The Many Faces of Sexual Shame
Perhaps you have picked up this book because you have experienced sexual shame. The feeling of shame underlies sexual dysfunction: impotence, lack of sexual drive, sexual compulsion, and incest. The experience of sexual shame underlies obesity in women and contributes to anorexia and bulimia. Shame in men may be experienced as impotence, depression, and addiction. Sexual identity shame is at the core of the hiding or closets that homosexuals and their families often live in. Sexual shame affects individuals, families, congregations, and communities.
Sexual shame erodes individual self-esteem, relational health, and congregational life. The parents of gay sons feel shame. People who dont live up to their own ideals as perfect lovers feel shame. Christians who live in committed partnerships without the contract of marriage feel shame about, living in sin in the eyes of the church. Congregations that restrict conversation about sexuality or repress it with taboos and stigmatization remain shame-bound.
Within each community and congregation there are members who have been living in deep shame. Shame may be reinforced through preaching and teaching about immorality and sin. Shame may be underneath an individuals hesitance to become active in a congregation. Shame may be the reason someone sneaks into the back row and sneaks out to the parking lot with a hope to not be noticed.
This book is offered as a resource for congregational discussion and for the personal liberation of those who have experienced shame in their families or in the church. I write it believing that we are all created in Gods image, male and female, and that we were intended from the time of creation to live without shame. When God created the first man and the first woman they were created in Gods perfect image. They were also both naked, and [they] were not ashamed. (Gen 2:25 NRSV).
Some of the stories you will find in this text may produce discomfort. The experience of shame is deep and can become overwhelming. I encouraged you to talk with someone about the reading of this book, to invite dialogue with others in a church study or meeting. If you experience repressed memories or painful feelings as you read these stories, you are encouraged to call your local church or mental health help-line and seek support.
A Few Stories of Personal Shame
Jenny, started running away from her family home when she was eight. Her stepfather often beat her. He wore big steel pointed cowboy boots and kicked her with themon the legs, in the groin, in the face after she had fallen down. To get away she fled to her older cousins house. They lived a quieter life. The cousin would play games with her and wrestle with her. And when they wrestled, hed start touching her. Hed ask her to sit on his lap when he had erections. Thats how it started. And it got worse. Jenny coped with it all by imagining herself to be a princess and him the prince. She imagined that someday hed divorce his wife and marry her. When she grew up, he told her, she would be his forever. He wouldnt beat her or hurt her like her stepfather had. They would live happily ever after.
Jenny goes to church on Sunday. She sings in the choir. And she goes home and struggles with depression and physical pain. No one knows this about her. There is no where in the church for her to begin her healing. She is ashamed that she had sex with a married man. She is ashamed that she doesnt even have any sexual impulses as an adult. But somehow she experiences in church a little bit of Gods grace, a little bit of love. The congregation members look at her and just think to themselves, shes rather strange. She doesnt get invited to potlucks in peoples homes. She imagines that none of the others who go to church could be as bad as she is.
Bill wants to be a better father and husband, and he asks for a Christian therapist. He wants to know how to improve his relationship with his wife. He talks about his marriage, his work, and his low level of depression. With a sadness I havent seen in our first few sessions, he nervously says to me, I think we need to have a little more romance. Okay, I ask, what are some romantic things youd like to do? We make a list, but he is still restless. My intuition tells me that he can go deeper. Would you feel comfortable telling me what your sex life is like? He shifts a bit in the chair. Well, its, you know, umm, we dont do it very often. Sometimes its just fast and like we just do it, because well, you know I need to. Hes shaking his head side to side. Not very satisfying? I asked. He has cast his eyes downward. They are glued to the floor. He quietly says, No. As we explore this further I realize that he is ashamed of his own needs, ashamed of the way he uses his wife to release the tension, but doesnt really exchange pleasure with her. He so obviously values sexual intimacy, but he hasnt learned how to achieve it. His shame falls into the gap between the pleasurable mutual sexuality that he longs for and the fast release of physical tension that he engages in.