FROM THE FUCKBUCKET: “Have you given up on guilt?”
Have you given up on guilt? If so, when did you do that? If not, why not?
First, letâ€™s clarify: guilt is not the same thing as shame. Guilt is when I feel bad about my actions affecting someone else, and shame is when I feel bad about something that Iâ€™ve done, whether my actions have affected anyone else or not.
Both guilt and shame can easily be misplaced or learned: I can feel guilty if I think that my actions are harming or inconveniencing someone else, even if in actual fact they arenâ€™t (see guilt trip). I can also feel shame about something that is not actually worth feeling shame about.
So, returning to the question: I pay attention to when Iâ€™m feeling guilty, that is, if I feel like I’ve done something wrong to someone else, but I also keep a keen eye out for guilt trips, both giving and receiving. I donâ€™t automatically dismiss feelings of shame; I want to be a better person, and shame is one way to tell myself that maybe Iâ€™m straying a little from my own moral path. But I don’t assume that either of those feels are legit, andÂ when it comes specifically to sexual shame, then I toss that shit out the window, as far and as quickly as I can.
I started rooting out sexual shame when I left the Mormon church, at the tender age of 13 or 14. Since I was still living at home, this was not easy, but I was bolstered in my resolve by long late-night phone calls with my friend David, about why the church shouldnâ€™t be any kind of moral authority in my life, in any sphere. Iâ€™m sure our conversations were absolutely clichÃ© emo drivel, but those 2am reality checks really did keep me strong through five years of bullshit at home.
Of course, one canâ€™t divest oneself of those notions all at once. Fourteen years is young, but not so young that I didnâ€™t absorb a lot of bullshit, and since then I still live in a society where women are shamed for their sexuality all the time.
Back in college, when I was exploring sex with wild abandon, I tripped over shame quite frequently. When I hit one of these snags, I usually responded by swinging wildly away, along some totally other path. What. I was young, and I didnâ€™t really have anyone to talk to about it. I hadnâ€™t discovered counseling yet. Or not drinking. I dealt with shame by just pivoting on my heel and going in some other direction.
Over time, Iâ€™ve gotten better with shame when it pops up. I breathe deep and sit with these two questions:
- Am I trying to put an actual guilt trip on myself, by making myself think that Iâ€™m harming or inconveniencing anyone?
- What are the underlying messages about me that the shame is trying to convey?
Here’s a real-life example. When I learned how to squirt at the age of 40, my first worry was that I was peeing (underlying message: totally out of control). Also I was concerned about making a mess on peopleâ€™s beds and just generally making a mess on THEM and otherwise grossing them out. I got with enough people who said this was actually not a problem, so over time any potential guilt feelings went away, especially as I started taking prophylactic measures for containing the juice (towels and/or puppy pads).
If I wasnâ€™t injuring anyone, or causing property damageâ€”at most an extra load of laundry, which my lovers insisted was not a problemâ€”then all that was left of those negative feelings was shame, around how â€œout of controlâ€ I clearly was. Well, again, finding partners who loved how turned I was, how turned on they could get me, that took aim at that shame and obliterated it.
I havenâ€™t given up on shame as an abstract principle, but when itâ€™s sexual shame, I dig it up and expose it to the cleansing sunlight whenever I find it.
Haven’t done any studies about it yet, but I’m pretty sure, based on anecdotal reports, that my work in sex-aware theatre and storytelling supports the reduction of sex-related shame by at least 25% in the viewing population. When you become a patron of mine on Patreon, you are helping me to creates spaces and places for this important work. Pledge today!