Have you examined your Sexual Shadows?
(hint: the answer is probably, "no".)
S. E. X. It's one of the core topics on which trauma release and shadow therapy is based.
It's one of the most prominent struggles and complaints of every client I see.
It's one of the most delicate topics that often brings otherwise powerful souls to their knees.
I've heard gut-wrenching sentences ranging from,
"Growing up in my super religious family was essentially spiritual female genital mutilation"
"My partner says he will only marry me if we have sex 5-6 times per day."
I've held space for women who are forced in their relationships to wear bunny outfits during intercourse to satisfy their partner's Playboy fetish and for mothers whose husbands are obsessed with "getting laid" while she's overwhelmed with caring for their home, their children, their life responsibilities - all while navigating her own unhealed wounds of sexual assault in childhood.
I hear from most women that they first had sex in their teenage years because their boyfriends expected them to. Most of them didn't enjoy it. Many of them still don't.
It's heartbreaking to hold space for the truths that we silence - mostly women - but men as well.... when the world we live in is literally OBSESSED with sex. (?!)
There's no question, sex and sexuality are a big deal.
But why exactly are we all so obsessed with it?? Ranging from pursuing it around-the-clock to cutting ourselves off from it entirely - there are very few of us who are benignly indifferent about it. It seems we're all thinking about it, talking about it, craving it, running from it, wondering who's having it and how, or gossiping about who's not and why.
It's truly everywhere: in overt messages that our inherent value comes from our sexuality, our physical sex appeal, and our long list of sexual conquests - all the way to subtle hints that more sex will make us happier, more pleasure will make us more successful, and more plastic surgery will make us more attractive. And it's confusing because the social "rules" for sexuality are a moving target - they change based on what biological sex we are.... young men are expected to exert their sexual prowess over as many women as possible, collecting virginities in jars as they go - while young women are expected to be demure and sweet and .... what, 'save themselves for marriage'? With the rules changing across age, place, space and time - no wonder most of us feel that sex is a game we're all losing.
It's not difficult to understand from an evolutionary perspective the tremendous power that sexuality beholds. Once upon a million years ago it was the act that kept our human species alive. It brought us pleasure and physical connection, a momentary escape from reality (not far off, neurochemically, from the high of cocaine or a shopping spree for designer clothes). When we lived in ancient matriarchal, polytheistic, pagan / polyamorous cultures - when survival of the species depended on reproduction - it didn’t matter who the father of a baby was…. Everyone took care of everyone’s children and lived in community, in a tribe. Sexuality, fertility, the feminine form was mystical and magical and profound. Sex was not a controlled substance or a limited resource - it was plentiful and celebrated.
The Feminine was Divine and she was worshipped as such. Early religions mapped healing onto sexual wellness as orgasmic states of the body translated to healing in mind, body, and spirit. Once upon a time there was no repression, no shame, no shadow. Sex, the feminine, and pleasure were alive, healthy and well.
Unfortunately, like with anything that beholds a tremendous amount of power - there crept in shadows of sexuality as well. When we stopped living of the land and owning it - right around the onset of agricultural societies instead of nomadic ones, men stepped into the roles of acquiring resources / farming their land while women inherently became one of men’s resources - tucked away in the family home caring for his children. It was a powerful PR campaign, systematically over time, to strip women of their Divine Essence, their Godliness, their mystical and magical ability to usher life into this world - and turn them into property (going so far as to go from her father’s last name to her husband’s). This was the beginning of vilifying sexuality and using the supernatural force of shame to silence what was sacred in us. The last of the “witches” were burned and we began to be taught how ‘desirable’ women should act: soft, sweet, demure… the biological receiver of sex with the responsibility to please men.
