mAtthias Roberts - Keynote
Wendy: Someone who I have come to know as someone who’s aware of not only our bodies but our whole selves, is our guest tonight, Matthias Roberts. He is the author of Beyond Shame: creating a healthy sex life on your own terms that was published just this year, 2020. If you don't have your copy yet… It's too far away on my desk to grab it and hold it up I should have been better prepared…
But go to - not Amazon - but a nice indie online store and get it. Matthias is also host of Queerology, a podcast on belief and being. Give a wave if you listen to Queerology, yeah, excellent. Which was named one of the twelve best LGBTQ+ podcasts of 2020 by none other than the O Oprah Magazine and number one podcast to listen to on National Coming Out Day by radio.com.
Matthias holds two master's degrees, which means he loves to study and probably has lots of student loans. One theology and culture and one in counseling psychology from the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. In his psychotherapy practice Matthias specializes in helping LGBTQ+ teens and adults live confident and fulfilling lives. He writes, and speaks nationwide about the intersections between gender, sexuality, mental health, and theology, no small task.
Matthias and I have been friends for many years now and I am so grateful for the persistence and perseverance he has shown to make these important conversations accessible, practical, hope-filled, relevant, and sometimes just a hell of a lot of fun. So without further ado, would you give a warm Generous Space welcome to Matthias Roberts.
Matthias: Thank you, Wendy! Ah, my goodness. It is so good to be here. Every time that I join you all and the Generous Space community it's just delightful. So I'm thrilled to be here.
During my talk, you may hear my dog in the background, like, she's drinking right now I don't know if y'all can hear that. That's one of the fun things of being at home on zoom, I have a little, little French Bulldog and she loves interrupt. So, you may hear her. You may also hear street noise; I live right outside of busy street but such as forgive that.
So today I'm talking about coping with sexual shame and before we dive in I do want to acknowledge the violence murders and lynching of Black and Brown bodies that's happening here in the US, especially in Minneapolis. And the deeper issues of white supremacy that are at play in the midst of this and stand in solidarity with our siblings who are on the ground right now. I know circumstances here in the US are a little bit different than Canada but we do have a shared legacy of white supremacy. And while it's not enough, certainly not even close to enough to say Black Lives Matter I do want to clearly say Black Lives Matter, and they matter a hell of a lot more than property damage and hurt feelings. And so for those of us who are white I want to encourage us to look closely at our relationship with white supremacy and racism within our own lives, because it's something we're unable to escape.
And so while we're talking about sexual shame today, one of the core things I believe about shame, is that when we work with shame in one place, we work with shame in all places. And one thing, and hear me clearly on this, this is one small part of working with whiteness, but one thing we can do is work with our shame. Shame is often a tool that is used by systems of power, and oppression, to keep people in line with those systems of dominance. So I encourage you as we pivot to talking about sexuality to keep in mind the ways that shame is caught up within our culturalization. And within our racial identities. This looks different depending on our relationships to dominant culture, but the same work at the core is pretty similar. And part of getting free of whiteness and white supremacy, is to get free of our shame, in whatever ways it manifests due to the particularity of our bodies, so that that's kind of a beginning caveat.
Also I'm not looking at the chat, but I would encourage you all to interact with each other on the chat as we talk. If you have questions as they come up, feel free to pop them in there. We're going to do a Q&A time here at the end. So the first thing we're going to do is look at what even is sexual shame. Then we're going to look at three kinds of common coping mechanisms that we use to work with sexual shame. The three of them are shamefulness, shamelessness, and autopilot, and we'll get into those. And then we're going to look briefly at what it means to work with our shame by embracing connection. And I believe one of the first steps to work with sexual shame is to identify the shape our shame takes, and that's kind of the main focus for today. If you've already read my book Beyond Shame a lot of this is going to sound super familiar to you. But I think it's always good to go through this work again and again. Because working with shame is a process, and it's a process that becomes easier when we have names for it. And when we go over it again and again. So, how does that sound? Is everyone kind of on board with that? Okay, I can't see everyone, but great!
