Sex, Religion, and the Ghosts in your Attic

A while back, I wrote about how our religious upbringing can pollute our sexuality. I challenged you to imagine yourself engaging in all sorts of sexual behaviors you might never want to actually do – because just thinking about them causes you to assess yourself. What did my religious indoctrination take away from my sexual expression?

Today, I want to dig a little deeper into the problem. Sexual trauma, harsh religion, child corporal punishment, and relationship troubles seem to cluster together. Families with fundamentalist religious values tend to be the families with inconsistent sexual boundaries and with strict authoritarian parenting practices. And in those families, children tend to be mystified or mortified by sexuality.

Having lots of rules and judgments about your budding sexual identity counts as trauma by itself. Do any of these apply to you? 

  1. Your family considered it immoral to be gay or lesbian.
  2. Your parents acted like they never had sex (or, never had sex).
  3. You were taught that sex outside of marriage is a sin.
  4. You were taught that masturbation is a sin.
  5. You were taught that parents have a right to hit their children’s bodies in order to teach them.
  6. You had a sibling who got in trouble for her/his sexual behavior (e.g., pregnancy, etc.).
  7. You were taught that sexual thoughts or feelings, outside of marriage, was a sin.
  8. You were taught to fear God’s judgment of your sexuality.
  9. You were taught that girls/women should not have sexual desires.
  10. You were taught that men/boys were sexual aggressors or that they could not control themselves.
  11. You felt ashamed of your sexual development (e.g., puberty, menses).

How many of those fit? Any one of them suggests rigid family thought patterns – that may have been passed on to you. And thought patterns can be traumatizing. In families that have lots of prohibitions around sexuality and/or use harsh parenting practices, children grow up believing that a part of them (a natural, healthy part) is unhealthy, bad, ugly, or shameful.

If you have more than one of the above list, you probably carry unresolved trauma that affects the life you live in your body. And you may also carry sexual trauma from:

  1. being sexually abused by a sibling or parent.
  2. being punished physically, even if no official injuries were sustained.
  3. learning to think your body deserved to be treated with disrespect.
  4. learning to consider your body a source of sin.

This kind of trauma may have few memories attached to it, so it may seem invisible and baffling. But you know it’s there because you can’t enjoy yourself like others seem to be able to.

EMDR Therapy can help with this. We start by targeting the feelings, sensations, and pictures associated with your sexual situation. We reprocess old feelings and replace false ideas about the self with more helpful information that lets you move past old ways of being.

Many couples tell me that their sex lives have improved as a result of EMDR. One or both partners had family backgrounds full of shame and secrecy – but now, they can shed their old lives, live more fully in the present, and feel joy and closeness.

Check out these blog posts for how therapy can help you:

If you have questions about my pathway for helping you or how healthy rebellion can positively impact trauma therapy and family psychology, please contact me or call me today at 417-886-8262.

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