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  • Writer's pictureSarah Foley

TSS - 017 ~ shame + sex + masturbation


content warning: disordered eating, sexual assault (indirectly)

I last wrote very soon after I began long distance loving, falling headfirst into panic and learning. I was journeying into self-compassion, and being awakened to quite possibly every trigger imaginable inside me. In amongst the challenges of confronting my own self-image, getting used to long-distance, and finishing my Masters, I was committing to continuing the sexual awakening I’ve self-prescribed. I have used every excuse possible to avoid my sexual self in the last ten years, and so with no one in my evenings but me, it was truly time to get shit done. For my entire sexual life I’ve been fucking terrified of masturbating. TERRIFIED. I feel icky, embarrassed, confused and 1000% sure that my parents would find out I had masturbated and tell everyone I’m a yucky person. The shame runs deep. It’s always been frustrating and conflicting to me that I have avoided masturbation so incessantly, because I have had seasons in my life where my desire for sex has been nearly unmanageable. I have begged for sex (not proud), put myself in rather dangerous situations, and literally asked a teenage boy to teach me how to masturbate (as a teenage girl myself of course). All in the paradoxical pursuit of avoiding my own pleasurable body. I did try though, firstly after the shocking realisation at 16 that people I knew masturbated and actually weren’t ashamed of it?!?! It took a while to work out what and where the clitoris is, so a lot of general rubbing of the labia occurred. I was to me what so many absurdly confident heterosexual men are to women everywhere lol. I continued trying off and on for the next few years, but either got tired fingers, bored, or just over the nothingness feeling. Really though, as you know if you’ve ready my many other posts grasping with sex, shame is my number one killer.


As a child, I loved God, like a lot. I was terrified of God, but I knew that I had to be grateful for God every second of the day or they would know I was a sinning sex fiend. I used to sit in church every week and fantasise about being kissed, touched, fucked. Sexual fantasies hit me young. I couldn’t help it, but I did know I was sinning. Plus my Catholic preschool, primary school, and high school education, in which sex ed was one measly power point presentation on STDs in year 9. I was extremely interested and intellectually stimulated by sex, but it stopped at my body. I swirled with sexual desire but held no responsibility for the enacting of that same desire. I knew, from my godly origins, that the sexual body was a site of satanic motivations and satanic consequences. So when my body was first touched in a way that provoked sexual feelings, and it was in an unsafe environment, I was easily able to shut down the future of desire as both sinful and scary, and as confirmation that sex was completely shameful.


And I just never got over that. Once I began having sex, the responsibility for my sexual pleasure was always given, thrown, to whoever who was willing to take it on. I was able to balance the shame of having sex with the self-esteem boosting satisfaction of satisfying someone else. My first partner was so incredibly positive and safe, an extraordinary way to commence after my earlier experiences. I gave my pleasure over, assuming that penetration was the gateway to utopic, orgasmic ability. I begged for more sex, completely insatiable. Between seeing him, I resumed the intellectual gatekeeping of my sexuality as devoid of agency and separate from my body. Over the next five years I continued to give my pleasure away, completely resigned to my anorgasmic body. I never faked an orgasm, but I certainly accentuated what I was feeling to overcompensate for my self-perceived shortcomings. I turned away from my pleasure, into the pleasure of being wanted, desired, fucked. Off and on shame dominated my sexual experiences in those first years of having sex. I remember intoxicatedly bringing a girl home to my family home, the alcohol enhancing my already loudness, and my Dad hearing us having sex in the shower. He asked me about it the next day and I felt like I was burning alive. Not only had I been having sex loud enough for my dad to hear, I had been having loud queer sex. It’s been years since that event and I am still mortified when I think about it. Only a couple of years ago Dad was having to go through my bedroom wardrobe, packing up my things as they sold the family home mid-COVID. I knew there was a dildo in there somewhere, and I knew he was going to find it. I know the majority of the sexual earth does not want their dad finding their sex toys, same. He did, and he brushed it off immediately, but I was sent straight back to eight-year-old Sarah, deeply ashamed of the sexual thoughts that I craved, completely sure my parents would punish me and that I would deserve whatever I got.