21:20 [discussion of mic issues]
Matthias: So, uh, the first, the first thing I remember learning about sex growing up, it comes to me my mom's voice. And it's etched in my memory of prompting and almost automatic response anytime I see a Victoria's Secret ad. That that thing I remember learning is “Cover your eyes!” Cover your eyes, and I don't even like girls, but a kiss on TV, a billboard for a sex shop, the Rockettes, as a little boy I would squeeze my eyes tight, turning my head away, wanting to make sure my mom knew I wasn't looking. Sometimes I'd catch her glancing at my dad, making sure he was looking away too. And he wasn't [looking] so I knew from an early age, that we shouldn't look at such things. Bodies, flesh, nakedness, all of those things were off-limits, dirty. As if even looking at them would somehow make us dirty, two. As if squeezing my eyes tight would delay my inevitable sexual development, and my “purity” would remain intact.
And I'm not sure if my sisters were given the same instructions when shirtless dudes came on TV. I certainly didn't look away, but my parents told them other things. So instead of covering their eyes they had to cover their bodies. They were given instructions on how to cover themselves in order to keep their brothers in Christ from stumbling. As if it were all my sisters’ responsibility. And one of the most recognizable markers of shame is turning away, covering your eyes, turning your face, saying to the world “I don't want you to look at me, and I don't want to look at you.”
So here's a fundamental truth just from the get-go: shame makes us turn away. When we feel its flush we automatically look down, or to the nearest exit or anywhere but towards its source. We seek to cover ourselves and put as much distance as possible between the shame and us, especially if we're in the presence of other people. I was taught to have these same reactions when a woman wearing a swimsuit appeared on a billboard.
So years later, I realized how troubling it was that I was taught to respond to seeing a woman's body in a way that mimics a classic expression of shame. It wasn't a natural response. I remember being confused, and sometimes yelling back at my mom “Why?” It made no sense to me that I shouldn't look at people's bodies, but the aversion of my eyes gradually became involuntary. And by the time I started sneaking off to the men's underwear aisle a shame response was already ingrained in me. I would keep my eyes down on the way there, not even glancing at the bras, imagining that if I were to make eye contact with a woman shopping in the lingerie section that she'd loudly scold just like my mom “Don't look! Cover your eyes!” But when I reach the men's section I slowly bring my eyes up and stare at all the models with curiosity and desire.
And one day when I was around eleven years old, studying the man on a five pack of fruit of the looms boxer briefs, it clicked. This is what other guys feel for women! This is why I wasn't supposed to look at them. These feelings, the beginnings of my conscious sexuality, were emerging. And I knew this is what my parents were trying to teach me how to control. I felt dirty. Doubly so because on the heels of that realization, I recognized I wasn't even feeling the right kind of dirty feelings. Instead of directing my curiosity and longing towards women, as I was supposed to, everything was focused on guys. And so I began to avert my eyes from men's bodies too. But I found that to be much more difficult. I kept sneaking glances returning for a longing look that I'm sure my mom caught a time or two. And it was in those aisles, aisles of T-shirts and boxers that I began to go to war with my body.
With all of the attention that shame has gotten in the past decade, it doesn't take a shame expert to draw connections between sex, sexuality, and shame. We know it deeply in our bodies, even for people who grew up in more sex-positive homes than mine, or who have done incredible amounts of work around their sexuality and sex lives, the connection is hard to escape. Wherever there's sex, there seems to be shame. Sometimes sexual shame is overt. Think for example of people who grew up saving sex for marriage only to be overwhelmed on their wedding night by debilitating shame, preventing all the parts from working right. And sometimes the shame is more subtle.
I had a professor once who described the bedroom as the “Noisiest place in the house.” All of the voices of who we are, who we’re not, the voices of people we've slept with in the past, our parents, the bullies on the playground, the random guy who shouted that one thing on the street the other day, they all try to take up space the moment we hit the bed. Sometimes we're good at ignoring those voices, sometimes we're not.
