Friday, November 16, 2012

Dessertation on shame. Chapter 25.1. Inflicting sexual behavior

25.1 Inflicting sexual behavior

Different forms for sexual problems were discussed often in the interviews, but this does not mean that it was easy to talk about the subject. Several of the participants said very clearly that this was a private matter and that they did not want to talk about it, a choice which was respected during the interviews. Gunhild and Helga, who both are users of the Incest Center, argue that it is embarrassing to talk about sex; it is private and they do not want to talk about it.

Kaare:             Is sex something that is ok to talk about?
Gunhild:         I don’t want to talk about it.
Helga:             It’s embarrassing.
Gunhild:         It’s private.
Helga:             I agree.
Gunhild:         I don’t mind other people talking about it, it’s not all-right, but umm I never do it.

Talking about sex and sexual problems is a private matter, as Gunhild and Helga argue, and if people do not wish to speak of such private matters, this should be respected. Other participants spoke openly of their sex life and an important and personal insight was given to this subject. Speaking with these participants about their sex life demanded  to let them define the agenda they wished to speak of, listening to them tell their stories and how they discussed this topic amongst themselves in focus groups, and being withdrawn in concern to asking questions. Camilla and Dagny were among those participants who discussed their relation to sex rather openly. Both are users of the Incest Center, and disabled because of sexual abuse they suffered as children by uncles in their families. Camilla is married and has two children, while Dagny is divorced and has three children. Camilla says that she has used sex as a form of punishment, feels shame in relation to her sex life and throws up after having sex with her husband. Dagny says she averts her face when she has sex and does not want to see her partner’s face. Having eye contact makes her being there, which she tries to avoid. Instead she tries to think about something else.

Camilla:          I’ve used sex as a punishment. It’s a way of holding my emotions at a distance. It’s not ok for my husband. I usually throw up afterwards.
Dagny:            If you’re sexually abused as a child, that’s not sex. It’s like rape, it’s not sex. It has very many consequences. I feel sick, it’s filthy. I hide my head or turn my face away so I can’t see him. It only takes 7-8 minutes and then it’s over. It’s not right. I avert my face because if I make eye contact, then I’m there. I try to think about something else while it’s going on. For me it’s a problem because it’s been that way since I was a little girl. If I hadn’t experienced the things I have, I would have had a lot fewer problems.
Camilla:          One just gives up because one can’t stand being there. But it’s something I’m not proud of. I love my husband very much and all that. Even though I’m very ashamed, it’s just not possible because everything has to do with sex. I wish things were different. And then I feel ashamed about that, too. ((Laughs))

Camilla and Dagny do not say that their sexual problems have anything to do with their partners or that they are pressed to do things they do not wish to do, and Camilla even says she loves her husband. The problem seems to be related to the childhood experience of being sexually abused. Linda speaks of being “a divided self” when having sex with a partner, your mind is in one place and your body is somewhere else. This might give grounds for more psychiatric analysis where body and mind are seen in a dualistic perspective or in categories such as dissociation or altered states of consciousness. In my opinion it seems more constructive to recognize Linda’s story as a subjective understanding of ones body, as I have discussed previously.

Linda_1:         It’s different from one person to another. But umm (.) many people have umm ((Bites her lips)) problems having sex with the lights on. (.) They want the room to be dark. And they might also have problems umm touching their husband’s body umm because that can give them flashbacks. They feel in a way umm that umm their partner is their abuser, while others feel umm that they are umm (.) like prostitutes or afraid they might look like one. They have an awful lot of thoughts like that. Many abused women have sold themselves in a way ((Scratches her shoulder)) so that they umm (.) yeah ((Scratches her shoulder)) that they feel like prostitutes. A lot of them have for example sold their bodies for money so that they can buy drugs for example, or given their body away when they were young because they were considered an easy catch, and when umm they umm ((Scratches her eye)) reach puberty, they umm don’t have a normal puberty because they’ve had adult sex since they were small children. When friends and others start having boyfriends and other stuff, umm you really feel left out. So many of them give their bodies away, that’s the only form of recognition they have ever gotten from their fathers for example, they’re used to it umm ((Scratches her side)) they give away their body because they know that’s what boys want. They get recognition that way. (.) When they grow up and become adults (.) they get the idea that they’re filthy, that umm they believe that they have a dirty body that their husband wants to touch, or maybe they think that umm what if he was to find out that I’ve given my body away to all those others, what would he think of that? ((Scratches her head)) They think a whole lot of thoughts like that and you think of them ((Clears her throat)) when they’re in bed and having sex with their partners, they’re one place in their heads and in another with their bodies.

