Most people will have a bad sex story and it will probably have been more than just an embarrassment. Sex is such a core aspect of who we are that we can be very sensitive to negative feedback … better fake it than lose face or expose a loved one.
When sex is on the menu, whoever notices the wallpaper in the bedroom?
If we really understood how important the wallpaper was to our sexual enjoyment, it would be one of the first topics of conversation. The wallpaper I’m talking about is the backdrop of our minds on sex. It is the subtle but powerful array of influences that have been forming you and me from the day of our birth, if not before.
Culture is like water to a fish; the air we breathe from life’s first breath. Each people group has a story that gives them understanding of the context in which they live. It is handed down and reframed with each generation so that it still makes sense of the present in the context of the past. In specifically sexual terms, it will define who they can touch, when, where and how.
The method of making sure everyone keeps within cultural norms is the weapon of choice for social control – Shame. Shame in this context tells you if you’re one of us or you’re on your own, excluded.
Culture is also the accumulated baggage of previous generations who were unable to work out their collective traumas. The children of war and genocide will inherit tensions and anxieties that aren’t their own, except by virtue of an epigenetic inheritance. Rape is deliberately employed as a weapon of war because it degrades so deeply. The after-effects can be even worse, as the defiled victim becomes unacceptable to their own people and not one of us anymore. Like other traumas, it will most probably affect subsequent generations.
Where culture speaks to us through the voice of our ancestors, religion goes one step further and speaks with the authority of God, the almighty, all-seeing and all-knowing One. Accept ‘the Word’ or be condemned, because who do you turn to in an argument with God … who hasn’t already been judged?
When people try communally to represent a God of love, His/Her/Their unconditional acceptance often gets turned into law and judgement. The grace-space is God’s special playpen in which to learn, and make mistakes without eternal repercussions, so that we can grow up spiritually. Unfortunately, the freedom of expression that should encourage creativity and diversity ends up becoming more uniform and ordered, like a classroom.
Not all religions are hard on sex, of course, but it is those people who come from a conservative religious background who have the most problems. It’s not just what you do, but also what you think, that you cannot hide from an all-seeing God. If fear doesn’t keep you in line then there’s the other side of shame to deal with – Guilt.
Did patriarchy give rise to the three major world religions or vice versa? In any event, these three religions have influenced many cultures in which men and women are restricted in discovering their true sexual selves. Both genders have well defined roles and social positions in which men should be proactive and assertive and women compliant and submissive. Similarly, men can be sexual but not emotional, except in anger, and women can be emotional, except in anger but not sexual. Giving people permission to explore in the process of self-discovery is one of the most satisfying aspects of being a therapist.
As people discern the difference between spirituality and religion, the public reverence that enabled the hypocrisy to be hidden falls away. Spiritual leaders of all kinds are being outed for inconsistent and sometimes criminal behaviour. The beneficial side-effect is that people are becoming more introspective and starting to access their own inner resources for their lives. The realisation that we can have access to spiritual resources without any institutional middle-man is life-changing. The realisation that we are all made in the divine image with a common spiritual destiny changes our view of ourselves and our relationship with all other humans.
We are located in terms of culture and religion when we are born. Our family nurtures us with food, ideas, experiences and values and these all go up on the walls of our minds. The templates of how to be a man and how to be a woman will be enacted in front of our eyes by our nearest and dearest. Our primary care-givers, like other authority figures, not only model behaviour but also embody values. Before we can verbalise these values we construct avatars in our imaginations of the kind of people we aspire to be. Then, like a distant North star, we unconsciously orientate ourselves in all our behaviour towards our intended future selves.
However, there aren’t such things as perfect parents, and families can also be the place where the worst of human behaviour is enacted. From small ‘t,’ cumulative trauma, to big ‘T,’ incident trauma, many limp out of their childhoods with massive issues to resolve and big deficits of love and attention to make up for. So often these get unconsciously projected onto others, and in intimate relationships they can play havoc. When we become conscious of these undercurrents , we suddenly realise that we married our mother or father – our unfinished business. This needn’t be a catastrophic mistake if we accept it as being our unconscious and wise choice for life and the freedom of mature love.
Education and Peers
Puberty comes to each child’s body at a different time, which can bring its own problems amongst peers. Some cultures and families celebrate it, others cover it up or ignore it. A rite of passage is helpful in making the transition in society, if it honours the body and the person within. Circumcision only adds another trauma that will affect the body as important parts are mutilated or severed completely.
Most sex education curricula reflect the fears and anxieties of the parents and not the desires of the children for knowledge. Some seem explicitly designed as a deterrent with minimal facts and only the bad news. But pleasure-averse societies will not encourage their children to enjoy themselves. Nor will it be easy for their loving and respectful children to enjoy themselves more than their parents.
With a deficit of knowledge and little available wisdom the door is left wide open for peers to find out for themselves. Those wanting to know what to do, and how things work, will look to other sources such as pornography. This is how acts such as oral and anal sex become almost mandatory for a relationship in certain age groups.
Thankfully, lessons on consent and boundaries, first developed in the BDSM community, are being more widely incorporated into educational establishments of every kind. The aim is to clarify intimate interactions and the process asks us to feel our bodies’ responses. Being aware of our body’s responses as well as our emotions helps us discern our real boundaries and able to make genuine choices. Slowly and steadily, the wallpaper of our minds will change to reflect our choices and our tastes.