Sex and shame have been linked to one another in psychological literature since the beginning of psychology. It was one of the first things that Freud wrote about. They're inseparable. And with the profound beauty and goodness of sexual relationships comes the potential for shame to hijack that beauty and goodness, as if it's part of our human nature. Many of us can navigate our sexual shame reasonably well. Our defense mechanisms are sufficient enough to keep shame from being debilitating. We proceed as usual, hardly even noticing it, but our sexuality and sex lives are a microcosm of the rest of our lives, what shows up in our daily lives will show up in the bedroom and vice versa. And wherever shame is unrecognized it’s because we've constructed some barriers to keep ourselves from feeling it.
So, we need to learn how to recognize our shame, and bring it into the light. As that happens, we're able to untangle ourselves from the effects of shame, leading, not only to better sex lives but also to better lives in general.
So, so what do I mean when I say sexual shame. Shame is a buzzword these days thanks to the work researcher and storyteller Brené Brown has done to bring it into the cultural spotlight. My therapy colleagues and I talk about shame a lot. But I noticed that come up in conversations among non-therapists, all over the place when I travel. Just as discussions about shame seem to be everywhere, shame, itself, is everywhere. And Brené Brown makes a distinction between shame and guilt, which I think is a helpful way for us to get to a working definition of shame.
So when we do something we're not proud of the voice of guilt says, “I did something wrong, bad, I'm not proud of.” But the voice of shame says “I am something wrong, bad, I'm not proud of.” Voices of shame are those voices that construe our identities, they tell us stories about who we are as people, who we are at our core. They're the voices that make us want to hide and turn away. They make us want to disconnect from the world, and they scare us into thinking that we're not worthy of connection anyway. They tell us we're too much, and not enough. Often both at the same time, our same voices tap into our fears and the sense of powerlessness they bring. They say, “This is the way things will always be. I'm not strong enough to be able to change this, and I can't stop this from happening.”
Our shaming voices sometimes come from inside us and sometimes from others, they sound a lot like our parents, and they always result in a bodily response that can be subtle, or overt, but shame always involves our entire bodies, making us feel small and powerlessness grasp. This was called a NeuroAffective response, which means it involves our minds, our neurology, our physical bodies, and our emotions which make up our affect. So with that said we can't define shame neatly as a thought process, or a physical feeling, or an emotion, it's all of those things at once. And we're likely to do anything we can to get away from that feeling.
So shame is most easily recognizable when it's allowed overly dramatic voice. But it also shows up in much smaller ways that we don't quickly recognize. It’s present in the shoulds and shouldn'ts in our lives. Those times we drive by a billboard and think “I should look like that.” Or when we suddenly remember the time we said that one thing to that one person and feel the warm flush of “I'm such an idiot.” Shame is everywhere, and it shows up in our lives regularly.
The things we do to avoid the sense of shame are our coping mechanisms, or our best attempts to work with all the complicated emotions and thoughts shame brings up. Sometimes we mistake our coping mechanisms for healthy functioning. And that's when things get tricky, especially when it comes to sexuality, and we're going to talk about that more in a second.
All shame is insidious, but I think that sexual shame holds special significance. Shame targets the very core of who we are and the ways we experience our sexuality or don't experience sexuality, also exists in those core places. This is why sexual shame can feel so debilitating and how it can have such far reaching effects into our lives. So if we're told that the ways we're wired to experience love and connection and belonging are wrong, that belief has an impact on all the most important areas of our lives. If we're taught from an early age that sex is bad then we believe our sexual drives must be bad too. If our sexual drives are bad, and if we find that we can't control them - which we can't - then there must be something fundamentally wrong with us. And shame runs freely in these spaces. We begin to split ourselves off, finding ways to manage both their sexual drives and the shame that comes with experiencing them, and things get incredibly unhealthy quickly. Sexual shame ruins us.
