Shame is endemic in our society, yet nobody talks about it. Which is strange, because it is the silent killer of sexual love. The heart isn’t cut to pieces in battle. It unknowingly dies, like a sleeping person in a room gradually filling with carbon monoxide.
Shame reveals – and hence conceals – itself differently. For each person, and for each gender.
With due regard for generalisation, for heterosexual men, it works something like the following abusive dialogue which a man has with himself:
- I won’t be able to get an erection. I’m useless
- I’ve got an erection, but I’ll lose it. I’m useless.
- Maybe I won’t lose it but I’ll come too quickly. I’m useless
- Anyway, she’s not had an orgasm, or at least not the one she’s supposed to have, so I’m completely useless
And because it’s shameful, it can’t be talked about. So if you’re a woman, trying to make sense of this behaviour, you might think your partner is selfish, inconsiderate, rushed, disconnected and performance focused.
Shame explains something weird about women’s experience of male behaviour: it’s really important for him that as a woman that you like the sex, but if you helpfully propose something to make it better, generally, he doesn’t want to know. Why? Shame again. Change is a admission of past uselessness, which is hard to bear.
As a woman, how does shame affect you? Well, you might think that you’re to blame if there’s any erection issues, because you’re not sufficiently attractive, or arousing, or sexy, hence there’s something wrong with you, or you didn’t have an orgasm, or at least, not the right kind of orgasm, which means there’s something wrong with you, and so on. Shame again, but slightly different in its location.
A person, finding the shame hard to bear, might attempt to displace it onto their partner, through blame. Silence, shame, blame. Shame doesn’t come bearing weapons, but cuts you to pieces regardless.
Between the sexes, shame is intractable if we don’t understand that both genders have it, but in slightly different positions, meaning that the shame of each gender is invisible to the other, unless we communicate.
Shame is kept in place by the false notion that sex is about performance rather than about connection, but it’s difficult to be inoculated against it whilst we have such an impoverished idea of what heterosexual sex is, namely that it’s about intercourse leading to orgasm.
A particularly tragic form is shame is when an older man, in what may have been and continues to be a very long and loving relationship, starts to have erectile difficulties. He will tend to avoid intimacy with his partner through a fear that it will lead to an expectation of sex, in which he will be unable to ‘perform’. But he can’t say this, because to do so would be shameful, and so the couple gradually drift apart, no-one saying anything.
A first step is to broaden our idea. In my work I gave couples examples of other forms of sexual encounter which aren’t necessarily orgasmic, but are connecting and heartfully intimate, not just sensation based, but deeply feeling. A large part of my work is to elaborate and expand upon our sexuality in such a way that it cumulatively engages all our erotic and connecting potential, and gets us off the treadmill of performance, and frees us from the burden of shame.
One of my teachers said that the only cure for shame is courage. But it isn’t true. The only cure for shame is connection. But it takes courage to make that possible. I’m here to help.