It’d been some time since my husband, Rhys, and I had scorched the sheets together. Poor health and physical pain are as good as a cold shower. But with healing, comes desire and we were both excited to be lovers again. I expected it to be hot, hot, hot but I didn’t expect a reprisal of all the issues that had afflicted me when we became lovers for the first time many years ago.
In a previous blog posting, Sex Ed Gone Wrong: Skewed by Abuse and Misogyny I revealed how the man who probably sexually abused me as a tiny child took it upon himself to also be my sole source of information about sexuality. Looking back, I view his skewed, misogynistic ‘sex ed’ as kind of psychological FGM. He did everything but mutilate me. He didn’t need to. The cutting was all in my mind. If he couldn’t have me (although he probably had already), then no one could. Since he couldn’t control men’s passions, he opted instead to control mine.
According to him, sex was solely a man’s domain. Women existed to serve men. If the man wanted sex, it was his wife’s duty to service him. To create a perfect ‘mood’ and definitely not to express pain. He was fond of saying ‘Lay still and think of the Empire’. The female orgasm, if such a thing even existed, was at the man’s control. His gift. The dirtiest word in the English language, according to this paedophile, was ‘clitoris’ and he denied that female masturbation even existed nor did he ever let on that men want their woman to orgasm and actually enjoy giving her pleasure.
To say that sex with Rhys was at first torturous, physically, psychologically and religiously, is to make an understatement. Vaginismus made it nearly impossible. But heeding my sex ed, I wore a smile even when my hands were balled in fists from physical pain. To say ‘yes’ when I wanted to say ‘no’ just as the paedophile had groomed me to do.
But with Rhys’ kindness, patience, encouragement and sensitivity, I’ve healed and grown in the past few years to be fairly comfortable with making love until our recent sabbatical from sex. Many months of celibacy later, it seems all my progress is gone and I’m back at Square One.
It was a surprise when Rhys recently suggested a roll in the hay. He likes to be spontaneous as being a rape victim himself, planning ahead causes performance anxiety.
The instant he suggested it, I seized. But, as my abuser taught me to do, I pushed through my fears and expressed enthusiasm. I’m glad I did yet, just like when we were first married, I was surprised to find myself having a silent post-coital cry in the loo. It was hours before I could sleep.
What went so terribly wrong? Nothing…and everything.
Religious sexual shame from the old ‘sex ed’ resulted in extreme self-control. As a singleton, I reasoned that if sex was shameful, then control was the antidote. Control of feelings, attractions, arousal and emotions. To succumb to foreplay, to arousal and ultimately the ‘involuntary muscular contractions’ of an orgasm is to lose control. Years of practise left me almost, although not quite, unable to loosen my iron control of myself.
In an unusually unguarded moment a few years ago, blushing furiously and almost choking, I confided my turn-ons to Rhys but when he uses them, I stiffen. Seize up. Fight arousal. Getting horny in front of my husband is too horrible to be contemplated. Yet later I unreasonably and unfairly resent foreplay being more Rhys-centric than Ivy-centric but I’ve no one to blame for that but myself.
Sexuality has become split. Turn-ons, arousal and passion exist but in my secret, solitary, shame-filled world. Separately, there is less-shameful, barely-horny sex with Rhys while ‘lay still and think of the Empire’ rings in my ears. Yet, I know that if I don’t orgasm, dear Rhys will be disappointed and feel that he’s let me down, our encounter ending in Rhys being sad and disappointed in himself and sorry for me. It’s a horrible Catch-22.
A blog posting should end on a high note. It should end with a solution to a problem but I don’t have those answers for myself nor for anyone else. At least we know that we’re not alone.
A 2018 story in Vice told about Linda Kay Klein who was also raised in an atmosphere of religious sexual shame. ‘Klein knows from personal experience. After realising she couldn’t be the woman the church wanted her to be, she left the evangelical community in the early 2000s. It was at that point, when she began considering having sex, that the symptoms started. “It began when I took the possibility of having sex and put it on the table,” Klein tells Broadly. “From that point on, sometimes it was my boyfriend and I being sexual that would make me have these breakdowns where I was in tears, scratching myself until I bled and ending up on the corner of the bed crying’.
All I know is that religious sexual shame is abuse, indefensible and wrong. Emotional abuse divorces you for your emotions. Religious sexual shame separates you from your body, your relationship and your partner. If the senses of hearing, taste and sight are okay, what makes physical, sexual sensation so wrong? Those who abuse using sexual shame are just as guilty as those who gouge out eyes or cut out tongues but shame is their weapon.
Although the man who stole my sexuality so long ago will never be brought to justice, at the very least I hope that my story will help others who also suffer from religious sexual shame. To help you give it a name as you sit in the loo, your head in your hands, hoping your partner doesn’t hear you crying.
If they can’t understand why you find sex so upsetting, just show them this blog post.
Photo by frederic.gombert