I am twelve years old.
I want to be a good person. I want to be kind and to do something, anything, to save the animals from human selfishness, greed and violence. I want to be loved. I want to have fun. I want to find God and feel loved by Him.
One day my brother brought something back from the dump. It was a place he used to go and play with his friend. There was no rubbish collection in those days in Italy, and all the rubbish would be taken to certain places in the woods and burned. It would smell of burning plastic, there would be lots of blackened tin foil, and a surprising number of comics and magazines with the edges burned. I never really liked those places, but the boys seemed to find all kinds of treasures.
Anyway, one day he came home with a pornographic comic. The image I remember most vividly was of a woman with huge breasts, a tiny waist and big hips on all fours baring her arse to a long line of sailors who had just come off a boat. They all had big erections and were waiting their turn to penetrate her. I looked at this image for a long time. I was horrified and fascinated. I wanted to be sick, and I wanted to keep looking at it. I felt guilty and I felt the stirrings of something in me I didn’t understand, a kind of weird hunger. I felt afraid, and I also wanted to be the woman being raped by all those men. And I couldn’t believe I could want that. She looked like she was fine with it, enjoying it. I knew it was sick; I knew it was wrong; but I couldn’t stop looking. Then I turned the pages and looked at image after image of graphic sex happening. I felt haunted by those images, in fact sometimes I still feel haunted by them. Why did I want to keep looking? What perversion made me feel so drawn to something so dark, scary and unspeakable? Then I felt the shame, and a disgust at myself for looking, for wanting it, for feeling so magnetically pulled, and so strangely aroused.
There was nowhere I could speak about this, or make any kind of sense of it. And over the years I hear this story over and over. Of girls finding their fathers/uncles/brothers’ hidden porn stashes; of the fascination, the arousal, the confusion, the self disgust. And the silence. Something gets sealed off into a pocket of the psyche, like a kind of tumor in its own special container which quietly grows unseen in the body. It grows because it has to be secret. It grows because it is wrong. It grows because there is no way to digest the information. And it grows because, as much as I am fascinated by it, I also do not want to know. And like a monster under the bed, it gets bigger the more I run away from it.
But in this delicate phase of my development as a girl, soon to be young woman, I took on the message, in graphic detail, that it is good to be fucked by a line of sailors who cannot and don’t particularly want to even see my face. My first memory of sexual arousal, happened like this.
I often work with women and sometimes men, who have been sexually abused, once or twice or continuously in their childhood by fathers/uncles/brothers or trusted adults. I have friends and family who were raped. In fact there are few people I have spoken to about this who have not suffered some kind of sexual trauma.
It takes so much to recover some kind of true dignity, self respect and a genuine love of what an alive, unrestricted sexual expression can be, when such horrors have happened. And yet even without being actually physically abused, there are the comics, the magazines, and now the endless on-line availability of pornography ‘educating’ us on what sex is about.
I ask myself, what is needed?
Perhaps the first step is to start having the conversation. To have spaces and places where we can talk about all of this in a safe way.
Where we can take the shame out of the shadows and understand it. And stop internalizing it. And know that it is normal to have conflicting feelings. Including that it is ok that I can be turned on by what horrifies me. It does not make me bad; and it does not mean I want the abuse or the horror or the objectification.
It is ok that, imprinted with what has been so twisted, there are aspects of my psychology which feed on the distortions. I need to come out of the shadows and – if it is true – own up to my hidden sealed off secrets in such a way as to reclaim what is sacred and true and inviolable. I have felt the victim, but I have also experienced the energy of the abuser in myself– not that I have acted this out in any overt way, but I have felt it, and know that what I see ‘out there’, exists also in here.
And yet I only can have the courage to do this if I am in a space where others too are willing to come out of hiding. And, as importantly, if I know that who I am is way bigger than the strange twists and turns of a psyche which has been formed in a prevailing culture which has not yet found its true nature. And which is terrified and fascinated by the power of the sexual drive and has no way to harness it healthily…
I am lucky. I have a man who I feel increasingly safe with, loved by, and attracted to, who I can explore with.
I haven’t always, at all times, felt safe with him, or loved by him, (Just as he hasn’t always felt safe with, or loved by me). These have grown over 2 decades of exploration, honesty, openings and closures. And facing a lot of demons, especially sexual demons. And just as I think I have become simple and happy and alive in my sexual expression, I hit the next hurdle. I find myself ashamed again. And complicated about wanting sex, or not wanting sex. It takes me and us into the next chapter, it takes us to another level of honesty, and vulnerability and aliveness.
I feel blessed in this possibility. And my heart aches in considering our general state of sexual health. I think we need to start again from scratch. I am sometimes asked why I don’t address this more directly in my teaching work and I realize that I feel daunted by the enormity and complexity and strength of feeling in it all. And I am interested in daring to step through the door. Now, I think it might be time. The subject is knocking…
Distortions which have run like fault lines beneath the surface, running all kinds of behaviors and yet hidden from view and played out in bedrooms, offices, shops, schoolrooms and churches all over the place, are coming to the surface. It is all coming out – it is everywhere. Stories of sexual abuse, presidents speaking about pussy grabbing, celebrities being shown up as rapists and child molesters, children sold as sex slaves, politicians using their power to abuse and silence their victims, priests convicted of pedophilia … None of it is new, I don’t believe it is necessarily more than ever, but it is out there. Visible. People are talking. And the movement towards change is also out there. We have no definitive maps for the sexual healing of our world. What is obvious to me is that we need to get beyond shaming and blaming, and start to recognize that there are deep wounds running through the culture and the perpetrators are as lost as the victims.
There is something so sublime, beautiful, alive, life affirming, vital and powerful which is locked up here longing to come through and to flower in every one of us, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. I feel it in my own miraculous body, and I see it in others.
As I write I am remembering being with my father, aged 19, after his girlfriend of 4 years had just left him. She had flown out with me to Malaga where he was living and working at the time on a big commission. How I remember it, is that we got off the airplane, met Dad, she took him to one side and announced she was leaving, and then left me there with him to pick up the pieces, while she promptly flew back to England. He cried a lot and talked a lot as we went from bar to bar through the evening and night . He was in serious shock. I was shocked too, specially because I loved my step-mother very much. But I also loved the intimacy of sharing such a time with him, and I felt honored to be included in his love, grief, regrets and emotional outpourings. At a certain point we sat down on a park bench – it must have been about 2 in the morning and he was pretty drunk. He put his head in my lap and between sobs said, “Darling, don’t you think sex is the most important thing in the whole world?”. I had no idea how to respond. I remembered feeling rather amazed and not agreeing at all but not daring to contradict him, and presuming he must know a lot that I didn’t yet know, maybe never would know. My experience up until then – and I had a fair bit for my age – was that sex was overrated and often downright dangerous.
Now as I write this, I wonder if he was more right than I have ever presumed. If it weren’t that important we wouldn’t be so messed up about it, we wouldn’t be obsessed by it, we wouldn’t be searching for it, we wouldn’t need to repress our urges or act them out. We wouldn’t long for satisfaction and fulfillment through it, or use it as a weapon of hate and control. We wouldn’t be so fuelled by it or in denial of it.
I don’t have anything definitive to say about this here, but I am personally interested in opening the conversation from a place where the love and respect for my own sexual nature – which is increasingly more available to me – can open a more honest, tender and alive dialogue with others.