Sexuality Abuse - the legacy of shame based culture

By Robert Burney




"We live in a society where sex is somehow shameful and should not be talked about - but we use sex to sell cars. That is backwards. Human sexuality is a blessed gift to be honored and celebrated not twisted and distorted into something demeaning and shameful."

"Our creator did not give us sensual and sexual sensations that feel so wonderful just to set us up to fail some perverted, sadistic life test. Any concept of god that includes the belief that the flesh and the Spirit cannot be integrated, that we will be punished for honoring our powerful human desires and needs, is - in my belief - a sadly twisted, distorted, and false concept that is reversed to the Truth of a Loving God-Force."

Quotes from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls



Sexuality abuse is a term that I came up with in my own codependency recovery. I have never heard or read of anyone else using this term. It is very accurately descriptive however of something that I have been working on healing in my recovery - and a form of wounding that I believe many others have suffered.

Sexuality abuse for me refers to any messages I got, or emotional trauma I suffered, in childhood which damaged my relationship with my own sexuality. Those message were both direct - from sources which outright taught me that sexuality was shameful and sinful - and indirect, from the role modeling of sexually repressed adults in my life. Those messages were compounded by the twisted, distorted relationship that American culture has with sexuality because of it's Puritan heritage.

The sinful, shameful direct messages came from the Catholic Church in it's general teachings, and specifically from nuns and priests that I encountered in 7 years of education in Catholic schools. I still have a distinct memory - one of those snapshots from the past that endure through the years because of the emotional content attached to them - of Sister Alberta when I was in the eighth grade. She told our class, that if we kissed for longer than 60 seconds, or if our bodies touched at all while kissing, it was mortally sinful. Mortal sins were the big ones, the death penalty felony of sins - the ones that, if one mortal sin stained your soul at death, you were consigned straight to hell to burn in everlasting damnation.

Any religion that teaches children that God loves them but may send them to burn in hell forever is Spiritually and emotionally abusive in my belief. And as the quote above from my book states, I believe that any concept of god that teaches that the Spirit and the flesh cannot be integrated is abusive and shaming - and does have an impact on anyone raised in such a religion in terms of their relationship with their own bodies and sexuality.

The Catholic Church in my experience is the champion of sexuality abuse however, because it was not necessary to actually do anything to commit a mortal sin - thinking about sex was enough to condemn one to hell. For a teenage boy to never think about sex is impossible - but I was so brainwashed that I did not even masturbate as a teenager. Now that is unnatural and abnormal. It was very sad to me to realize in recovery how much impact the words of codependents as emotionally crippled, sexually repressed, and shame based as Sister Alberta had on me growing up.

That the puritan heritage of the United States has had such an impact on our society is kind of mind boggling. Attitudes towards sexuality in most of Western Civilization are much less shamed based than American attitudes. Even as sexually repressed as English culture still seems to be in many ways, it seems to have more freedom from it's Puritan past than the US. On a visit to England in the mid-seventies, I was pleasantly shocked to see nudity on television - but very little violence. American culture has glorified violence while maintaining a very conflicted and twisted relationship to sex - using it blatantly to sell cars (and almost everything else we market) as I say in my book, but still maintaining a Puritanical sense of shame in relationship to sexuality. Many of the politicians and ministers who strive to uphold the Puritan ethic in public are often caught acting a very different way in private - a great example of the hypocrisy and dishonesty inherent in a codependent society.

I grew up with parents who were sexually repressed and shame based in a society where Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore were a married couple that were not allowed to sleep in the same bed on television. My parents gave me a book to explain the birds and bees - and said if I needed to talk about it to feel free to ask, at the same time their attitude and behavior very directly communicated that they were terrified of me asking. I had to look up a lot of the words from the book in the dictionary, and still would have been clueless had not my older cousin filled me in with a graphic description of what sex involved. I was horrified and started making plans to become a priest.

The role modeling of sexually repressed parents had an impact on most of the people of my generation. Many of us as a result swung to the other extreme in the sex, drugs, and rock and roll days of the sixties and seventies. Many of the children who grew up in the generations following us "baby boomers" had role models who expressed their sexuality in ways that were unhealthy and out of balance to the other extreme. Many of today's children are being subjected to knowledge of, and images of, sexuality that is out of balance to the other extreme - and I believe can also be classified as sexuality abuse.

Another major aspect of my wounding, that impacted my relationship with my sexuality and gender, was emotional incest. I am going to need to wait until next month to address that topic however.

I want to include in this month article - because I am on the topic of cultural role models and beliefs that can contribute to sexuality abuse - something I wrote in an article 6 or 7 years ago. It is an article about fathers, and how being raised by fathers who were emotionally crippled by dysfunctional societal beliefs has impacted us all. In that article, I wrote about a way that I believe many women in society have been wounded in a manner that I would describe as being - at least in part - sexuality abuse. A form of wounding that I have never seen addressed anywhere else. I am going to conclude this month's article with an excerpt from the Fathers article in which I talk about this particular type of wounding.

"There is an additional way in which women are wounded by their fathers that I have never heard, or read, anyone talk about. It is a devastating blow that many daughters suffer on a subconscious level. It comes at a very vulnerable time and contributes more evidence to the message that there is something wrong/less than about being a woman that most girls have already received in ample supply from society and the role modeling of their mothers.

This happens when girls start developing a female body. Their fathers, being males of the species, are naturally attracted to the awakening feminine sexuality of their daughters. Some fathers of course, act this out in incestuous ways. The majority of fathers however react to this attraction (which in shame-based western civilization is not acknowledged as normal but rather is so shameful that it is seldom even brought to a conscious level of awareness) by withdrawing from their daughters, emotionally and physically. The unspoken, subconscious message that the girl/woman gets is "when I turned into a woman Dad stopped loving me." Daddy's little princess is suddenly given the cold shoulder, and often is the recipient of angry (sometimes jealous) behavior from her father - who up until that time, often, has been much more emotionally available for his daughter than for his wife or sons.

In a healthy environment an emotionally honest father could recognize that his reaction was human - not something to be ashamed of - and also, not something to act out. He could then communicate with, and have healthy boundaries with, his daughter so that she would know she wasn't being abandoned by her Dad." - Wounded Parents - the tragic legacy of dysfunctional families.