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  March 10, 2003

Sexual Problems - Part 1: It's a Feeling Problem

Why is sex such a huge area of interest in the "civilized world"? Why are there so many problems with it?

As children in this society, we were told that our genitals were dirty, bad, or at least something to be hidden. They were covered up and not to be talked about. Any natural sexual interest we displayed was shamed and punished. Worse than that, some of us were preyed upon by the very authority figures who shamed us for our interest - parents, teachers, doctors, and priests.

As adults, such a history of repression and abuse may result in a neurotic obsession or repulsion to sex. In addition, the very act of repressing the trauma interferes with the workings of our bodies. A body that holds trauma does not function as well, and a host of other ailments can stem from this tension and dysfunction. This means that sexual traumas in childhood can cause dysfunction in other body systems, and non-sexual traumas can, by affecting body systems, cause problems with sex.

For example, if a child is regularly touched inappropriately after dinner by a family member, the fear and tension may result in an adult digestive disorder rather than an overt sexual dysfunction. A converse example would be an adopted child who becomes an adult afraid of any intimacy (including sex) because of the abandonment horror that intimacy triggers.

As the ancients knew - and quantum physics finally understands - it's an interconnected universe, and we therefore have an interconnected bodymind. That is why, when clients come to me with a sexual problem in their adult life, I don't automatically assume that it has its roots in childhood sexual abuse. Conversely, when clients come to me with a non-sexual problem, I don't assume that it doesn't have its roots in childhood sexual abuse.

I believe Arthur Janov said that sexual problems aren't sexual problems, they are feeling problems. That is most often the case with any ailment. I had environmental allergies for years. Antihistamine drugs might have stopped me from sneezing for a few hours, but it was not until I released certain traumatic feelings that the allergies disappeared - for good. My respiratory problem wasn't a respiratory problem. My immune system histamine problem wasn't an immune system problem. The whole thing was a feeling problem. So it is with sex.

Unless there is an actual organic dysfunction diagnosed as the direct cause of the sexual issue, every sexual problem is about repressed feelings. When clients come to me, I simply help them attend to the upsetting feelings they are having. If they continue to investigate their feelings, the origin of the feelings will emerge to be resolved, no matter how far back in their personal history it is hidden. So if clients have a "sexual problem," I may help them strategize, but the real healing will come from within the troubled feelings they are having. It makes the whole process much simpler - though not necessarily easy.

Like the myth of Adam and Eve, little children don't know they are "naked." They are not stupid. They know when they don't have clothes on, but they don't feel there is anything wrong with it - unless they are shamed or told there is something wrong with it. In other words, they don't have a problem until a problem is created by the parents or caregivers.

Children also don't see their genitals as separate from their bodies until it is pointed out to them. I remember being in the bathtub with my brother when I was around three years old (he was seven) and realizing that I did not know the name for that "thing" between my legs. I had not considered it anything special at all one way or the other. So I simply said to him "what is this?" And he told me. I was fine with that. A few days later, our "perfect" 1950s family was out walking on a sunny Sunday afternoon in a public park. As we walked along, a question crossed my mind about this new thing I had just learned. I looked way up at my giant parents, and in all earnestness, said, "Dad, you know my penis..." The look on the faces of my brother, mother, and father stopped me cold. "Sammy!" said my father sternly, with an angry look on his face. At that moment, I understood very clearly. My penis is definitely NOT a good thing. Since I obviously couldn't ask about it, I also never found out why. From that day on, there was a part of me that was separate and bad.

It was not separate and bad. There is no distinct dividing line between my genitals and the rest of me. It's all me, and it's all okay. As far as genital activity goes, sex is simply one element in the spectrum of touch and affection. Sex isn't some strange, separate event. Positive, healthy sex is a whole-body experience that involves more than just touching genitals.

On the negative side of sexual experience, it isn't just the touching of genitals that makes sexual abuse abuse - it is the boundary betrayal, the violence, the coercion, the creation of fear, the manipulation of power, the selfishness, the lack of caring, and the exposure of a child to a sick adult drive. That is why when the bodies of children are violated in non-sexual ways, they can exhibit many of the same symptoms as sexual abuse survivors. That is also why you can't use a symptom list to diagnose whether you are a victim of repressed sexual abuse.

We have been brainwashed to separate our genitals from the rest of our bodymind and to separate sex from the rest of our lives. So when we have problems that affect our sexuality, it is very helpful not to fall into the trap of seeing them as just genital problems or sexual problems. The problem you are having is a problem because you feel bad.

Feelings are the problem and feelings are the answer.

* * *

Sexual Problems - Part 1: It's a Feeling Problem
Sexual Problems - Part 2: Shock and Abuse
Sexual Problems - Part 3: Denial
Sexual Problems - Part 4: The Concepts of Working with Shock
Sexual Problems - Part 5: Working with Shock
Sexual Problems - Part 6: Remembering
Sexual Problems - Part 7: Facing and Releasing Painful Memories

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