Having sex with partners may remind some of the sexual abuse they suffered as children, and they may have problems being touched in certain ways. Memories of ones sexual abuse seem to be stored in ones body, and all the descriptions Linda gives of how the sexually abused body is subjectively viewed as ugly and filthy is in my opinion verbal markers for shame (appendix 20). Receiving recognition is so important for some that they give away their bodies, which in my opinion can be seen as a handling strategy for shame (appendix 20). Linda also speaks of other such handling strategies such as; selling oneself, prostitution, being in the dark, using drugs and being an easy catch. Margaret argues that sex with her partner does not have anything to do with her body.  She perceives her physical body as unrelated to her emotions, and says that this is something she needs to work with.

Kaare:             Does sex have anything to do with your body?
Margaret:        No, actually it doesn’t, when I’m with my husband I, how can I put it, I’ve created a room and tidied up there and matured some. So what I feel as body is my physical body, and that doesn’t have anything to do with my emotions. I still have to work with my relation to my body…He knows this and he has helped me and he has supported me. He is incredible.

Margaret states here a subjective understanding of her body and how she is able to have sex with her husband by keeping her emotions distanced from her body. This is a difficulty in their sexual relationship, and she says that he is supportive and tries to help her. Margaret argues further that there is a connection between the adult’s sex problems and the abuse one has suffered as a child. She seems to claim that she has been sexually socialized to be passive in sex, and to just let him use her body.

Margaret_1:    A lot of people have problems with sex because it reminds (.) them of the (.) abuse they’ve suffered. Others ((Scratches her head)) become ((Expires heavily)) strangers. When you (.) don’t work through things (.) you get stuck in the same old pattern. It’s probably unconscious. It’s something that just lies there like your fortune in a pack of cards. A man, a body, ok, all I have to do is lay on my back.

Margaret makes a point of having to work through ones difficulties and that old patterns created in ones childhood for some, du not easily change. Creating a new identity which includes ones sexual life, demands having the insight that Margaret gives here. That she sees the relationship between her past experience of sexual abuse and her present passiveness to having sex with her husband by just lying on her back and distancing her emotions from her body. Some, in my opinion, not only feel shame with having sex, but also in the idea others might have of them if they can see that they have had sex, as when in pregnancy. Instead of being proud of being pregnant, they might show signs of shame because her sexual activity becomes so pertinent to all who sees them. Ruth tells us about a woman who felt ashamed during her pregnancy because it became obvious to everyone that she had indulged in sex. She was ashamed that others now knew that she had had a sexual relationship.

Ruth_1:           Umm she was pregnant and gave birth to a child one and a half years ago. Her pregnancy was horrifying. She felt that her body was enormous. And she was ashamed because everyone could see that she had had sex. It was clear to everyone that she had had sexual relations. She was awfully ashamed. ((Looks down)) Being pregnant is an awful experience for a lot of women, because it becomes so obvious that they have had sex.

Ruth claims that being pregnant can be a problem for a lot of women. In my opinion, this should be an important topic to be concerned of for all those who work with pregnant women and delivery. As with other sexual inflicted behavior, it seems in my opinion that helping pregnant women to pay attention to the emotional reactions such as shame and guilt feelings and talking about them with trust, respect and recognition, might have a preventive effect on the development of shameful experience of being pregnant for sexually abused women.

In this section, I have taken a closer look at the relationship between shame and partners, focussing on sexual problems. The participants reported a number of negative experiences: having to turn off the light or averting one’s face during the sex act, for example. Several investigations of sex and shame suggest that there are gender differences; women react more often with shame in relation to sex while men react more often with guilt. It also seems that having a loving and understanding partner is a protective factor.

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