Friday, July 9, 2010

More Thoughts on Sex and Shame


Posted by Joel Gunz

With only slight exaggeration, Jehovah's Witnesses believe that pretty much all sex outside of the missionary position with one's heterosexual marriage mate is morally questionable, if not “gross sin.” With so many do's, dont's and suggestions (which aren't suggestions at all) in the way, the delirious, sloppy, ecstasy of sex is smothered under a wet blanket of shame.

Psychologically speaking, it's a return to the days of the whale-bone corset, minus the Victorian kinkiness.

Of course, Witness shame isn't limited to what happens in the bedroom, on the kitchen table or while driving a tractor. Members are made to feel inadequate and ashamed for not going out in service enough, for missing meetings, or for not studying their literature thoroughly. I knew people who hated giving talks and routinely “fell ill” on the night their assignment was due because resigning from the Theocratic Ministry School was not an option. Then there's the shame of success: among Witnesses it's considered poor taste to celebrate a job promotion or a raise in salary. If someone bucks the Governing Body's suggestions and enrolls in a university liberal arts program, it's best not to bring the matter up in large groups at all. Even the celebration of advancement and extra “privileges” in the congregation are best tempered by self-deprecating expressions of humility. Dismissing Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son, congregations are strictly ordered not to clap when a disfellowshipped person's reinstatement is announced. It seems that shame has replaced joy as fruitage of the spirit.

But I digress. Let's get back to talking about sex, mmm?

Shame regarding our sex life can persist long after we've left The Organization. (See last week's post.)I've talked with several people who expressed fears about attending their first Meetup group for ex-Jehovah's Witnesses. They might have shown up at the cafe, but didn't go inside. Sometimes it was because they were gay or lesbian or simply enjoying hetero sex outside of marriage and they feared that they would be rejected or judged by the group. Sexual stigmas can be hard to shake.

If you identify with these feelings, I'd like to put your fears to rest. I've found the the ex-Witness community to be very kind and open to people of all backgrounds and lifestyles. Just about every ex-Jehovah's Witness I've met really lives by the principles of love and compassion. Having had enough of judgmentalism, they are amazingly open-hearted. So if you've hesitated before, you are warmly invited to come on in and see that the water's fine.

On the other hand, people sometimes do need help with sex-related issues. I personally don't believe you can become addicted to sex any more than you can become addicted to food. But problems do arise from time to time. Unhealthy sexual patterns can be exacerbated by overly controlling religious traditions. I've had to do some work in this area myself. By distancing myself from Witness dogma and getting the support I needed, I'm happy to say that I'm light-years away from where I was as a Jehovah's Witness. You don't have to be stuck in a repetitive loop, and there are more resources than ever that can help you enjoy your sexuality free from shame.

Resources for those with sexual struggles.

Psychotherapeutic counseling can be enormously helpful, but finding the right therapist can be a challenge, particularly if you're still trying to figure out how to integrate your sexuality with your spiritual values. If you live in the Portland-Vancouver area, you can do no better than to work with Steven Donaldson, M.A. He is a leading authority on sexual issues, particularly for men. For starters, you might want to check out the insightful series of articles on his website, where you can also contact him.

Donaldson is a partner at Mosaic Counseling, whose therapists work under his and Leasia Becker-Cleary's supervision. There is a variety of men and women counselors to choose from, and they offer a sliding scale based on income.

12-Step groups can be another resource. Although I feel that they ultimately don't lead to a flourishing sex life, they do provide support and community as people deal with their struggles. Plus, there is no charge and, as Tom Peterson says, free is a very good price. There are several programs to choose from:

  • Sexaholics Anonymous teaches that sobriety consists of no masturbation and that one can only have sex with one’s heterosexual mate. To find a meeting near you, visit www.sa.org.
  • Sex Addicts Anonymous and Sexual Compulsives Anonymous maintain that anyone can write his or her own bottom-line definition of sexual sobriety, straight, gay or solo. Visit their websites at www.saa.org and www.sca-recovery.org.
  • As its name implies, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous can help, not only those with a compulsive need for sex, but those who are chronically preoccupied with romance, intrigue, or fantasy. Find them here: www.slaafws.org.

Finally, while they don't necessarily offer recovery services and the family-oriented nature of these groups would probably make it inadvisable to speak frankly at their gatherings, you can still find support by making friends with other ex-Jehovah's Witnesses, such as those found on meetup.com. (To find one in your area, visit the website and do a search for ex-Jehovah's Witnesses in your city or state. If you're in the Portland area, go here.)

While in the congregation we were taught to show love and compassion for ALL people. Almost all of the ex-Witnesses I know have really tried to integrate those principles into their life. If you need someone to talk to, or you just need a friend, get in touch!