Shame – we’ve all got it seeping out of pores, informing our beliefs, values and actions, often at the expense of our own enjoyment and mental wellbeing. Pleasure educator Euphemia Russell of I Wish You Knew is here to arm our emotional toolboxes with some ways you can recognise and work with shame and not run from it, in the first of a series of articles.
Shaaaaame. What a sneaky little fucker.
It can be so invisible and insidious to the point we think we’re acting of our own volition, yet it’s internalised shame and fear propelling our decisions and actions, even potentially against the good of ourselves.
We all have shame, we’ve inevitably inherited it, so it’s so hard to get enough distance from shame to even speak about it. What would the world look like without shame? Particularly sexual shame? I really don’t know.
As it stands, shame is woven into the fabric of society and ourselves. Here are some reminders and tools to recognise and dismantle it, and even have a relationship with shame while you relearn pleasure and expression.
PLEASURE IS VALID, YOU DESERVE PLEASURE: pleasure isn’t a wasteful frivolous distraction. Pleasure is enjoyment. Pleasure is political. Pleasure is health. Pleasure is resistance. You deserve pleasure regardless of your body, identity, or history. Of course our stress, judgements, and insecurities can make us feel disconnected from our bodies. Watch Emily Nagoski’s TED talk for how to navigate these challenges with a simple solo exercise based in science.
DON’T YUCK OTHER PEOPLE’S YUMS: don’t judge others people’s sexual lifestyle, choices or activities and add to the already surplus amount of shame. Judgement feeds more shame. If it’s safe, consensual, and respectful it’s none of your business.
GENTLY INTERROGATE: go to therapy, journal, reflect, question, and gently interrogate where you might have learnt shaming messages and how they guide your actions and judgements. As Esther Perel says: “where and when in your life did you learn that message?” Start articulating these harder questions to yourself to normalise those thoughts and desires and not let them take a firmer grip on you. Recognise and respect the effect of any past trauma as you reflect on your own history, body and experiences. Go slowly and gently.
ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR SHAME: if it feels supportive, perhaps you could have a relationship with your shame instead of resisting, ignoring, or denying it. Be tender and compassionate with it and yourself. An analogy my dear wise friend Victoria Cullen uses with her prostate cancer clients is “if shame was a person, what would you say to them? Say hello and perhaps it will respond, or perhaps it will just awkwardly stand there, perhaps it will leave. Either way, you’ve begun the conversation.”
GENTLY DANCE WITH YOUR SHAME: often the more we rebel against shame, the louder it becomes, and the more it controls you. Acknowledge that you’re no less ‘progressive’, ‘woke’, or ‘liberated’ for it existing. If you feel safe and supported then rub it on yourself, lather yourself in it, explore and dance with it, or if you want to find it’s edges you could explore kinky shame and humiliation play.
START WITH THE SMALL MOMENTS: centre pleasure in your actions, body, tasks, and days. It can be in the small moments like micro-movements and adjustments to your body in spaces. Ask yourself “how can I make my body a little more comfortable and in pleasure in this moment”. Be aware of the range of sensation, the pressure of gravity on your body and how to play with the resistance and impact.
Take notice of the wind on your skin, how your body relates to its surroundings, the tension and release of movement or contact with objects.
GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION: give yourself permission to feel pleasure and explore. No one else will give it to you. So take it, own it, claim it. Feeling, being, enjoying is radical and political in a world not built for pleasure. What are your wants, needs, desires, fantasies? Explore them!
TAKE UP SPACE, WHILE OBSERVING YOUR PERFORMATIVITY: what feels good, rather than what might look good? “Dance as if no one is watching” is easy to say, but hard to do. As you move through the world, remember you actually have a body, and gently observe how it feels. Remember your pleasure is not a tool for others’ consumption and pleasure, first and foremost it’s for your pleasure. Find people, communities and spaces that support and celebrate you to enjoy your body and take up space with your pleasure. Remember you don’t have to be modest to be respected by anyone!
Thanks That Bitch for having me! Keep an eye out for my future blogs. In the meantime, find me at @sex.iwishyouknew or www.iwishyouknew.net. I’d also love to hear from you if you have suggestions for how to have a relationship with your shame: email@example.com.