I won’t go into detail here about what exactly happened to me last weekend. I don’t want to make the person involved feel bad, should that person come across this blog post. But the long and short of it is that I was shown, in very blatant terms, a manifestation of extreme sexual shame on a human being.
A conversation started with the other person claiming to just be “not interested” in reading or thinking about sexual topics, who considered sexual matters to be “private” and therefore best kept quiet, but the conversation eventually came around to a point at which that person admitted to feeling “physically ill” when confronted with graphic sexual imagery and to having nightmares when they think about that kind of material.
This person then told me that they would rather not think about any of it than deal with it. They would rather never read any of my reviews of porn movies or my reporting on the porn industry or my musings on sex and feminism or any of it, than confront their discomfort with sex.
I told this person that if they were talking about any topic besides sex, I felt certain anybody would encourage them to seek therapy. But because it’s programmed into us to feel shame and fear and revulsion about one of the most universal parts of human existence, and also the most pleasurable and intimate, I might be the only one to say out loud, “That sounds unhealthy.”
This person said back to me, “Well, I think what you do sounds unhealthy.”
I haven’t cried about this, though I’ve wanted to. I like to think that maybe this conversation was, in some small way, eye opening for this person, rather than traumatic. I don’t want to hurt anyone or make them uncomfortable, but it’s my fervent belief that being made to feel a bit uncomfortable and confronted by something they’ve avoided–especially sex–can lead to a healthier, happier life that’s less shrouded in fear, ignorance, repression, and shame. I think this is massively important.
Not just because I’m particularly interested in sex. Not because I’m a pervert. (Though maybe I am–so what?) But because it’s in darkness that someone’s socially-prescribed shame grows into terror. It’s hidden in the shadows that simple discomfort with a private subject morphs into revulsion. In silence, a desire for privacy grows fangs and claws, and emerges, eventually, a monster so hideous it can make one hate oneself, one’s body, one’s sex. It’s in the vast, repressed breeding grounds of shame that ignorance festers and becomes violence, and where violence broods back into shame. Where abuse and assault become the victim’s fault because the victim is so accustomed to the silence that speaking out feels like a crime. Where the body becomes suspect and pleasure a sin. It’s where depictions of sexuality become criminal, where sex workers become deserving of scorn, where sex itself is suspect, perverse, “unhealthy.”
It’s exactly because people live their lives blithely ignoring the festering, drooling monster in the corner that I write the things I do. It’s because I believe that having an insidious beast living inside your heart isn’t the best way to go about your life. It’s because I want our world to be happier and healthier for everyone. It’s because sex unites us and could bring us joy, if we’d just let it.
I feel sick when I think about the conversation I had last weekend. I don’t know how to proceed with this person. I want to check in, to ask if they’ve thought about that therapy I mentioned. I want to be gentle and kind. But to someone for whom the subject of displayed sexuality is horrifying to the point of nausea, how can one be gentle? What is my responsibility to this person? To let them live in peace, leave it well enough alone while the monster in their brain grins maliciously from the shadows? Or to bring them illness, force their discomfort, make a stink?
I don’t know. I don’t know how to help. And though I’m proud of what I do, I feel kind of like the monster.