Ask a Therapist: Overcoming Shame and Liberating Your Sexuality

December 4, 2020

Insights from Dr. Elle Blodgett

Elle Blodgett, PsyD, completed her undergraduate studies in psychology at Spelman College, her master’s in counseling at Northwestern University, and her doctorate in psychology at the University of Denver. After completing her internship at the South Texas Veterans Health Care System, Dr. Blodgett joined Deep Eddy Psychotherapy for her postdoctoral fellowship.  Dr. Blodgett provides systemically oriented and collaborative therapy to individuals and couples living here in Texas.  

I recently sat down with Dr. Blodgett to talk about sex, sexuality and finding liberation from shame

To learn more about Dr. Blodgett, check out her clinician profile.  

To sign up for her psychotherapy services, contact us today.

Dr. Elle Blodgett, PsyD

Dr. Elle Blodgett, PsyD

Postdoctoral Fellow

Q – First, tell us a bit about yourself.  What brought you to Deep Eddy Psychotherapy?

Dr. Blodgett:  You know how people really try hard to “fit in?”  I was never one of those people.

I’ve always been a bit of a rebel, a black sheep.  Even as a kid, I really struggled with following the grain.  Anytime I was told to do something a certain way or to follow the crowd, part of me instinctively wanted to do the opposite, to follow my own path.  

Part of this comes from growing up in a military family, and having military culture plays a significant role in my story.  I was raised by two military veterans, which meant that I moved frequently and saw so many different ways of living life.  I learned that the idea of “right” and “wrong” was contextual.  My lens expanded, and that sparked a lot of my curiosity and desire to question so-called “norms.”

Part of this also comes from being a black woman in a world where people put both of those identities into rigid boxes.  

Because of these parts of my identity, I learned to recognize what I truly wanted.  Not what society told me, not what tradition told me, just me and my values.  

How did I do that?  It really comes down to the power of questioning.  Being skeptical.  Being willing to ask and explore.  Being interested in rewriting the answers that we’ve told ourselves to be true.  And, most importantly, learning to be okay with uncertainty.  

Because of all this, I really wanted to come to a place where that desire for being curious was welcomed.  I really wanted to grow myself and my practice, to become the best therapist I could.  I’m also deeply passionate about multiculturalism, seeing people for who they are in the context of their identities and the world around them.  So, naturally, this led me to Deep Eddy Psychotherapy.  What better place to have colleagues to learn from, be both challenged and supported by, and find my place of belonging?

Q – Why is it important to talk about sex and sexuality (in our lives as well as in therapy)?

Dr. Blodgett:  We have to talk about sex and sexuality because of the essential role they play in our lives.  Sex is part of being human, about our relationship to ourselves and others.  And most of us, if not all of us, will form sexual relationships with others.  As a human, if I can’t communicate with what’s happening with me and my body, then I deny a huge part of who I am and what it means to be in relationship.  For example, how can you talk about consent if you can’t talk about sex?  

Although sex has become less stigmatized and more of a welcomed part of the dialogue, we still avoid talking about it, especially the parts that go against the grain.  There’s been an avoidance of topics that we don’t talk about, or we put them in these rigid, pathologizing boxes—things like sex work, kink culture, sexuality in older adulthood, and more.  

From the time that we’re born, we are given a lot of messages about sex and sexuality.   We are told by parents, religion, American culture, and more that there are these “right” and “wrong” ways of being sexual.  

Tradition has also told us to lump together certain aspects of identity, such as gender, sex, sexuality, to the point where these are used interchangeably in our language.  But there’s a huge difference between each of these things.  

For example, when I’m talking about sex and sexuality, I’m not talking about intercourse.  Sexuality isn’t as simple as the heteronormative idea of intimacy.  Rather, sexuality is the way that we express our erotic identity.  That may be through intercourse, but it might be through how we dress, how we act, how we communicate, and more.  Even the idea of intimacy is more expansive than what tradition has defined for us.  You can have intimacy with friends and other loved ones.

And even using the term “sexuality” is limited because asexuality is also part of this conversation when it comes to preferences of intimacy.  So even the language that we use can be exclusive, and it puts people into this “right or wrong” exists or doesn’t box.  Asexuality is about being able to have erotic identity and intimacy without needing to have sex with a partner, which can be very liberating to know because many asexual people question whether they can even have relationships.  