I believe it's important for us to move beyond shame to a healthier, more life-affirming view of sex and sexuality, especially in our faith communities. Sexuality is tied intimately to who we are as people, and it influences almost every aspect of our lives. So if shame can establish a stronghold within our sexuality, it can do a pretty good job of mucking up our lives. Shame thrives in secrecy. And since many faith communities shun discussions of sexuality, except in quiet spaces behind closed doors, sexual shame has been able to grow exponentially in the lives of many people I know.
In our faith communities, more and more people are waking up to the harms of purity culture, and many of us suffer from overwhelming shame around our sex lives or lack of sex lives. We don't know what we're doing, and we feel shame about that. Or we do know what we're doing, and we've been told that because we have sexual experience, no one will love us, and we feel shame about that. We feel shame about the people we're attracted to and when. We feel shame, day-in and day-out, and it seems no one is talking about it, leaving us all alone to try to figure things out. So when, when it comes to dealing with sexual shame I've observed three main ways we attempt to work with it and that's where we're going to turn.
So the first is to let it rule our lives as shamefulness. The second is to completely ignore trying to live in shame-less-ness. And the third is kind of just stumbling along somewhere in the middle on autopilot. Most of us flow among these three response. Like gender and sexual orientation, our same responses are fluid. So I'm going to outline these three coping mechanisms in a little bit more detail. And I will say right now, it's not going to feel like enough information. We aren't able to get into as much detail as I wish we could. It is however enough for you to at least have an idea of kind of where you fit. So you'll probably recognize yourself in each of these coping mechanisms. They're not really responses or mechanisms that are that are meant to like type ourselves because they are fluid. But with that said it is a good idea to keep in mind where you most often find yourself, because we usually kind of sit in one main spot and then kind of move, move between them. So that gives you really good data to work with, as you then move towards combating your shame.
So like I said the first coping mechanism is called shamefulness, and it's what happens when we let our shame take control. When everything we do is permeated by shame. We are shame-full in every sense of the word. Sinfulness is based on the presupposition that there is a “right” context for sexual expression, and a “wrong” context for it, any sexual activity outside of that context, whether defined by marriage, commitment, the gender of the person we desire or other criteria is deemed as bad, or wrong. So when we're taught the right context for sexual expression. At some point, many of us discover that our sexuality, our sexual desire, and our fantasy lives don't fit into such a neat box. We learned that we have to struggle against our desires. If sex outside of the prescribed context is bad. It would seem to follow that our desire to have sex outside of that context also must be bad.
So, now we feel dirty. And we can't shake the feeling that there's something wrong with us for desiring sex outside of the “right” context. And that's the voice of shame, telling us loud and clear: I am dirty and bad because I want something dirty and bad. So internalizing our shame, we work to take every thought captive. We start building elaborate rules, strategies, methods of accountability to eradicate any sexual thought or feeling that falls outside of the proper context. Sometimes the rules, strategies, accountability, all of those things work, but most often they don't we mess up, and that messing up intensifies our shame, leading us to believe that we're even worse than before. We believe we don't have enough self-control, or we're not trying hard enough, we're not good enough. We believe our sexual feelings and thoughts are too much. So we heap new shame on top of our already existing shame we double down on our attempts to control our feelings, establishing more rules and more strategies. This creates a vicious cycle and shame rules. So that's shamefulness.
The second coping mechanism is shamelessness. So, eventually, often, when we're in the shamefulness coping mechanism. Some of us get so fed up with the shame around our sexuality that we're just ready to move on with our lives. So we get up one morning and we say, “You know what, I'm not going to feel shame anymore.” We push it aside, jump into newfound freedom, just like that. This is a coping mechanism of shame-less-ness. So, even if we haven't been able to put our feelings into words we know what shame feels like. Every corner of the boxes we tried to contort ourselves into. At some point, a switch is thrown and we're over it. We're done with the shame, our turn from shamefulness into shamelessness might involve coming out, leaving a toxic church environment, it might happen in a yoga class during corpse pose, however it happens, the result is the same. We decided that instead of shame controlling us, we're going to control it. And we attempt to control it the best way we know how - by casting off all the rules, all the boxes, all the voices telling us how to live our lives. They don't apply to us anymore because there are remnants of our old selves and old-fashioned ways of living.
