Thursday, November 15, 2012
Dessertation on shame. Chapter 25.0. Partners
18 of the participants talked about the effect shame has had on their sex lives and their relationships with their partners, and they touched upon this subject 92 times in the interviews (appendix 4). This suggests in my opinion that the topic of sex is of concern among the participants in this study. Most of the participants speak of various problems they have in relation to having sex. Ellen, who is a user of the Incest Center and sexually abused in her childhood says her partner is patient with her and that this has made their sex life better, but she still has problems. She describes her body as ugly and horrible, and says that there are things relating to the body that are very complicated.
Ellen: I’ve only had sex with my husband. And the first times I told him not to look at me. I felt awfully filthy and I wondered how on earth I could have sex with him. I love him so much. I was sure that the relation would be over before we got started. But he was patient. It got better after a while, but I still have problems. My body is still ugly and horrible. I can see how others stare at me. I became a compulsive washer. I washed and washed to get rid of it. I was sick. Everything stopped, do you understand me? That’s the way the body works…There are things that are very complicated about the body.
In my opinion, working with the partners of sexually abused men and women should be an important task at the Incest Centre in order to create an understanding relationship because a loving and understanding partner seems to be a protective factor for victims of sexual abuse. The problem Ellen has with body-shame seems to be important to talk about in a relationship based on trust, respect, and recognition. This seems also to be a topic at the Incest Centre which offers conversations to couples who need help with their relationship. Van Berlo and Ensink (2000) argue that sexual problems can be prevented by paying attention to the emotional reactions; such as shame and guilt feelings. If these emotional problems are overcome the risk of chronic problems may be minimized. Talking with ones partner about ones shame and guilt seems have an important preventive function in regard to ones sex life. This includes both men and women.
In my opinion, research seems to indicate that there may be differences between men and women with regard to shame and guilt and their relation to sex, but Lewis (1976, 1985) argues that the formal evidence remains thin. An investigation carried out by Binder (1970) suggests that women were more prone to shame in regard to sex, while men were more prone to guilt. Ferguson and Crowly (1997) have carried out a study of gender differences in shame and guilt in relation to sex and confirm the same tendency that guilt was more predominant in men, and that shame was more predominant in women. Several studies have been done on one possible explanation for this difference; the ideal representation of perfectionism (Hewitt and Flett 1991; Lutwak and Ferrai 1996; Wyatt and Gilbert 1998; Ashby, Rice and Martin 2006). This research seems to imply that when women see their bodies as imperfect, especially in sexual relationships, they are more often inclined to feel shame than men. When many of the participants in this study speak of their bodies being filthy and dirty, it is understandable that problems in ones sexual life can occur because of the feeling of shame. The important thing is, either there is a gender difference in this matter or not, for partners to pay attention to emotional reactions such as shame and guilt and talk about them with their partner.
Kaare T. Pettersen
Pettersen,Kaare Torgny, 2009: An Exploration into the Concept and Phenomenon of Shamewithin the Context of Child Sexual Abuse. An Existential-Dialogical Perspectiveof Social Work within the Settings of a Norwegian Incest Centre. PhD 2009 Department of Social Work and HealthScience Faculty of Social Sciences and Technology Management. NorwegianUniversity of Science and Technology, NTNU, Trondheim, Norway. Doctoral theses 2009: 184