In the last few years, my sexual healing became entirely necessary. I realised I was completely disconnected from my sexuality, and from the person I was giving my sexuality to. The work I did last year was foundational to the work I am now doing, despite their polar opposite approaches. I have a new and fucking extraordinary sexologist- Clarke- who has genuinely been called the orgasm fairy by the one and only Chantelle Otten. Where last year I thought incessantly on every stage of having sex with James, terrified of pain and nothingness, this year I am LETTING GO. Clarke tells me that the way I live my life is the way I have sex and masturbate. I control the shit out of everything I can. I am not a chill person, I couldn’t be if I tried. I know that’s totally okay, but I want to be able to let go a little bit for the sake of pleasure all around. Pleasure, I am learning (you have probably known this for years and are mortified I’m just working this out), is folded into every part of our days. Sexual pleasure is no different from the pleasure I get eating a fresh-from-the-oven cookie, or from listening to music in the bath, or from feeling the spring sun on my face at the end of a dark winter. Pleasure is everywhere, and none of it is shameful (!!!!!!). I don’t think your sexuality is shameful, in fact I cherish your sexuality and champion your pleasure. I just never thought my own sexuality fit into those supportive boxes. The way I hold tight onto my routines, keeping me safe when life is tumultuous, is both protective and enabling of my perfectionistic tendencies that do not lend themselves to full body sexual vulnerability. They do instead lend themselves to eating disorders and sexual disconnect. It’s actually really fucking hard to be tightly wound one minute and oozing with orgasmic potential the next. My pleasure trinity has always been tied up in sex, food and my brain. I consumed food as I allowed myself to experience intellectual sexual stimulation, and I purged myself of food and sexuality each time I allowed that hedonism to take hold. The removal of food and sexual feeling from my body in a specifically damaging and disordered way, combined with the darkness of the sexual content I voraciously absorbed as a young person, ensured that shame held my body in its grasp, as did control.


In the beginning of the panicked journey towards safety and connection in my body, I gave up a pursuit of hedonism in both food and sex. I controlled myself away from disorder, into order. I ate well, I didn’t seek unsafe sex, I didn’t consume deeply sexual content with the same fervour. The journey I took, was not one of connection, rather one of manifesting control in an equally un-pleasurable way, but also without a relationship with lust that I had once had. And so this work with Clarke is about unwinding that, and stepping back from judgement of myself and stepping into the discomfort of shameless unknowns in my body. I spend time tracing the outline of my body in the bath, I spend time warm in bed beginning to connect sexual thought to sexual action, I face the sharp disconnect that presents every time I try and hone in on pleasure, and I keep trying to find it again. I can now mostly eat in a way that supports my particular body, but still find pleasure and allow myself to lose control without it having destructive consequences.


The aim of my work with Clarke is not to orgasm. I know that setting that as a goal nearly destroys my chances of being open to whatever may come from this work. That’s not to say it’s impossible, it never was, but the more I let go of alllll of my sexual schemas, the more I might be able to find a new way of connecting to myself that is not orgasm centric, not clouded with shame and certainly not moulded in an idea of disconnect.


I have never masturbated more than I have in the last two months. My mental health has thrown up walls to climb, but I am trying. Sometimes I feel nothing in my body at all. Sometimes I feel discomfort. Sometimes I feel numb stimulation. Sometimes I feel a percussive throb that far surpasses my vulva. A few times I’ve felt a heat rising in me that is entirely unfamiliar, accompanied by a fleeting dizziness, a pleasure so deep in my pelvis that my spine opens. And then it stops, as quickly as it arrived. Maybe I stop myself, for what the fuck might come next? Maybe I am only able to connect within for fleeting moments before I fall into panic, shame, long comforting ideas of brokenness. Maybe I have a lot more work to do. I go hours sometimes without looking inwards, and then ask myself on demand to invoke utter authentic knowing of self and pleasure. I would like to lessen those times between connection, I am trying. The relationship I have with myself now compared to that of four months ago, is starkly different. Now, there is a relationship. I have a soft internal monologue who asks gently to be heard, and I have a very new ability to sometimes observe the cruel hardness inside without allowing it to be truthful. I very often succumb to the ease of disconnect, I am so often tired at the moment, but I am beginning and I am committed to noticing myself in a way I’ve always noticed others. I am continuing to disconnect shame from pleasure, but it is a tightly intertwined and unrelenting relationship. I have a new lover though, and she’s been here all along in me. I will continue the sexology work, I will continue to masturbate, I will continue to unravel my knowing, and you’ll be hearing about whatever might happen next.


<3


Ps. you can find Clarke my unbelievable sexologist here- @clarkerosethesexcoach

Pps. top and bottom pics by my love @jamesmmorris_

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