Some of us tiptoe into that, some of us jump in headfirst. We do all the things we've wanted to do, or maybe have already been secretly doing. And we do them boldly. It's really great at first, but there's often a nagging sense of something in the background. And when we're honest with ourselves, we can admit we don't exactly feel free, we just feel like we're running away. And we’ll all go through and return to periods of shamelessness at points in our lives as with all shame, not just sexual, it's a method of self-correction, overcorrection, a pendulum swing that the kind of “fuck it all I'm going to live my life” attitude is perfectly normal.
However, shamelessness is not really an escape from shame. When we choose shamelessness we insist, we're shameless. But somewhere underneath, there's a nagging sense that if we slow down long enough, or think too hard about what we're doing we'll get sucked back in. And we're worried shame might just be waiting around the next corner to envelop us.
So, shamefulness, shamelessness, they're pretty common coping mechanisms. But what if we've either worked through those, or we were really never in those phases to begin with? What if we're pretty satisfied with our sexuality and sex lives, and only feel shame once in a while? And if this is the case for you then when shame does pop up, occasionally, you may not know what to do with it. And that's what I call autopilot. So sometimes out of the blue lying in bed after sex with a significant other, after hookup, shame pops up and makes us wonder if we're horrible people. We wonder if we're seriously messing up our lives by choosing to express our sexuality in one way or another. Especially if we're expressing our sexuality in ways that are counter to our upbringing, or the dictates of our faith communities. This shame may feel relatively mild or it may cause severe bouts of anxiety. Either way, eventually, most of us are able to shrug it off and move on with our lives until it appears again.
And if that sounds familiar to you, you're likely experiencing that autopilot coping mechanism. And the underlying reality of this mechanism is that we're still not exactly sure what we really believe about sex and sexuality. We may have a rough idea of what our values are. We haven't taken much time to define them, though. And without a clear definition for healthy sex and sexuality, shame can jump in and muck things up, causing us to question our actions and our beliefs. So when we're operating on autopilot we don't actually think much about our sexuality. We just take things as they come, rely on our instincts to get us through the difficult sexual situations.
So in the first two coping mechanisms, we obsessively think about sex in this coping mechanism, we're just kind of living our lives until we find ourselves in a new or challenging sexual situation and we're reminded “Oh yeah, this is something that I was going to try and figure it out.” So those are the three coping mechanisms shamefulness, shamelessness, and autopilot. And if you haven't yet, I'd encourage you to kind of make a mental note of if any of those resonate with you in regards to your own shame. If they do, jot them down. That's good information. Snd before we close and kind of go into Q&A time. I want to share a little bit more about how we then work with and overcome our sexual shame. There's a ton more in my book about this, I go into each of these coping mechanisms in a lot more detail in the book as well.
But I want to tell you a little story. And this is the same little story that my mom tells me was my favorite as a toddler. The Little Engine That Could. My mom tells me that before bed I would run up to her holding out the book whispering “I t’ink I can, I t’ink I can, I t’ink I can!” The book’s a classic.
It's a story of a little train engine that has a long string of heavy cars to carry. She travels along moving forward with some exertion but relative ease until she comes to a great big hill, and the train looks up at the hill with trepidation but decides to try to scale it by herself. She chugs and chugs. But no matter how hard the little engine tries the weight is too hard, too heavy. She can't get up the track. So she starts to look for help. She asked a couple of larger engines to help her carry the load but each of them declines her offer with excuses like, “I've already been cleaned and I don't want to get dirty helping you”, and “I'm too important to help little engines”, and “I'm too tired.” And she begins to get discouraged.
