ColumnistsSex and Salt Lake City

Turning shame into claim

At 33, I found myself freshly divorced and facing a world that was different than I had perceived it to be. Being raised in an ultra-conservative climate, I wasn’t confident how to navigate what sexuality looked like for me. I was determined to prove myself free of feeling any judgments or shame from others about how they perceived my sexual expression.

It wasn’t until seven years later, at my 40th birthday, that I felt ownership of my sexuality. I was attending a surprise birthday party thrown for me. I had a little glittery crown on my head that had the number 40 on it and a glass of champagne in hand.

During the festivities, a friend took me aside and stated that she and some others were concerned as they had heard rumors about how I had been conducting myself sexually. I knew what ‘concern’ meant. It meant I was the subject of gossip. Being gossiped about was never good. Apparently, word had got out in our small community that I was quite ‘easy.’ I listened to her speak and frantically thought of how to defuse what she was saying. I wanted to get back to my party and maintain any little dignity I had left. I scanned the room. How many others were thinking so horribly of me? I had been raised to be a good example and to have people think negatively of me was torturous. Here I was being faced with some of my biggest fears — judgment and shame from others. Why? Because I chose to be a sexual person.

After a few minutes (which felt like an hour) of trying to block out her voice with my panicked thoughts, I reached up to adjust my little glittery crown. My crown that said “40.” I was 40 years old. It was in that moment that an overwhelming sense of calm came over me. With complete resignation, I politely cut her off and said: “I understand you’re concerned, but I am 40. Last I checked that was old enough not to need anyone else’s approval on how I conduct my life.”

Where the words and strength came from, I don’t know, but there they were just the same. For her part, she said nothing. She didn’t need to. I knew I had done right by me. I felt empowered and genuinely was saddened for my friend who trapped in the world of shame. A world that just moments before held me captive. In that moment shame was lost on me. How did shame lose its power? I turned shame into a source to claim. I owned it.

Many times when I counsel people who are freshly coming out to their sexual self, they struggle with what they think they “should” or “should not” be doing. It can be especially confusing for someone coming out after years of sexual repression whether it be from religion, family dynamics, or social construct. There is a belief that they have been missing out and now have so much for to make up. In doing so, people will think: “I must become positive about all things sexual,” whether those things are of interest to me or not. In reality, our sexuality is personal. Our exploration is for growth and gain of who we are at the core of ourselves. Our sexuality is for pleasure, connection, health and well being.

Being free of shame is a state of mind. It is honoring and accepting that your human sexuality is diverse, fluid, and subjective. Freedom from shame invites us to acknowledge that there is no hierarchy in sexual interests, sexual orientation, gender identity, or relational configuration. It is not just a term or social wave, but rather a personal movement to provide yourself with the permission to express freely and proudly. Being free of shame allows one to discover just what is the best sex of all. What is the very best sex of all you ask? It is whatever consensual activities you and your partner(s) agree to participate in, be it alone or with one another. It’s celebrating the sexual uniqueness that makes you, you.

Being shame-free is to care for yourself and others by only consenting to activities and interactions that genuinely make you each feel good both physically and psychologically. If all involved feel right about the activity and who you’re interacting with, shame cannot hold you captive any longer.

Indeed, all this is easier said than done, but if there’s one thing my clients have shown me is that permitting ourselves to be authentic is truly the most beautiful place to be.

Dr. Laurie Bennett-Cook

Dr. Laurie Bennett-Cook is a graduate level Clinical Sexologist, with an undergraduate degree in psychology and a Doctorate Degree in Human Sexuality. As a Clinical Sexologist, she believes a large part of her job is to be a sex enabler. Through counseling, workshops, and hands on exercises, she assists others in achieving the level of sexual function they desire. She enjoys the study and research of not only what people are doing sexually, but how they feel about it. Dr. Laurie divides her time between Los Angeles California, and Salt Lake City, Utah. In addition to seeing clients in either of her offices or via skype, she is President for the non-profit, Sex Positive Los Angeles inc. (SPLA) and recently began a chapter in Salt Lake City, (SP-SLC). Her non-profit offers sexual education and support programs throughout Los Angeles and Salt Lake Counties. Rounding off her work, she is an IPSA certified Surrogate Partner Therapist working with clients and therapists in a triadic model to assist in bringing clients comfortable with their sexual selves. Dr. Laurie can be found in various publications; radio, podcast, and television interviews. For individual consultations or appointments please contact her at Welcoming and affirming of all gender identities, all sexual orientations, all sexual and relationship expressions.

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