The Black Despair of Sexual Shame

Louisa Leontiades Sexual Shame, Vile Depths

My body, my rules. It sounds so simple in theory and yet there’s s a lot of ethical gloop to wade through when you apply it in practice. Abortion? My body, my rules. Euthanasia? My body, my rules. Promiscuity? My body, my rules.

Each of the issues when teased apart is more complex than my body, my rules. When does a baby own their body? Will people choose to end their life instead of striving to solve their issues? At what point might it be too many partners for your health? For your sanity?

I have two partners with whom I’m very happy, or at least I was until my boyfriends delighted in shocking a newfound, and very British acquaintance’s sensibilities.

‘What? You mean you’ve shared a vagina?’

‘One time,’ said one boyfriend winking, ‘there were only few hours in between.’

Chortle chortle. When I heard about their discussion, I recoiled in disgust. Yet in one way, I was vindictively proud of him for bull-dozing through the sex-negativity that has dogged me. In another, I felt the claws from my teenage years drag me back into deep personal shame to that year at boarding school–following a liaison with the music master’s son–when my nickname had been Skippy. Not as in the Australian kangaroo, but as in ‘How is Louisa’s vagina like a skip? You can put any rubbish in there!’ That was the year I walked alone, that I suffered ridicule, ostracisation and emotional abuse from my classmates. That year I cried night after night. That year I found solace from my humiliation in illicit Diamond White cider which fast became a habit. Kids are cruel. It was lost on me that if I was a skip, then they must have been the rubbish.

So it is that at the age of forty, I’m caught again in the sex-negative shame cycle of my teenage years and can’t quite believe it. I thought I was done with that pain. But as my past promiscuity has intrinsically been tied with my social exclusion, rejection and abandonment, by those kids, by my mother, by society, the formative waters run deep. Objectification and reduction of all that I am, to my skip of a vagina with a Mary Poppins like carpet-bag capacity. By people I love and trust. By people I want to love and trust me.

As an adult, I have become curious about sex, experimental and fun loving. I educate my children to embrace their genitals whilst also teaching privacy. I support the expression of sexuality however it comes, with no partners, one partner or many. Whatever consensually does it for you. But the adult in me clearly has not been able to heal the confused identity-less teenage girl. Few understand the demons from my past. Few understand that my body holds wounds so tenuously mended that two lines of conversation can throw me into anxious nightmares of the a life riddled with the blame, shame and guilt I’d prefer to forget.

It had been a joke to my boyfriend, an anecdote from a fun evening out. They even have an expression for it in locker-room Swedish–‘gut-brothers’–for those men who’ve shared a vagina. But when he saw the expression on my face, he got an inkling that something, somewhere was very, very wrong.

‘Discussion of what goes on in my vagina is off-limits,’ I said as tears sprung to my eyes.

‘But what else would they expect from polyamory?’ he answered blushing. And I found I could give no other answer than,

‘Those are my boundaries. Please respect them.’

I never have to search for personal growth, the opportunities just come flooding by. But sexual shame is something that I’ve worked on so much that I’m tired of it. Exasperated by my own sensitivity. Surely there are more important things to think about. And yet right now, I can’t think about anything else. Boundaries I didn’t even know I had were crossed and left me reeling, utterly vulnerable and humiliated, listening to Red Hot Chili Peppers’ on repeat and drinking white cider to escape the shame.