Janine came into therapy complaining that although she loved her husband, and she could see that he was a generous and competent lover, she just couldn’t seem to enjoy herself in their sexual relationship.
“It’s as if just as I start enjoying myself, something turns me off. I don’t understand it,.” She said.
She felt sad, frustrated, and guilty because she knew that it was breaking her husband’s heart.
One of the Milestones of Sexual Development, as I call them, has to do with what kind of permission you have to explore your body and your sexuality.
In therapy, Janine and I discovered that it was her family’s sex negative environment that was responsible for the switch that was turning her off.
Her father and her mother had both been instrumental in making her feel that “good girls don’t.”
Once we unlocked some of those upsetting past experiences, more came flooding back to her conscious memory.
For instance, Janine had an older sister, Bonnie, who was a very attractive teenage girl. And Bonnie was extremely interested in boys.
One day, Bonnie was going out to meet a guy she liked, and she was dressed in a rather sexy top and some short shorts. Janine, who idolized Bonnie, thought her sister looked great. She wanted to be just like Bonnie when she grew up.
But Janine’s father became enraged. He told Bonnie she wasn’t allowed to leave the house dressed like that. He banged on the table and screamed at her, “ You look like a whore! You are disgusting!”
It is true that young women are growing increasingly sexualized and dress in public today. And I can understand parents who want their girls to dress more modestly.
But it was the way Janine’s father spoke to her. He used violence in slamming the table and intimidation in raising his voice. And he called her horrible names in order to shame her.
As Bonnie continued in therapy, she recalled episode after episode in which either her father or her mother made comments that made it clear that they felt girls being sexual was disgusting and shameful. But she had never really given them a second thought as an adult.
It made her feel guilty to uncover her resentfulness about her upbringing. But she wanted to have a better relationship with her husband, so she persevered in exploring.
I assigned Bonnie some reading that made her feel good about her sexuality. Within a few short months, Bonnie’s ability to enjoy sex was completely transformed. Sex went from being a source of shame to one of pride.
The take home message, of course, is that you can un-do negative messages that were absorbed in your family life.
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