But just when she's about to lose all hope of climbing them out and she sees another little engine that looks just like her. “Will you help me?” the little engine asks, and they look at her load together somewhat skeptically and the other little engine says, “Well, I can try.” The engines link together, begin their trek up the hill chanting to themselves “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can” they strain and pull chanting all the way “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” Slowly but surely they work their way up the hill, and they make it, together.
And that little picture book ends with a two engine saying goodbye, and the little engine continuing on her way now whispering, “I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could.” all the way into the distance. And I imagine that load felt a little bit lighter.
And when it comes to sexual shame and shame in general, I think we're like that little engine. We plug along, doing the best that we can, carrying heavy weight with us. But eventually we come across a hill, and that shame feels insurmountable. We try to find different ways of climbing the hill or coping mechanisms. Some of us, hide from the hill, avoid the hill or try to find ways around the hill. Others of us may try to muscle up the hill, ignore it, or pretend everything's fine, all the while yelling breathlessly “What Hill?? You're the one trying to climb a hill, not me! No hill here!” Others of us try to climb the hill occasionally, but find that we're actually pretty content just camping on the base, promising we'll deal with it eventually, forgetting it in the meantime.
And none of these approaches actually get us up the hill. Instead we're left with our huge weight, looking around and trying to figure out how in the world we're going to make it. So we talked about fighting shame. Getting rid of it. Working with ourselves to lighten the weight, and in some ways that works. We can let go a couple of cars, alleviating the burden a little bit. But still, no matter how hard we work, the weight doesn't disappear, we still can't get up the hill.
And when I was working on Beyond Shame, the book, I spent some time describing it to a colleague at the grad school where I helped teach. And I told her that I'm exploring how we fight sexual shame so we can embrace healthy sexuality. And this big, kind of knowing smile came over her face and she's someone who holds a lot of wisdom and I just knew she was going to say something profound. And she said, “No, no, no, we don't fight shame. We embrace it.” And when I heard that I thought, like, I felt my whole body kind of settle and I thought “Of course, that's it! That's what I've been trying to say all along but I didn't know it.”
So we can spend our lives fighting our shame. But ultimately, fighting the reality of our shame is like the little engine trying to fight the hill. It's not going to work. The hill doesn't magically go away and no matter how hard we try to fight it. The only way that little engine was able to get over her hill was to embrace it with someone.
And this may be the ultimate paradox, to get beyond shame, we have to embrace our shame. And embracing our shame can empower us if we see the connections and offers to other people, and to ourselves. This is a paradox we know well because it shows up throughout our lives. The only way out is through. The little engine can do all the work she wants to before climbing the hill. She can look at maps, she can read about it, she can research the hell out of it, but eventually she's gonna have to face the hill.
So, the very beginning of this talk. One of the ways that I described shame was the “fear of disconnection”. The voices both inside and outside of us that convince us we're not really worthy of connection because of who we are, or what we've done. Shame is anything that attempts to convince us that we're disqualified from connection, whether internal connection -for example, integrating parts of ourselves - or connection with other people, or even connection with God. Because of how closely tied our sexuality is to our personhood, sexuality is a place in our lives where we feel shame, most acutely, or at least more acutely. And it's a place where some of the most shaming messages occur.
The little engine faced a lot of those shaming messages from the other engines that looked like they had everything figured out. The big, smart, important engines refused to help the little engine. Instead they cut her down. “Who do you think that you are? Can't you see we're busy being important? Get with the program.” These engines remind me of those who only heat more burdens upon those of us who are searching for ways to manage and deal with our sexual shame, instead of helping us pick up the load and get up the hill, they leave us stranded thinking that we’re the bad ones. Their messages are ineffective and only served to make things worse.
So do you see where I'm going with this? The little engine found another little engine, just like her, who is willing to face the challenge alongside her. And even though it took a whole lot of work, they scaled the hill together. And that's the key here. If shame is the fear of disconnection, the way we work with our own shame, and the way that we embrace shame is by embracing connection.
