Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sex, masturbation and a dirty girl

I wrote this elsewhere and finally decided to put it here too. It does refer to sexual matters, so if that is uncomfortable, please ignore this post....

I think some of my difficulties with self image over the years are to do with the early attitudes installed in me about sex.

From early on, sex was something not to be desired, instead purity and eternal virginity was a goal to be sought. My devout Catholic parents ensured that God was a part of our house, someone accepted without question, one of the family. The saints were our friends and I was given books and stories of their lives. One thing to note was that the women all were virgins, allowing themselves to be martyred or tortured rather than raped, going straight to heaven for their purity.

Other messages were given. I once wore a bra and panties and lay on my bed, pretending I was wearing a bikini, sunbathing on a beach. We never had bikinis. My mother came in, without knocking and caught me at it, and yelled at me for my behaviour. Didn't I realise that was not on? I'm not sure if she thought I was masturbating then- in fact I wasn't, didn't learn that skill till later! but the message I got was I was impure, a dirty, dirty, dirty girl.

Then I was assaulted, sexually, in a way that would seem minor to many but was horrific to me. Near the park, on the way home from school, came home weeping and shocked and feeling so dirty. My mother was duely sympathetic and gave me a hug...but then nothing. Never again mentioned or talked about. Years later she was telling someone about it and how she went out driving the streets. looking for my attacker and I was amazed. I asked her why she hadn't said anything and she said they thought best not to, let it lie, then I'd forget about it.

But what she hadn't known was that about two years later I had a similar incident from one of the teachers in the sailing school I went to. he probably thought it a bit of a joke and could easily deny it if I said anything. Which I didn't. What was the point? Happens like that to dirty girls.

So, when at around 18 I learnt to masturbate (don't laugh, I read about it in a book and tried it and *boing* - with me forever...) it tore me into pieces. I would lie in bed, trying so hard to resist, to avoid it, not to do it, as I knew it was a sin, but as I fell asleep, I would weaken and play and come so hard,and then cry myself to sleep, disgusted with my weakness and dirtiness, hating myself for it all.

And as the fantasies I had as I did it grew- they were mainly around other women. If men figured, they were abusive, non consensual, holding my prisoner, forcing me against my will. I was at that stage one deeply mucked up depressed individual, convinced I was gay, who would be cast out from her family as a result. That's another story!

So in the end, courage in my hands, I went to confession and blurted it all out to a poor young Italian priest, while away "on pilgrimage" where I thought there would be no danger of the priest recognising my voice and knowing me and knowing what an evil sinner I was ever after.

He was compassionate but firm. This was a mortal sin (a sin that leads to hell if you die with it on your soul.) I had to stop it- ask the Virgin Mary, who would help and if I did fail, I should consider myself in grave peril and get to confession straight away. I was not to receive communion again, as that was an even worse sin, until I had told the priest what I had done and accepted myself as doing great evil.

I agreed, full of hope that at least I would be able to stop. I kept a diary at the time and even wrote about it, ecstatic that I had had the courage to confess. Don't forget that I was young, had been brought up immersed in one viewpoint that I took as real as the sea, the sand, the air, everything around me. Hell for me was a definite place, for torment.

So I tried.

Really really hard. I wore trousers and pants to bed, with tight tops over them,kept my arms outside the blankets, got up and hit my hand against a desk if I thought about doing it.

But I couldn't resist and I despaired of ever getting a hold on it. I spoke to my mother in the end, absolutely tormented that I was bound for hell and she didn't correct the priest but said she "had a friend" who used to masturbate and she advised her to get rid of the object. That didn't help as the object was (and is still) my index finger.

I did think about cutting it off, but at least had enough sense of reality to know that was extremely stupid, even though Jesus had recommended it ("If your right hand should cause you to fail.") In the end, in absolute despair I went to see a stranger priest who had come on "mission" to the church and poured it all out, this broken young woman. He sounded bored and sarcastically gave me advice, wondering why I found it so hard to go to confession and admit it- perhaps not realising the extent of my despair and self hatred.

Eventually, in one of my confessions which happened so frequently after that, a priest corrected my now all obsessing scruples. Told me that habit was habit and I should aim to break it but not be all tied up with it and not consider myself on the road to perdition if I fell. Gradually, I learnt to accept that advice and eventually managed to get "and I am guilty of impurity, with myself, on several occasions" to come out in confession without too much angst or fear, though my despair at my weakness, self hatred and disgust stayed as major parts of my psychological make up, still present.

Then,when I lost my faith two years ago, you would think that all this angst and fear would disappear, but it is tied so hard into my beliefs about my self and sex. Part of my "exploring" up to now has led to finding all this out and also becoming incredibly angry with a cultural system that leads to so much misery about something so natural.

So I still am guilty at times, filled with self disgust at times, have difficulty celebrating what joy sex can be. But I hide it, so no one knows what a dirty, disgusting girl I am. And even writing that still makes me cry, though far less than it would have done a year ago.

Soooo.....I'm off to dry my face and have a shower. Have a good day and be thankful that few people are brought up as I was now....And give me another two years though, by the time I am 50, maybe I can celebrate and enjoy the sexual side of life without even a trace of fear and guilt.

3 comments:

Rosa_Mystica said...

Hi Cat,

I know I haven't been keeping up with your blog much lately (my bad!), but I just wanted to thank you for your honest post. I know how much courage it takes to write something like this- I had a similar upbringing (minus the sexual assaults, thank goodness).

I want you to please, please realize that you are *not* disgusting! I know what it's like to be scarred by sexual repression- my miserable childhood included an incident where my abusive father beat the living daylights outta me for engaging in masturbation- at the tender age of six, no less. But despite this horrific experience, I can honestly say that I've now reached a stage where I have next to no guilt for engaging in sexual behaviours. I'm not sure what got me there- I think it may have been a reaction to the spiritual burnout I experienced thanks to Catholicism- but I *did* get there. I think you can, too. It gets easier with time and practice, but it's *definitely* achievable.

You're a strong woman. I know you can get through this.

*Hugs*,
Rosa

Cat said...

Thank you Rosa and good to hear from you. I am, as I said, still guilty at times, but so far along the road from where i used to be already. I know I will get there along the rest of it, just sad that it has taken so long!
Cat xxx

benjdm said...

I have traces of similar attitudes from my Catholic upbringing. It's very difficult to re-map your perspective.