful for that and we’d also like to invite others of you into our mission. We see our calling essentially as to help couples develop a long lasting relationship that is both intimate and also sexually erotic. As you know, it’s what we talk about every week and our desire is really to stabilize relationships and help people find love and keep the love that they find.

Laurie Watson:                  Right now we’ve added levels of support to Patreon. One level gets you the newsletter, another level gets you that plus exclusive content and now I’m going to be offering Facebook lives for the next 12 Patreon supporters who support us at least on a $10 a month level, our sponsors, Uberlube have just said that they will send out a free package of Uberlube to you and we are so grateful for their generosity. Find us on Foreplay Radio, sextherapy.com or foreplayrst.com. You can sign up and help us and we would just love anything that you can do to help us with our expenses and with our time commitment. We would be grateful for you in joining us in this mission.

Laurie Watson:                  Okay, so we’re back with this woman who’s been married for 15 years wondering what is good sex, what is right sex, what is acceptable and trying to do it right. I think this is the risk because she is withdrawn in this way and she has to somehow or another take the first risk of telling her partner what it is that actually goes through her head. What it is that she imagines and what it is she likes or to initiate doing that, which there’s a lot of barriers for women to initiate sex, lot of barriers for women to initiate a new sexual experience and there’s a lot of fear.

Laurie Watson:                  Your partner either says, “Where’d you learn that?”, and they’re anxious about it or it’s, your partner says, “You mean you’ve wanted to do this for the last 15 years and you’ve been just laying there and not telling me this stuff.” A lot of fear that your partner is going to be anxious and or angry with you.

George Faller:                    I want to just stop you and say, can I hear a, amen because this is… I mean, she’s already taken the first critical step. I mean, what makes shame so vicious is the secrecy. The antidote to shame is sharing. It’s the empathy, that she’s willing to write an email saying, this is where I am. Can you help me with this? That she’s not hiding it, but she’s reaching out. She’s already taken the most important step towards healing.

Laurie Watson:                  She has. She’s identified and she’s speaking for thousands of women who feel this.

George Faller:                    Will you turn that number up a little bit.

Laurie Watson:                  Yeah. Hundreds of thousands of women actually. Okay. Millions of women because this is in part something that we have to struggle with, I think as women and millions of men and I mean certainly men have trouble sharing what they want in bed, what they fantasize about for fear of being shamed, being told they’re perverted. I mean this is-

George Faller:                    There are only two ways of making sense of rejection. Either my partner sucks or I suck. We all do some of both.

Laurie Watson:                  Yep, and so it’s a huge risk. It’s a huge risk and in this way, because especially in a committed relationship, if you’re found out that you suck, it’s bad news because this is the person that you’ve decided to be with. So it’s just such a vulnerable place. I think that there are lots of sexual fantasies that people tell me that they feel so ashamed of and most of them, I mean obviously I’ve heard a lot of things, but most of them are kind of run of the mill.

Laurie Watson:                  They are things that I’ve heard hundreds of times.

George Faller:                    Like?

Laurie Watson:                  Like for instance, the fantasy of being same gendered. Women fantasize about other women and they feel so ashamed about it. They worry that that changes their sexual orientation, but I think that oftentimes bodies turn on bodies. I don’t think that that is necessarily a choice. Sometimes women worry about being aggressive that, that will make them unladylike that their partner will be turned off by them.

Laurie Watson:                  You’re too much like a man. You’re not like a woman. I think they worry about being responsive, making any noise. Women are really quiet. They tell me that their partners tell me that because there’s a socialization, right? Don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t make too much noise. Don’t stand up for yourself. My girlfriends who are listening will remember my own father used to tell me, “You laugh too loud. Don’t laugh so loud.”

Laurie Watson:                  There was something about being a girl that he thought you shouldn’t laugh loudly. So I grew through my childhood, try not to laugh too loudly, but I think it was very different than the message my brother’s got. There was none of that for them. I guess boys can laugh loud, but I think there’s this repression and so the things that women say so worried that they’re going to color out of the lines sexually, that they are just shut down and some of, I think what is helpful is learning these are kind of normal run of the mill fantasies and it turns out that fantasies are also not run of the mill.

Laurie Watson:                  You know that there are kind of wild things that people think about that turn them on and that’s okay too. I think that getting comfortable with each other, sharing them is a goal, but it isn’t necessarily the first goal. I think the first goal is accepting that this is what the turn on is and not feeling like they’re bad, not going into the shame place.

George Faller:                    Well, I just want to interject that, that might be another topic for us to talk about, fantasies, but to recognize men also have these fantasies that can lead to shame if they’re not strong enough, if they want to be passive, if they want to be submissive, that’s going to bring up often lots of shame if they want to be more emotional, if they’re looking for more. These are fantasies that men want to actively suppress because it shows them as not being in control.