Being able to think about sex and intimacy in a questioning, curious way allows you to find greater fulfillment and matching of your needs in relationship.  Sadly, people are so afraid of exploring outside of those ideas – a fear we recognize as erotophobia.  Society has taught us both to avoid talking about it and to fear exploring outside the box.  We have to be willing to question the system.

Q – What are some of the most common reasons people struggle with having or expressing their sexual identity?

Dr. Blodgett: Keep in mind that the social structures of tradition, religion, and cultural norms have promoted a great deal of shame and embarrassment around sex and sexuality.  

Even as children, we start learning and exploring.  What are a penis and a vagina?  Why do different people have different parts?  Why is there a response in my body when I touch my parts? 

Because of socially and generationally reinforced shame, adults usually respond to those kinds of explorations with shame and punishment – don’t do that, that’s bad!  Adults even avoid using the proper language for parts (e.g., saying “pee-pee” rather than penis).   

The shame responses continue as kids grow up and they have curiosity about looking at people’s bodies, self-pleasure, and other forms of early sexuality.  Parents sometimes freak out when they discover that their child might be masturbating, and they often respond in ways that make the child feel ashamed and alienated rather than respected and normalized.  When kids don’t have the freedom to ask questions without shame and judgment, this can cause problems.

How can kids hope to understand and explore when they are being shamed?  If adults aren’t able to have these conversations, children can sometimes do behaviors that are unhealthy out of shame.  For example, a young boy might use a sock as a way to masturbate; so in adulthood, he might struggle with feeling stimulated and having sexual pleasure with their partner because of those past behaviors.  And then, as an adult, he might feel like there’s something wrong with him and his sexuality.  

Even worse, because of these negative experiences, sometimes feelings of pleasure then become attached to feelings of shame and guilt.  It’s then nearly impossible to have sexuality in a way that feels enjoyable and satisfying.  These kinds of experiences are far too common, and they maintain these themes of shame around sexuality.

Q – What are some unrecognized groups that could use support around exploration and feeling destigmatized?  

Dr. Blodgett:  There’s quite a list.  First, we have people with disabilities.  Just because you have different physical or intellectual abilities doesn’t mean you aren’t sexual and crave intimacy.  Next, older adults.  Just because you retire doesn’t mean you retire from sex.  We also have sex workers, who are highly pathologized and stigmatized.  But sex workers have their own sexualities and desires, too, and those who genuinely enjoy their work.  Beyond those demographics, we also have sexual minority groups: BDSM, kink, polyamory, asexuality, and more. 

Q – How can someone begin to overcome feelings of shame around their sexuality?

Dr. Blodgett:  It’s huge to start with being able to ask this question.  Simply recognizing that shame interferes with you being able to be satisfied, free, or healthy is an incredible first step.  

Next, honestly ask yourself simple questions. What are your pleasures?  What are you curious about?  Why do you enjoy what you do?  Be willing to set aside what your parents, your culture, and your old beliefs have taught you for a moment.  

Then, give yourself permission to do research.  Read about different ways of sexual expression.  Be okay with and open to learning about sexual practices that maybe you weren’t allowed to learn about or research.  Consider seeking sources of education that are healthy and positive.  Many mainstream pornography platforms follow a genre of erotica that isn’t always healthy and is usually very objectifying and dehumanizing.  

Finally, consider going to a therapist who is sex-positive and sex affirming.  Many therapists who specialize in sex therapy or therapy for shame around sex and sexuality will mention it in their therapist bio and or their specialty listings.  When starting with a new therapist, ask them whether they help people with issues related to sex, sexuality, and identity.

Q – What advice would you give to someone looking to explore or understand their sexuality in a safe, healthy way?

Dr. Blodgett:  Sexuality is meant to blossom.  It’s a journey of understanding and finding what makes sense for you.  Sometimes this means you start by getting up and personal with your body and encourage yourself to explore.  Sometimes this means being willing to do extra research, have conversations, go to events for people of different sexual expressions, and connect with a therapist who can support you along the way. 

But most importantly, do not ever let anyone pressure you or push you to do something you aren’t comfortable with before you are ready. It’s okay for this to be a journey and take time.  You are unraveling messages of shame from so many different sources, and you get to do this at your own pace.

Interested?  Contact us today!

We would love to hear from you.  If you would like to learn more about our services or schedule to begin your first therapy session, check out our Contact page!  Our team of compassionate providers is dedicated to providing you with the utmost quality of care for your mental health needs.  

The Deep Eddy Psychotherapy Ask a Therapist series is written by Dr. Kyler Shumway.

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