Episode 7: Overcoming Shame and the Power of Sexual Healing

Our conversation with Dr. Schermer Sellers was so good that this is the first episode in a two part series!
Tina Schermer Sellers is the author of the book: “Sex, God and the Conservative Church: Erasing Shame from Sexual Intimacy” and an associate professor of Marriage and Family Therapy and Director of Medical Family Therapy at the Seattle Pacific University.

Sexual Shame is an issue that many of us deal with at some point in our lives, as it is ever present in the messages we receive from our family, the media, and our faith/religion.  In this episode, Tina lays out a blueprint of sexual shame – where it comes from, how we can heal from our past in order to accept our humanness, and how we can have a positive and empowering view of our sexuality.  

The Culture of Shame

Many believe that religiosity creates shame, however, Tina’s research has concluded that “Abstinence-only” sex education denies youth necessary sexual knowledge, and this lack of information coupled with shame for sexual curiosity equates to adolescents who don’t know how to relate to sex and sexuality in healthy ways. This knowledge vacuum allows for misleading ideas about sex and bodies projected by the media. What religion can add to that, is the message: “If you do A, B, C or D” God will be disappointed in you, or will not love you”.

“Many times kids have several shaming experiences, that they don’t even remember, but what sits inside of them is that sense that “I am not ok, something is bad about me that has to do with my body” 

The Importance of Connection

Tina asserts, “We are hardwired for connection and pleasure” of which our sexuality is a huge factor. The most human thing about us is Connection

“We actually are seeking connection and pleasure throughout all of our lives… because we are bonding creatures, that is where our humanness is.”

 

Sexual Shame

From Noel Clark: “Sexual Shame is a visceral feeling of humiliation and disgust towards our own body and identity as a sexual being, as well as  the belief of being abnormal, inferior, or unworthy. This feeling can be internalized but also manifests in interpersonal relationships, having a negative impact on trust, communication, and physical and emotional intimacy. Sexual shame develops across the life span.”

Feedback Loop

Beginning very young, children learn shame from their caretaker(s) by feeling ashamed for something they don’t understand, despite it being natural, so those feelings of shame tell them whatever they’re doing in very bad.  This continues throughout one’s formative years, reinforcing that something is really bad.

There is also a fear and uncertainty related to one's power, or right to make decisions, including safety decisions regarding sexual encounters and internalized judgement towards our own sexual desire.  

BOOK: “Sex, God and the Conservative Church: erasing shame from sexual intimacy”

This book is for people who have been affected by abstinence-only sex education as well as conservative church doctrine as well as therapists, or clinicians, who have not been exposed to the church culture. 

Tina discusses how we got here and how it happened, so that people understand the history and that this was never meant to happen.  “We were never meant to be sex negative”.

Getting Out of the Mess

The model for erasing sexual shame is to: Frame, Name, Claim, and Aim

1. Frame: Begin by getting yourself a framework with solid sex education.

Resources:

2. Name: Put names and language behind your body and your story: “Tell your story, find out that you are not alone, that almost everybody has sexual shame.”

3. Claim: “Learn to claim your body as a good, wonderful, wholesome thing, regardless of it shapes and size. We are told constantly that our body is not good enough exactly the way it is, simply for us to go and buy more crap.” After we do those three things, we begin to aim! 

4. Aim: Creating a new sexual legacy for ourselves which is sex positive and that we can pass onto others.  This legacy has no sexual shame and will allow us to claim our sexual lives so that we can live boldly and change our culture for generations to come.  This is what we deserve.

“Our sexuality is one of the most vital, dynamic, luscious, and powerful parts of ourselves and we deserve to have it, and have it out loud and stop having people tell us that is bad and dirty or whatever, because it is not. It is vibrant, it is wonderful, and it can be so good. It is one of the most wonderful gifts we have as humans. We can use it to heal ourselves and our world, and we don’t have those messages out there.”

Recommendation: Peggy Orenstein book Girls and Sex.

BBXX