Laurie Watson:                  Right. Unless characteristic of sort of what we think of as a male sexual direction when it’s passive. I think that’s true. I think a lot of men feel those fantasies want those things because it’s being taken care of. It’s somebody tending to them, giving to them, which is such a natural fantasy. It’s a replication of our childhood. Somebody tending to us, and so men feel ashamed of that too. Am I saying too much? The woman’s part here?

George Faller:                    No, I’m just always going to just provide a little balance, right just so everybody feels represented.

Laurie Watson:                  Okay, good. Thank you.

George Faller:                    Especially in something as universal as shame. I mean every listener should be able to relate to this. I’ve never worked with a person who don’t have some shame and we’re just trying to see what you can do with that to redeem it, to find yourself with connection and empathy in places you’d normally get isolation and contempt.

Laurie Watson:                  So I think what I would ask her to do, our listener, is to first find it in her own mind what it is that she wants to do sexually, like write it down. I’m not saying you have to share it yet with your husband or your partner, but at least get it out, get it out on paper, look at it and begin to see kind of this is who I am sexually. This is what turns me on. I think more than anything in the world, becoming a good sexual partner is at least knowing what your turn-ons are. Whether you can share them in the beginning or not, at least owning them and saying, this is what turns me on. Try to sit with them without judgment.

Laurie Watson:                  Try to say, “Okay, this is the way my body’s wired. This is the way my mind goes. This is what I seem to respond to.” I would say that it’s the avoidance of that that creates low libido. I mean, I’m sure you’ve sat with women who say, “I don’t ever fantasize about sex. I don’t think about anything.” and it’s like, I just don’t believe that’s true after working for 20 years in sex therapy.

Laurie Watson:                  I believe that they do, but they shame themselves so quickly over the fantasy or the sexual thought that they just mute that and of course then their libido dies with it too.

George Faller:                    So if they can’t make that jump towards leaning into the fantasy, how do we reduce the shame? For me, so often-

Laurie Watson:                  Good question G.

George Faller:                    Well, you’ve got to bring compassion into those dark hiding places. So a lot of times what I would do, I remember I worked with a couple where the woman would talk about, not only did her dad tell her, “Stop laughing, you’re too loud” but whenever she’d get too emotional, he would tell her, “She’s a devil child.” So this kid, this lady learned to be very obedient and very perfectionistic and want to take, make everything right and then you can see the function of shame and whenever she is a little off target or somebody tells her she’s doing something wrong that shame comes on in a vengeance that says “You better do better job. What’s wrong with you?” So she works harder than anyone else I’ve ever met.

Laurie Watson:                  To not be the devil child.

George Faller:                    To not be the devil child. So as she starts to talk about this, her husband wanting to love her, telling her even if she gets it wrong, he’s still there but even that didn’t make a dent because she had to learn how to do herself a little bit differently because ultimately whenever she falls, even though she’s trying so hard, she’s trying to be there for her kids and her husband and her community. Yet anytime there is a stumble, she whacks herself like, what’s wrong with you? You should have known that you should have done this differently.

George Faller:                    So taking those live examples and trying to get her to talk to herself in a different way. I always used the image of that little girl because it’s easy to bring out that emotion. That little girl inside her just wants to be loved, that’s willing to sacrifice herself for others and she’s doing the best she can. She never hears, good job or thank you. All she hears is criticism and she keeps trying anyway.

George Faller:                    Look how resilient she is to get that lady to start seeing herself in a truer light and to actually go back and say, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry the way I treat myself is so harsh and so judgmental. I’m doing to me exactly what my dad did to me.”

Laurie Watson:                  Yeah. It’s to embrace the part that has been called this name and labeled something and to see that part differently again, through the eyes of compassion. Sometimes I have people do that, especially let’s say they’re a good parent. I know they’re a good parent and so I try to get them to use that part of themselves, the mother or the father that has compassion for their child to turn that back on themselves.

George Faller:                    For me, shame breeds fear. Fear then crushes our ability to do vulnerability, and if we can’t be vulnerable, then we can’t engage, which means we have to protect ourselves and we’re just stuck in that loop. So I love what our readers started a process of saying, no, I’m not going to accept that this is the best I have, which is just to hide these places in me.

Laurie Watson:                  She’s reaching out to say-

George Faller:                    She’s standing up for herself in a different way, and the more people respond to her standing up in a different way, the safer of the world becomes, the more the shame shrinks.

Laurie Watson:                  Thanks for listening to Foreplay Radio. For those of you who are listening today, we are also going to send out some free Uberlubes to those of you who sponsor us on our Patreon page, find a link on ForeplayRadiosextherapy.com or foreplayrst.com and we are so thankful for your support, and Foreplay family, I want you to know we had our highest download day ever thanks to you. Our downloads are just increasing by leaps and bounds. We are so grateful for your sharing. Thank you again. Definitely subscribe. That helps our rankings in iTunes, which is important for us.

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