Last week I reran a Generous Husband post from 2009 talking about the fact much of what we think about sex is learned behaviour. As Lori proofread it, she suggested I run a similar post here – something I had already decided to do.
A great deal of what we think about sex, including sexual body parts, is learned early in life. Much of it is learned long before we understand what sex is, and plenty of it is well set by puberty. If what we learn is good and true, great. If what we learn is negative or wrong it can cripple our sexuality for years or decades to come.
What makes this particularly difficult is how easy it is to communicate feelings about sexuality. Comments during diapering or bathing, or moving a hand away from a child’s genitals with an angry comment or a disapproving face can give children the idea sex is bad or their sexual parts are dirty. How our parents handle or ignore our change from child to sexually mature young adult also communicates messages. Are we told about the changes our bodies will undergo? Are we warned in a scary way, or is there a sense of joy and celebration? Does a girl’s first period being shame or is she proud? Is a boy prepared for his first ejaculation, or does it terrify him? Are sexual feeling and urges discussed as a normal thing with proper boundaries, or are we made to feel guilty for the urges God put in us?
As we enter into puberty and beyond, our friends add to our thoughts about sex. They may reinforce what we got from our parents, be it good or bad, or they may offer a different perspective.
As we become sexual with others, we pick up their feeling about sex and about our sexual parts. A causal negative comment about how a body part looks or smells may have a lifelong effect on the recipient of those words. The feelings associated with a new sex act become tied to the act. If it brought pleasure, we want to do it again. If there was discomfort (physical, emotional or mental), we may seek to avoid the act later in life. Making all this worse is the fact most of us have our first sexual experiences as teens, with other teens. We have adult bodies, but we don’t have grown up minds or emotions, and we usually lack a good understanding of the mechanics of sex. We make a mess of it, and then suffer for that for years to come.
Porn is another influencer of sexual attitudes and feelings. It’s increasingly common for teenage girls to see a good deal of porn before they graduate high school, making this a growing problem area for women. They compare their bodies and genitals to those of the surgically modified and Photoshopped women in porn and become ashamed. They are turned off by gross exaggerations of sexuality and sex acts. They assume the women in porn are enjoying things no real woman can enjoy and decide they are sexually defective.
And yes, women get the short end of this stick all around. As bad as it is for men, it’s far, far worse for women. Additionally the strength of the male drive often pushes a man past negative sexual messages. If a woman has a weak drive, as is common for younger women, she has no push to get her past wrong ideas, lies, and other negative messages.
A graphic case in point. I once walked out of the bathroom after a shower and stopped to talk to my beautiful wife who was on the bed reading. There was nothing sexual about the exchange and I was not aroused. However, I was naked, and my genitals were at my wife’s eye level and rather close to her face. Due to some forced oral sex in her past, she freaked out. She didn’t run from the room, but I know she wanted to.
Now for the good news. We can get past the wrong ideas and other sexual junk forced on us when we were younger. My incredible Lori has worked hard to remove such things from her sexuality, and if I repeated the post shower walk by today she would not freak out. Odds are she would do something that would end my ability to speak coherently. The sight of me naked and close up used to cause her terror; now it incites desire. This is healing, and this is possible for any who are willing to work for it.
Where might your thinking about sex be skewed by something from your past? Where might such skewing come from so far back you can’t remember the event that causes it? Is it possible some of the “it’s just how I am” things you say about sex are not just how you are, but how someone else made you think or feel? Is your ability to enjoy sex limited by lies, disapproval, past failures, and other junk?
The first step to change is being willing to honestly and openly examine your thoughts and feelings about sexuality. Don’t accept things as just how you are; ask yourself why you think or feel as you do. If you can identify why, examine it and see if what caused it was good or bad, right or wrong. If you can’t find why, ask yourself if you want to act based on some feeling you can’t explain.
~ Paul – I’m XY, and I am deeply blessed my wife had the courage to deal with all the sexual junk others put on her.