One of the purposes of starting this project is to change the dialogue around sex and and the ways in which professionals who treat others respond to sexual concerns. Unfortunately, 90-95% of most licensed mental health clinicians have no training whatsoever in sexual diversity. That’s stunning, and most people are surprised by it – we expect therapists to be able to talk about sex. But most can’t. Then when these clinicians encounter sexual behaviors in their practice, they judge the sex, and the person, subjectively, based on their own experience and sexual interests.
Basically, if you want more sex, or a different kind of sex, than your therapist does, you’re at risk of being called unhealthy by them. Therapists shame people around their sexual behaviors, trying to force them into the sexual behaviors the therapist thinks, based on ignorance, fit the “healthy” model (usually heteronormative, monogamous and sexually conservative) of sex they practice. This is frightening – that’s morality, not medicine or effective therapy. those therapists hurt people, the very people coming to them for help.
With religion and morality, shame is used to make people feel bad, and be ostracized, for not being “the right way.” It doesn’t ever actually change what people do though. Shame ultimately leads to people feeling bad about who they are, not just what they did. That’s the problem with shame. Shame becomes embedded in a person’s idea of who they are, and their self-worth. So you have people with these lifelong identities of being a pervert, a faggot, a sex addict, a slut, because what they did, sexually, was shamed. Shame harms, shame warps, shame is about social conformity — but the process of letting go of it, working through it, is so rewarding, so liberating.
The overcoming of shame, the owning of oneself, can be an incredibly affirming event and process. Jumping that hurdle requires an existential leap of self-acceptance and personal advocacy. At core, that’s what the coming out process is all about. People are now “coming out” and rejecting the shame and secrecy that has kept them in the closet about being nonbinary, being kinky, being nonmonogamous, or being asexual. We’ve learned a lot about overcoming shame and coming out in healthy ways, from LGBTQ experiences. Now, we can translate that other aspects of sexual experiences. Instead of shaming behavior and therein the person, we can achieve much better outcomes with objective, fair, firm and clear communication and expectations, without the implication that you are a bad person, who we will reject, if you keep doing this.
Our hope in this project is that we can support people to feel empowered to come out, to name the things they’ve been sexually shamed for, and to share with others the things they did, to defeat the negative power of that shaming. That, ultimately, gives us all more hope, that we can be honest about who we are, without losing everything and everyone.