I was thrilled to receive an advanced reading copy of Matthias Roberts’ new book, “Beyond Shame: Creating a Healthy Sex Life on Your Own Terms.” In the Generous Space community, I’ve been working on developing a centered set approach to sexual ethics that is energized by a vision of flourishing. This approach to sexual ethics allows folks coming from different perspectives, experiences, and convictions to sit together and have a shared experience of reflecting, clarifying, and articulating the values by which we seek to shape our sexual lives.
Matthias’ book is consistent with this approach and is must-reading for those in the GS community and beyond. As a therapist, Matthias lays out a helpful and practical framework to understand the particular ways that shame torpedoes our best efforts to live in alignment with the values we believe are important in stewarding our sexuality.
Unless we understand the ways that we get hooked into sexual shame, all of our work on clarifying and prioritizing our values-based sexual ethics may well be in vain. In part 1 of this accessible book, Matthias explains the difference between shamefulness, shamelessness, and auto-pilot.
Shamefulness is such a common experience for those of us who grew up in conservative Christian contexts. Feeling bad about our desires, our bodies, and our behaviours leads to avoidance, compartmentalization, and the toxicity of secrecy. We try harder and harder and either fail more and more spectacularly or go completely numb, unable to feel much of anything at all.
His section on shamelessness may offer an epiphany to those who’ve come to the point of exhaustion with white-knuckling and resort to saying, “Fu#*k it!” Here Matthias describes the experience of deciding to refuse to allow shame to dictate our behaviour. What he unpacks, however, is the way that shame can still yank our chain when we believe we’re living free and unhindered. Jumping in with both feet, without having done the important work of acknowledging, embracing, and dismantling your shame, may simply leave you feeling empty and used.
His description of moving through our sex life on auto-pilot may also bring some real understanding to those of us who find ourselves stuck in the midst of deconstructing some of the dogma that caused us so much pain. Many of us know what we don’t want in terms of rules, regulations, and externally imposed control – but may feel uncertain about what we do want to form and shape our discernment and decision-making. The sense of hesitancy and questioning ourselves can be paralyzing as we try to find peace in moving into a more liberative space. Matthias’ work will help the reader understand how to step-by-step move towards grounded confidence in owning our decisions and choices.
Undergirding our struggles with the different ways that shame disrupts our flourishing are some significant and pernicious lies. In part 2 of the book, Matthias takes a particular look at key lies impacting those who grew up in conservative Christian environments by focusing on interpretive assumptions, the pervasiveness of patriarchy, and the projection of culturally-influenced ideas of sinfulness on queerness.
In the Generous Space community we talk a lot about navigating tension and paradox through the non-dual way of seeing “both/and” rather than only “either/or.” This foundation marks part 3 of the book where Matthias unpacks some key paradoxes about sex. First, he offers the insight that sex is both healthy and risky. He then considers that sex both makes us vulnerable and helps us avoid vulnerability. The third paradox suggests that sex both requires safety and inherently unsafe (ie. we can get really hurt). And finally, Matthias reminds us that we will both get things wrong and right at the same time. For those of us who feel terrified of making mistakes in the realm of our sexuality, the good but hard work Matthias invites us into offers a solid path to move beyond such fear.
As a bonus, Matthias explains some important brain chemistry related to sex that will help you understand some of the roller-coaster of emotions that can accompany our attempts to step into a deeper freedom in the arena of our sexuality. Chock full of stories and real-life scenarios, this book will help you understand how theoretical concepts might apply in your own life.
I so appreciate that Matthias has written a book that can serve a wide spectrum of folks regardless of sexuality or belief or practice. I think a lot of folks have been waiting for a book just like this one! It’s almost as though he’s been eavesdropping on our ongoing dialogue about sex in the GS community and offered some concrete and practical wisdom from his perspective as both a therapist and a queer Christian friend. Wherever you’re at in sorting out the ways you will engage as a sexual being, I think this book will be a compassionate, helpful, and hope-filled guide to accompany you towards deeper flourishing.
Thank you Matthias! I’m so proud of you for persevering to complete this project. It is a gift to the queer Christian community and to the larger church for those with ears to hear.