Dear Dr Ren,
When I was growing up, I was immersed in fire-and-brimstone religiosity. When I hit puberty, I was horrified to realize that corporal punishment and even fantasies of divine retribution for impure thoughts would get me off.
When I grew up, I dumped every part of the church and its teachings, but I can’t seem to get away from the connection with the turn-on and the religious imagery. If I really want to get off, I still have to conjure up images of humiliation or punishment. Since it feels like all that religious stuff still owns me, I can’t allow myself to really enjoy it. It still feels so bad!
Is there a way out of this dilemma?
Dear Religious Conundrum,
You are making an assumption that your religious upbringing shaped the landscape of your erotic identity. That may or may not be true, but regardless, you cannot escape what turns you on. Some people brought up in non-religious environments share your fantasies. Who knows if your triggers would be any different if your past varied?
We do know that whatever major influences abound in adolescence — the maturational stage of sexual awakening and independence from our primary family — are ripe for forming significance and taboo. Young, malleable psyches can manage overwhelming images by eroticizing them. It certainly worked for you. Actually, linking taboo and eroticism is a common theme.
In any case, look how creative you’ve been. You’ve translated that taboo into a mattress-slapping, muscle-straining, testimonial that gives calling out God’s name a whole new meaning. Perhaps you can take some satisfaction in knowing how perverse those church fathers would find your interpretation of their brimstone messages. After all, their purpose is to dismantle lust, while you’ve used masters’ tools to build a magnificent temple to it.
Consider the fact that so many others have succumbed to forsaking or repressing their unsanctioned fantasies, accepting instead lukewarm and unsatisfying sexual encounters, longing for what you have claimed for yourself. They likely experience the same shame and guilt you feel but, unlike you, don’t get to savour their favourite turn-ons.
The ultimate “up yours” would be to enjoy exactly the sort of sex you like the most, without the negative emotions of shame and guilt, wouldn’t it? It can be yours — it can be everybody’s — with a simple shift of perspective.
There are many people who are having all the “right” — heterosexual, married (to each other), monogamous, procreative — kinds of sex in unhappy, even abusive relationships. Some of those folks are turned on by the same naughty visions that you are. They are just as tortured by them as you are, and they will likely never get to try them on in real life. Now there’s the shame if you ask me. At least you are considering letting yourself experience your bliss.
Do “normals” rate more points than those who have “bad” (gay, casual, reproductively protected) sex? Who decides?
Alfred Kinsey, perhaps the 20th century’s greatest sex researcher, found the degree of religiosity (rather than the brand) most affected a person’s enjoyment of sex: the greater the religiosity, the greater the shame. And you tell me you were “immersed.”
Not many simply awaken one day, say, “I’ve been duped!” and recover from years of sex- and body-negativity training. Unless you make personal sexual decisions based on what works best for you, you will always be trying, probably unsuccessfully, to live up to someone else’s standards, ultimately unsatisfying.
Doing it differently begins with a single vote for yourself. Then another. And another. It’s reinforced with conversations with other sex-positive individuals and joyous, guilt-free encounters with lovers who unabashedly worship your body and encourage you to explore theirs. It’s cemented further when laughter erupts during sex, and when you gaze into someone’s eyes and are met with understanding and vulnerability.
If you want to learn more about kink and power exchange, there’s a vibrant and well-connected BDSM community in most urban centres and even many small areas, happy to show you the ropes. Safety and consent are priorities, and diversity is appreciated rather than judged. Sexual expression is endorsed and your choice of expression is considered your own business.
The internet is a rich source of validation for you, too. There you can find others who share your fantasies, learn from experts and peers, read fiction and research, join groups and even find romantic and sexual partners.
When you start kicking open doors, you’ll find there are beautiful vistas behind each of them. Of course, you must vanquish the monsters of fear and shame to continue to the next level, but every progression brings pride and confidence in your ability to think for yourself, independently. And you learn to revel in your enjoyment of sex.
In your case, you’ll know you’ve come home sexually when you risk sharing your “unspeakable” fantasies with someone who responds, “Yeah. Me, too!” and leads you away by the hand, smiling.