Originally appearing in the December Edition of Ask Dr. Bate on Bateworld.com
I grew up in a Southern Baptist household where sex was never mentioned. My parents never prepared me for what I would experience during puberty and adulthood. Their silence on the subject of sex and the human body, along with the daily humiliations of Junior High, required me to carry the weight of a lot of things I was too young to handle, and the traumas that were buried in me then are still alive today.
I believe that I was abandoned and traumatized because of a severe sexual phobia on the part of the adults and kids during my early teenage years. My parents were too scared to instill any kind of knowledge about the human body or human sexuality, and my homophobic gym teacher
encouraged the class to share his bigoted views, meanwhile treating us as his personal marine recruits in a constant test of our masculinity.
I was a skinny kid with no muscle and asthma, but none of the adults questioned why I might be
having trouble breathing while running laps, always at the end, always the one to get mocked by the class for being a slow fucking pussy. Shower time was an exercise in absolute degradation, forced to strip naked with a gang of boys who already hated me and used any excuse to humiliate me.
Meanwhile, my parents never said anything whatsoever to me about sex, never gave me any kind of knowledge or tools to understand what I might need to know. Our class watched a film in sixth grade that made no sense to me whatsoever, and my parents told me that they had agreed to let me see it. That was the extent of my sex education.
While other kids seemed to know a lot about sex, I didn’t even know what naked women looked like. Even at the age of 14 I had no idea how babies were birthed—I thought it was through the navel. And I thought there was something wrong with me because I had erections.
I eventually learned what I needed to know about sex from the family encyclopedia. That and the Playgirl magazines I started to lift in our trips to the mall. Oh, and nights spent looking through the bathroom window as my dad or brother took a bath. Learning what I needed to know took me into behaviors that I’m not proud of, and that’s part of my trauma. I’m not that 14-year-old kid anymore, but I still feel hurt by having to go through that.
I don’t spend my life blaming other people for my issues, but in a way that’s kept me from dealing with the harm that was caused by a complete black-out on information from my parents about the human body while experiencing gross humiliation at school on a daily basis. My sense of abandonment by the adults in my early life still haunts me.
My gym experience has made working out a life-long challenge where I still have to face my fears to get through a session. It’s easy to have anxiety attacks and I always feel like I’ll be punished for my mistakes.
I’ve managed to come to terms with the sexual issues by living as a happily single nudist and proud masturbator. I have a good set of friends who I have openly sexual relationships with, and I’m grateful for what I’ve got. But the anxieties return often, and I want to be rid of them.
How do you suggest that I get past these issues for good?
Hello brother, thank you so much for your story and your question. While reading it, my heart went out to you for the struggle that coming into your sexuality and body free of fear has been. There are several things that came to mind as I was reading, and I hope you permit me some time to unpack my thoughts and feelings concerning your journey.
First I want to say, emphatically and compassionately, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! There are so many of us who, having grown up in religious environments, were denied, lied to, judged, and punished for our inquiries, explorations, and/or acceptance of our sexuality! Unfortunately, your story is not solitary. I too have had to walk through my own share of religion’s sexual denial and fear.
•Education – This part is two-fold. Firstly, I’m very glad that at some point you gathered the sexual education you needed. And I’m saddened that you, like many others, had to acquire that knowledge through some not so safe acts, putting your health and heart at risk. But I embrace you as a brother, having made it through.
Secondly, understand that anxiety’s root is fear. Anxiety is a fear of “an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” Even though you are no longer that child in the locker-room, those events have created a sort of feedback loop that, whenever you step back into a locker-room, triggers those memories again. The childhood threat is gone, but your mind and heart don’t quite know that yet. So, every locker-room experience potentially becomes a re-traumatizing event, until you can finally put this fear to rest. Which brings me to my second thought.
•Therapy – I’m a firm believer that everyone needs a good therapist if for nothing else than to have someone to process things with. Finding a good therapist might afford you an opportunity to look more closely at your fear. Often we can’t move past an issue and heal if we are reluctant to look at it more thoroughly. I highly recommend that you find a therapist to process some of this with. It sounds like you have done a lot of work on your own so I don’t see how this wouldn’t work in your favor.
•Forgiveness and Compassion – I had an ex once who stated, “Sometimes the only person who can heal the pain/wound is the one who caused it.” I have found this, when both parties are willing, one of the most affective ways of finding healing. If your parents are still living, have you thought about talking to them about the difficulties and challenges of your upbringing? If this is possible and you feel they would be open to such a discussion, I highly recommend it. If not, I encourage you to find a way to forgive them for their lack of sex education and support. Often times our parents don’t know how to broach these topics. That’s where compassion comes in. Find ways to forgive them and perhaps release them of their own inability to teach you. Creating ritual might be a great way for you to achieve this release and forgiveness. Create a ritual that is significant and potent for you!
•Community – Healing often happens within community so I’m very glad that you have created nurturing relationships with others. That’s important. Let me suggest another step forward – find someone who you can confide in about your past and invite them (preferably male) to join you in the gym. Let him be your companion in your healing journey – when you’re lifting weights as well as when you are in the locker room. In my work, I journey with people on their path toward sexual healing. Knowing that someone else is there to comfort and support them allows my clients a safe space to process difficult emotions until, at last, they are strong and courageous enough to face their fears, replace it with love and confidence in themselves, and create safe spaces and relationships where they can explore further.
I encourage you to do the same. Find a male companion that you can trust and confide in that can help you face the fears head on – together. You dealt with much of your childhood fears alone; you don’t need to anymore!
I hope this helps brother! Keep moving forward, get the help you need, and know that you are only alone if you choose to be!