It’s an interesting reflection, really - that polytheistic, ancient cultures and religions often worshipped women / The Goddess in higher reverence than men… even the serpent was a powerful symbol of sexuality, fertility, creative life force.... (the snake shedding its skin was a powerful representation of rebirth, transformation, immortality, and healing) - then suddenly monotheistic Christianty appears and God becomes a man who violently punished the curiosity and temptation of Eve by banishing them from their idyllic garden because she chose to indulge in a “forbidden act” (she was probably just hungry). How ironic, the snake (changed into symbolism of the Devil) - convinced her to do it. (do you see how systematic and calculated the re-writing of ancient sexuality became?) What a powerful turnaround - making the ultimate Judge a Man-God… and rewriting a historic tale to depict a woman as the guilty, obscene, disobedient, and punished. Blame the woman for why none of us live in the garden of paradise today, awesome. But the story stuck.. And the impacts have been far-reaching and unimaginably destructive. So, why is sexuality such a powerful, taboo, crippling topic? Especially in shadow therapy? Because sexuality is often our very first shadow. It’s often the very root of our first sense of differentiation. Right from the announcement of, “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” when we take our first breath in this world we’re destined to be treated differently from one another. Because we’re being treated differently, biological sex is often the first root of our sense of threat, our first substrate for abuse, judgement, it’s deeply linked to our first experiences of shame, guilt, and fear. It’s the first thread within which we’re judged for our actions/impulses, harshly taught what is and isn’t allowed. By its very definition, this is the basis of our shadow.
Human sexuality is an instinct. It’s natural. It’s normal. It’s healthy.
The shadow of sexuality arose when social constructs - namely Christian religion and patriarchy - decided that men were superior, women were property, and sexuality became repressed. (there’s an amazing read on this, “Sex At Dawn” by Cacilda Jetha and Christopher Ryan - which I highly, highly recommend) The more we repress anything, the more control it claims over us. The more something is silenced, secreted, shamed, the bigger its shadow. Remember, we don’t see our own shadows until they’re cast upon someone else. And we have to feel safe and secure enough with the other person that their feedback about our (often deeply-entrenched behaviour) can be received openly and with humble acceptance rather than fought off by our ego (it’s a delicate dance that shadow therapists must master in order to be tremendously effective in their work). Our earliest relationships with our sexuality set the stage for every other relationship and interaction of our life. Sexuality is, unfortunately, at the core of who we are - not just the act of being sexual in early childhood (for example, curiousity about bodies and playing doctor or discovering self-pleasure) but also deeply-entrenched gender roles and socially-prescribed expectations for girls versus boys. Our earliest shadows stem from what we observe as the roles of masculine and feminine in our home even before we have language to interact with the world. The next shadows emerge from what we’re allowed to do verses what we’re barred from - how our parents react to finding us ‘playing doctor’ or exploring our bodies. If they react in shame and horror, then we subconsciously learn that the body and sexuality are unsafe, vile. That we’re inappropriate or wrong. And this isn’t even beginning to scratch the surface of the lifelong damage that occurs in cases of childhood sexual abuse - where the body becomes a battlefield, threatening the very core of our safety in this world, creating deep rifts in our relationships to our primary caregivers and ever deeper ones within ourselves. Notice the cascade of impact: an innocent young boy is deeply shamed by his parents for discovering his penis and enjoying its sensation. Not only is he subconsciously confused by how something that feels so good to his body (and he was guided to by mammalian instinct) can be punished or shamed, he also now needs to choose between his own inner instincts (to self-pleasure) and social acceptance and safety in the family (to abstain). It’s an impossible choice being forced upon an immature brain that cannot rationalize the long-term impact. It can be a single act of shaming or the cumulative effect of unconscious parenting - but it doesn’t take much - shadows are born. - and while they're extremely prominent in women, we're not the only victims. Ladies, ask a man in your life to tell you openly and honestly about his sexual insecurities, his grief and shame - and he'll have a cascade of pain to share as well.
Again, anything repressed, shamed, and silenced will continue to hold power and gain momentum over us and we’ll spill the blood of these early wounds throughout our lives on all those who didn’t cut us. As we grow, sadly, sexual shadows will often sit at the core of most modern-day domestic, workplace, and socially-based traumatic experiences (with the victims most often being women). From narcissistic, toxic relationships to workplace harassment, to being groped in a nightclub or on an overflowing nighttime train - reaffirming the message that our body is not our own, that our body is ‘up for grabs’ (literally) and that our value comes solely from how much pleasure we can create for someone else. It’s truly no wonder sexuality has become the cornerstone of my work.