Shame & Sex

I saw this video today posted on Facebook and I really liked it, so I wanted to share it. But I also had something to say about it and my comment ended up being longer and more rambly than a FB comment should be (IMO), so I decided to make my own post about it.

In the video, Alyssa posits that the reason why people shame others for sex is because they’re afraid that, if we give those people permission to do those things they like, then those people will try to do those things with us, and if we don’t like those things that’s a scary thought.

I don’t disagree with her. I just think she was … incomplete.

I think that at least one reason, if not a main reason, why people shame others for sex is less about fear of those others, and more about fear of ourselves.

I think that a lot of people believe that the way to control scary things is by boxing them up and putting them away in the attic, never to see the light of day (I know a lot of rationalists who think this is the way to deal with emotions). I think that a lot of people believe that, by exploring something scary, they may find the scariest thing of all, and that is that there is no end; that once you start down that road, not only can you never go back, but you can’t ever stop either; that you necessarily must keep exploring and exploring and exploring until you HAVE TO explore previously-thought hard limits like bestiality and child molestation and rape and murder because, once you throw out the rules preventing you from doing things, what’s to stop you from doing anything?

Except that people in general don’t typically refrain from doing things because they are told not to. They typically refrain from doing things because they have an internal sense that they shouldn’t do them. This is a very complex sense, though, which can be (and is) influenced by the culture around us, and not everyone has the exact same sense of right and wrong. In a lot of ways, we really do need some kind of external set of guidelines telling us how to get along with each other.

But in a lot of ways, that set of guidelines is born out of our collective internal sense in the first place.

Although sex does create and encourage a lot of the same chemical reactions in our brains as drugs do, contrary to pop-psych, sex is not the same as addictive drugs. People can, and do, stop wherever they want to. But the ones who are the most successful at stopping where they choose to stop are the ones who allow themselves to explore and who live by Francis Bacon’s statement (whether they know of it or not) that “your true self can be known only by systematic experimentation, and controlled only by being known.”

The more we know of ourselves, the better control we have over ourselves, and we can only know ourselves by experimentation and self-exploration. Ironically, those of us who explore the most fearlessly are the ones who tend to exhibit better control, while the ones who are most desperate for control are the ones who lack it because they don’t tend to explore themselves.

People who know themselves, and therefore have control of themselves, don’t get caught with “luggage boys” after enacting legislation against gay rights. People who know themselves, and therefore have control of themselves, don’t get put under arrest for the very law they created against gay sex with strangers in public restrooms. People who know themselves, and therefore have control of themselves, don’t tend to get caught using tax dollars to pay for prostitutes out of the same funds that put them in office on an anti-prostitution ticket.  People who know themselves, and therefore have control of themselves, can consciously and deliberately arrange their lives to enjoy those desires they have in a manner that includes “safe, sane, and consensual”.

So I think Alyssa here didn’t address all, or even the most prominent reasons for shaming others. I think one of those reasons is that people fear themselves. She makes the distinction between shame (something that people to do you by telling you that you’re a bad person) and guilt (something that you do to yourself by feeling bad for a harmful act). I think that a lot of people feel the need to shame others because they feel guilty themselves – they feel afraid of the unknown and/or guilty for things they’ve done or want to do because other people have shamed them.

I think shame is a self-perpetuating cycle. We shame others because we have internalized the shame that other people have made us and others to feel. If we grow up in a society that says gay sex is bad, then we jump on that bandwagon and shame people for gay sex to avoid being shamed, thereby promoting that message to the next person who has to also jump on the bandwagon and shame people for gay sex, because to not do so would be to draw shame upon them.

And I think the reason why a lot of people shame others is because they are afraid of themselves, and of what they do not know about themselves. When someone tells me that they wouldn’t explore some avenue of kink because “how would you ever stop?”, that frightens me. That tells me that they don’t have any internal sense that lets them see the difference between spanking a lover because he likes it and murdering someone. That tells me that they don’t have any internal sense to show them the line between enjoying a sensation and self-harm. And since many of these people are the ones most vocal and most adamant about instilling external rules to help us all behave, this frightens me to no end because these people with no control are in charge.

I am not afraid of myself or my desires. I know what I am capable of, I know what I like, and I know how to stop. I am afraid of other people – afraid they will want to do those things to me, and by those things, I mean lock me up and prevent me from being myself because they are afraid of themselves. If anyone should be ashamed, it’s them.

But I like the overall message of this video & I think you should watch it.

About Joreth

polyamorous atheist skeptic activist
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