And that's where we want to leave it, I know that doesn't give like a simple three-step answer on how to work with sexual shame it really even doesn't feel the most practical. But, embracing connection, embracing other people, and finding those other people who are like us, and come alongside us and face our sharing with us really is the path forward. Like I said, I go into more detail in the book and we can talk about that in the Q&A. And I hope it does kind of spark your imagination of what embracing connection and, in turn, embracing shame might look like. So, with that said, I'll turn it over to Q&A.
Wendy: Thank you so much, Matthias. And again, if you have not purchased his book, I got it while you were speaking please go and get a copy where Matthias has really given us an appetizer tonight and the book takes us much further and deeper. Some questions are coming in Matthias and as you can imagine, people are grappling with this idea of embracing our shame. And I wonder if you can give a really practical example of what that looked like for someone. So you spoke about connection, is it connecting sexually? Is it connecting emotionally? Some of us have horror memories of the accountability partner phase and how that just heaped more shame on us. So, can you give us some really concrete examples of what that connection would look like?
Matthias: Yeah. So, I mean, it can take a lot of different shapes. One of the things I argue in the book is that that in our sex lives if we're with people who make us feel at least relatively safe, relatively secure, this is work that we can do really profoundly in our sex lives, or with our own selves in our fantasy lives, in our masturbation lives. We can work with different parts of ourselves. But it doesn't, it's not just exclusive to sex and sexuality connection, anywhere, whether that be friendships, or with a therapist or I mean there's there's a wide variety of different things. The main thing is that we're interacting with our shame with other people. Because it's not just work that we can do independently as kind of little silos in the world.
One way, like, a really practical way that I've found for myself as like a self-practice that I can do by myself, is a practice of self-compassion. And that, it’s simply a noticing, putting into shame language specifically, noticing when I'm feeling ashamed. And then simply acknowledging I'm feeling a lot of shame right now. So instead of trying to fight the shame and say, talk ourselves up and kind of, you know, say “No no no I'm great!” or “I shouldn't feel shame about that” or… whatever it's just is naming the reality. “I'm feeling a lot of shame right now”, and then kind of tying that together with, with the reality that shame is a common human experience. It's normal to feel shame or ton of other people experiencing shame, probably about this exact same thing in this exact moment. And then, offering care and kindness to myself in ways that, that I may need it so that'll look a little bit more specific to whatever your shame is about, but thinking of ways, “what can I do right now, that would feel caring and kind for myself, because I'm feeling shame?” And those kind of three steps, naming it normalizing it, and then offering care is really powerful tool.
Wendy: Thank you, that's helpful.
Other questions. Question does sexual shame sometimes shut down one sex drive, and if so, how do we avoid shaming ace/aro [asexual/aromantic] folks. If we're typically sexual, people with a typical experience of sex?
Matthias: Yeah. So, I mean, that's where things are getting complicated right because the answer is “yes shame can shut down or our sex lives.” And, and, I mean, this would open a whole other door but simply to name it, trauma can shut down our sex lives. It would be wrong to assume though that someone who is ace or aro is a victim of trauma or just has a lot of shame around their sexuality, like, that's not true, like, what we're talking about are two very different things here. And, of course, there can always be overlap like we're on spectrums with all of these things. But a question of how: do we avoid shaming our ace and arrow siblings? It’s this realization of, they're very different things. And I would say to take the responsibility on ourselves to educate ourselves about that. There's so many resources out there. Just a couple clicks away on kind of the realities and the differences and the research that's being done in those arenas. Yeah.
Wendy: Thank you.
In the coping mechanism/autopilot you spoke about, sometimes people are unsure of their values or their boundaries around sex and sex behavior for themselves. The question was then: if one does have a very clear boundary, and that sex should be it within marriage is that inherently shameful nor shame inducing?
