Two days ago, my almost 5 year old son sat on my bed playing cars while I laid out my clothes for the day, including some new undergarments. He picked up my bra and said, “So mom, how do you like your new bras?” Amused by his inquiry, I smiled and replied, “I like them. They are comfortable”. He said,”Oh, that’s good”, and proceeded to play.
I took great comfort in this small exchange. My son treated the “bra” like any other piece of clothing. He expressed his curiosity with total ease. He felt comfortable enough to ask me about a piece of clothing designed to cover my “private part”. He did not feel threatened by the difference in our bodies. His ease demonstrated maturity.
I once knew a mom whose son began to take off his pants in my back yard, to which she responded, “Mark, what are you doing?” Exasperated, she ran over and forced his pants back up. He was 3 1/2 years old. Imagine if he asked her how she liked her bras? I picture her ripping the bra out of his hands saying, “Never mind that”. This may seem trivial but these minor incidences add up to very impressionable moments with powerful messages. These experiences lay the ground for our sexual development.
99% of the clients that I treat report a lack of any parental guidance or discussion related to anything sexual. These clients were not educated about the correct names of their genitals until sex ed class, about the function of their genitals or about “good touch, bad touch”. They were never taught about sex, other than fearful messages like “Don’t get a girl pregnant” or “Don’t get a reputation”.
Another common theme reported is a sense of sexual shame. Their parents would hide shamefully if their young child saw them naked. Clients were disciplined and shamed for exploring their genitals through masturbation or for playing “doctor” with a friend.
The result? Generations of kids who grew up feeling sexually uneducated, inadequate and shame about their bodies. As adults, these individuals function in a sexually repressed way. Sexual repression refers to discomfort with sexual expression. These discomforts are reflected through attitudes, behaviors and beliefs about sex and sexuality.
Sexual repression is born from early erotic wounds. With a glance, words and gestures, parents can humiliate and/or shame their children’s innocent sexual expressions and natural curiosities.
Some examples of sexual repression are:
- discomfort with any discussion about sex
- anxiety when becoming sexual
- sexual inhibition (limiting your sexual expression)
- labeling sex as “bad” , “dirty” and/or “wrong”
- discomfort with any form of nudity
- discomfort with sexy talk or “dirty” talk
- discomfort with sex scenes in movies or books
If you experience any of these symptoms, try to go back to your early childhood development. Can you trace back to the particular sex-negative messages in your family of origin? As children, we absorb these messages like sponges. Too young to fully differentiate, we trust our environment and hold these messages as “absolute”.
If you could re-parent yourself, what would you have done differently? Be specific. How can you apply those responses to how you treat yourself now?
You were not born, lying naked on a changing table as an infant, sexually repressed. Your early erotic wounds left their imprint but it does not have to define your sex life. At any given point in your life, you have the right to take back your sexuality. You have the right to claim it, own it and express it as you see fit with another consenting adult. Give those repressive messages back to those who they belong to and begin to chart your own course.
If you are not sure of how to do this, contact me now. We can work together in the office or by video conferencing (NJ residents only). I’ve helped hundreds of individuals and couples undo their sexual repression, reclaim their sexuality and create vibrant, healthy sex lives. Isn’t it your turn now?