As a Sex Therapist in an age where many are finding their voice, I am often asked, “How do we respond to what is happening sexually in the world around us?” First, we have to remember that nothing under the sun is new. Sexual harassment, sexual abuses, incest, and infidelities, have occurred for a long, long time. But this is not the way it was meant to be.
We humans are at our best when we are treating one another the way we want to be treated. How true this is when we apply it to human sexual behavior. Does anyone want to be treated like an object of sexual gratification? Does anyone want to be used, threatened, demeaned . . . I think not. We all share a human desire to be valued, loved, seen, and heard.
I think we have a lot of reason to feel hopeful, in spite of the daily reports of sexual misconduct. At last, we are creating a culture where keeping secrets silent are no longer what is expected. The #MeToo Movement has caught on in recent months because of brave people coming forward and telling their stories. It takes tremendous amounts of courage to say me too. So, let me just take a moment here to say—me too.
I experienced a sexual assault in high school by an adult authority figure that left me stunned and speechless. I was so traumatized by his shocking behavior that I quickly tried to disassociate my memories from what happened to me. My brain kept telling me, surely this respected man would never behave in a violent, sexually abusive way. Surely, I must have done something wrong to deserve such treatment, in spite of me begging him not to do what he did. I felt tremendous shame and embarrassment.
What he did to me reinforced the shame narrative that I had deeply ingrained into the wiring of my brain because of the violence I experienced from the hand of my own father. I already believed I was dirty, less than, unworthy . . . this man just validated what I already believed about myself deep down inside. No one would have known I felt that way. On the outside, I appeared to be happy, I did fine in school, I participated in activities, I had good friends, I dated, I skied, and enjoyed many positive things about life. But it was in the quiet places within myself that I felt my losses most profoundly. It wasn’t until I was married and felt completely safe that I started to explore my hidden secrets with the help of a professional therapist and the loving support of my husband.
Much later, after years working on healing from the traumas of my early life, I became a sex therapist. They say, often our most important work comes from our own experiences with pain, grief, and loss. This was true for me.
As a sex therapist, I have learned many valuable lessons from my clients. They have taught me that nearly all humans experience some sort of sexual pain. Whether they experienced a sexual attack as I did or use sex as a way to medicate deeper emotional pain, human sexuality is often a misused and misunderstood topic.
Perhaps, before we can tackle our sexual, social ills, we need to have a better understanding of the purpose of sex. Like any great athlete knows, you have to go back to the basics over and over again. Most of us have never even thought about what the purpose of sex is. Perhaps, if our parents had started this discussion with us at birth things wouldn’t be so complex. So, let’s go back to the basics and see if we can establish a working understanding of human sexuality.
1. We are all sexual creatures. Every person is born with sexual parts specific to his or her gender.
2. Children are curious about nearly all things, including sexuality. Children need his or her mommy and daddy to celebrate their gender, teach them the proper names for male and female genitalia, and help their child develop appropriate sexual behaviors such as, privacy, respect, and valuing sexuality as something special.
3. Teenagers need a lot of guidance with sexual feelings. Imagine your brain and body are flooded with sexual hormones and feelings, but your brain isn’t fully developed until you are twenty-five. The pre-frontal cortex, the governor, or CEO, as some refer to it, takes time to become an adult. In the meantime, teens are making life-altering decisions about sexuality with little to no guidance. I think we need to recognize this as a form of neglect.
4. Sexual shame is wired into our personal narrative at very young ages. Children are regularly shamed for being curious, touching themselves, and for playing doctor. This shame narrative then continues into adulthood. It’s no wonder we have been silent. Shame says we are too dirty to ask for help with our sexuality. This silence hasn’t helped any of us.
5. When exposed to sexual stimuli, our bodies will respond. We have an automatic sexual response system. Yet, just like when someone cuts you off in traffic and you feel angry, but compose yourself, so we need to understand our feelings don’t rule our lives. We all have the ability to practice self-control. We are not animals. We are humans with the capacity to regulate our sexual feelings. We all have to take personal ownership and responsibility for our sexual behaviors.
6. Sexual behaviors were intended to be an expression of love and love desires the good for the other person. If sexuality were framed in this context, our world would be free from sexual violence, sexual harassment, sexual abuses, infidelities, and incest.
7. We all need help in developing healthy sexual behavior.
I am grateful we are creating a culture where it is socially acceptable to say #MeToo. It’s about time. It’s time we care for the victims of sexual harm. It’s time we say enough. But we have to personally do more. We have to stop polarizing and demonizing people so we can have dialogues and ask ourselves and others these questions:
1. Have I done the hard work of sorting through my sexual past?
2. Do I struggle with porn use, which dehumanizes every person involved?
3. Do I think sex is the solution to everything?
4. Do I medicate pain with sexual behaviors?
5. Do I avoid sex or have a knee jerk reaction to sex?
6. Am I stuck where sex began for me?
7. Am I growing myself up to be a sexually healthy, happy adult or am I using someone or not valuing myself?
We have to understand that sexual behavior has a root cause. Often sexual behavior can become a way of medicating deeper pain. 91% of sex addicts come from either a dysfunctional family of origin, experienced personal trauma, or were exposed to adult sexual behavior at too young of an age. We have to understand that when children are sexually used and abused, they often reenact that behavior in some way unless they get help or guidance.
Also, we have to understand that demonizing people because of bad behavior doesn’t end up helping any of us. We have to get off our high horse and come down to the reality that people need help. They also need compassionate care and understanding to work through their sexual messes. Offenders need consequences and boundaries and all need access to professional help.
I want to challenge every reader to ask this question, “Am I a part of the problem or the solution?” If we can stop pointing the finger, learn to tell our stories, and humbly ask for help, perhaps we could become a more loving, compassionate, sexually healthy world.
It is my heartfelt desire that my new book Love and Sex is a helpful, professional guide for those impacted by human sexuality. Love and Sex is available now for pre-order at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.