Matthias: No, I think… So one of my core convictions and there are tons of people who disagree with me on this but is that sexual ethics look very different for different people, and they can and should look different for different people based on our particularity. So if you decided for yourself, and you feel really firmly in this boundary that “I only want to have sex within marriage”, um, that means you're operating out of a place of groundedness. And when we can kind of sit in that space of groundedness, where we've done the work to work with our shame, it's not inherently shaming. So then it's a question of, then not shaming other people if they're operating from different ground. And finding other people who can work within our own boundaries. And that can take a massive amount of work, but then sometimes it's easy. Like, all of those things are true, so
Wendy: Thank you. Thank you.
Well, and in light of the fact that we might even embrace similar values but interpret and apply those values in different ways. This question came in about thoughts you have about eroticizing sizing shape as part of kink or BDSM roleplay as a way to work through sexual shame. so eroticizing sizing that shame, as a positive mechanism through play to try to kind of get ahead of that shame.
Matthias: That is interesting! And to be honest, I've, I've actually never thought about this idea of the eroticizing shame. So I think that's something I need to think further about to be able to give like a good answer on that.
I do think in kink and BDSM, these are things that that we can use. I mean, getting to that kind of point we can use to work with our shame as we can with kind of all of our sexual practices. If that's something that we're having clear boundaries around, like, kind of all consent and all those things are in there and if your partner enjoys that and finds it pleasurable and like, I mean, the normal list of there but I think especially kink, especially BDSM, can give us really unique insights to what our shame is. A lot of really interesting data can be found in that so that we can then talk about it and work with it with our partners. So I think there's a lot of opportunities within there. As far as eroticized shame, I'm not sure. It's an interesting idea.
Wendy: I wonder what you would say to a client who grew up in a very strong courtship model of understanding dating as very much the pathway to marriage, and with some pretty strict restrictions and trying to move to a more liberative sense that dating can be fun and exploratory and I can learn about myself and my body and what I might like. That transition can be a really challenging one, can you give some insights on that?
Matthias: Yeah, so that's the world I grew up into the courtship world. I was homeschooled and very much in that kind of I kissed dating Goodbye, only courting, my parents believed dating was wrong. And so I can, I can speak from my own experience of, it's simply taking a very long time. It's something that I'm still working through, and that's some of the reason why I even kind of wrote this book was because I wanted to work through some of my own stuff with it.
I think kind of the core thing I have learned and what I work with clients on with this is, is that how do we let ourselves be in the process, exactly where we are right now, and give ourselves a deep well of kindness in that, and not expect ourselves to be further along the path than where we are. Because we can only start where we are currently. And the speed at which we navigate that path is very personal.
So when we're working with that, the more we're able to just kind of accept “this is where I am right now.” In some ways that opens up the space to be able to do that work, to be radically honest with ourselves. So, that's at least the first step. And then that kindness and that ability to… If something doesn't feel good or feels wrong or we feel our shame kind of overcoming ourselves, learning to trust ourselves in that process, and moving slowly, if that makes sense.
Wendy: Thank you.
Can you talk a bit about the intersection of shame and fear. How do they affect each other and how do we get over fear? Does one underlie the other… what kind of weird dance are fear and shame tangoing to?
Matthias: Yeah. So, so they interact in very similar parts of our brains.
And they share, they share similar things. I mean fear, there's the kind of fight, flight, or freeze response. The flight response is really similar to shame although we can kind of have any of those, those mechanisms within our shame. As far as how they interact… Fear makes me start wondering around stories in our lives. Shame does this too, but stories in our lives of where that fear is coming from. And oftentimes, what we're scared of is things that we've already experienced. And that can be as abstract as concrete as you want to make it. But to work with fear we really have to start doing work around, what is this fear of? And where did I come to kind of learn that fear? And then, it really looks quite similar to working with our shame. And then learning practices and, again, the kindness to ourselves of working with our fear and stress hormones, cortisol, adrenaline, all of those things, to bring us back down to baseline levels.