Tina Schermer Sellers on Why Sex Is Better Without Religious Sexual Shame

  • Description
  • Episode Transcript

Our sex stories are one of the most important stories one needs to be clear about,” says this week’s guest, Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers. Clinical Sexologist, Tina, believes that our sex history is not a cohesive narrative in most of us, but it needs to be to lead a sex life that is free of shame. Hear Joe and Tina discuss how religious sexual shame is the earliest and greatest form of shame, affecting a person’s core belief in their worthiness to be accepted by those who mean the most to them. And how sex and bias education is what equips us to stand up to sexual shame.

Connect with Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers:
Website  |  Facebook

Speaker 1:        Welcome to smart sex, smart love. We’re talking about sex goes beyond the taboos and talking about love goes beyond the honeymoon. I’m dr Joe court. Thanks for tuning in.

Speaker 3:        [inaudible]

Speaker 1:        today my show is on why sex is better without shame. Sexual shame is the earliest and greatest form of shame affecting a person’s core belief in their worthiness to be seen, known, loved, and accepted physically, emotionally, and for some spiritually by those who mean the most to them. This week, my guest is dr Tina Schermer sellers who has a PhD in clinical sexology. Without a doubt. Dr Tina is doing unique and necessary work in the fields of marriage and sex therapy as a therapist who emphasizes a sex positive gospel. She wears many hats, licensed marriage and family therapist, associate professor of sexuality and medical family therapy writer, speaker, and blogger on marriage and religious sexual shame. She’s also launched an online community. Thank God for sex. She believes comprehensive sex education is a human right and absolutely necessary for healthy human bonding and attachment. Welcome, Tina.

Speaker 4:        Thank you so much. I’m so glad to be here.

Speaker 1:        Me too. I’m so glad to have you here and I’ve known you for a while now and I’ve wanted to have you on and talk about religion and sexual shame and all the things that are right up front in your focus of your work. And maybe we could just start right in with how you became to fo, how you came to focus on your work on religious sexual shame.

Speaker 4:        Yeah, thanks. You know, um, I often say I did not intend to do this and I wouldn’t recommend that. I wouldn’t recommend taking on the church. Um, and I was hesitant to do it, but I was absolutely compelled to, I taught at a religiously based university for 28 years. In fact, I just retired this past June and I taught in the, in a graduate program. So no one is, uh, expected or required to have a religious background who comes into the graduate marriage and companies. There’ll be program. But of course we would have students who did come from that background, probably about maybe 40% of our students. Um, and, uh, one of the courses that I taught for the whole time that I was there was the graduate human sexuality course that is required for licensure in the state of Washington. And one of the assignments that I had our students do is write their sexual autobiography.

Speaker 4:        And a lot of times when I tell people that, they’d be like, Oh my gosh, I can’t imagine ever having to commit my sexual autobiography to paper. And I’d be like, you know, I’d say, well, I wasn’t doing that just cause I was cruel. But you know, if you’re becoming a therapist, you, you, when you go to see a therapist, you really want to know that the therapist is clear on a myriad of their stories, where they begin and end and where their client begins and ends. And our sexual story, I believe one of the most important stories that we want to be clear about, especially when you live in a culture like ours that has no comprehensive sex education and we haven’t for upwards of 40 years and we have a long, long history of people being silent and silent and shaming around sexuality.

Speaker 4:        So that story lives in us in very spotty ways. So we might remember the first time we got in trouble or we might remember the first time we had a crash or that cast or whatever, but it’s not a cohesive narrative inside most people. And so I give my students 60 or 70 questions and I asked them to think through three generations and walk them through their developmental life cycle and get them to commit their story in a narrative. So by the time they’re finished, they have some kind of idea and some kind of cohesion to that narrative and an idea of the legacy that they’re carrying. I’m, this is one of the most important papers that they write in grad school. And um, it’s a pretty life changing paper. I’d been told that over the years, well, having read well over 500 of these in my career, one of a very significant thing happened right around the year 2000 I noticed a dramatic increase in what I came to call sexual shame.

Speaker 4:        What appeared in the papers was this dramatic increase in self-hatred, humiliation discussed a sense of perversion, a increase in ignorance around what they felt with regard to sexuality, what they desired with regards to sexuality, what they did and did not do with regard to sexuality as they were growing up. And I didn’t understand where this change was coming from. And it continued the next year and the next year. So I began to ask more questions like what was going on in their lives, what was happening, what wasn’t happening so I could understand shift was occurring in culture. And what I came to realize was that I was hitting the first wave of students that had hit their adolescence during the abstinence only movement and the kids that were, um, hitting what later became called the purity movement in the United States. And those two movements blended together. If you were in the Bible belt, you, your abstinence only education was actually the same thing that the religious kids were getting in their churches and in their youth groups. Um, what late later we found out was abstinence education. 80% of that education was medically inaccurate. And right now in the United States, even still, we only have 20 States where their education is required to be medically accurate. So the other 30 States have no requirement for their education to be medically accurate.

Speaker 4:        Yeah, yeah, it’s true. So we’ve been, I mean, many States have tried to pass laws in the last decade to get their education to be medically accurate and those laws have been failing. So we have not moved far in the last decade and changing that even though we thought quote unquote stopped pumping money into abstinence education since 2005, we have not moved far and most of those dates, so, um, many people, um, have been getting, uh, information that is still frightening, um, and are remiss of any education that tells them anything about their bodies and instead give them a lot of fear information. And so this shame information is still coming forth. And so lots of people were just, two things were happening. One, they weren’t getting any information. It also was dearth of information. And then what they were getting was frightening them about not just their bodies but also what they were thinking about sexuality and what they were feeling wanting about sexuality or their desires.

Speaker 4:        So they were bad about what they were thinking and they were bad about what they were wanting. And that’s what really changed with regard to generations before. Cause generations before they were told don’t have sex until marriage, you get married. So that was a do a doing thing and behavioral thing. But what changed in the 80s and forward? What was, don’t think about sexuality and don’t feel about sexuality. And those are impossible to do. So. So that’s where the shame got so much deeper for the abstinence only kids and the kids that were involved in conservative religious family.

Speaker 1:        I don’t think that I realized myself. So I was raised reformed Judaism and there was nothing, nothing about sexual shaming at all. And if there was, I was jokingly say, it must’ve been said in Hebrew and I couldn’t understand it, so none of it affected me, you know? But then I became, you know, I could became focused in the 90s and working with just mostly gay men and the LGBT community. And I couldn’t believe story after story. It’s as if, so story after story about sexual shame and what they had heard about being an abomination and a homosexuality being immoral and they would be coming not for therapy but for religious counsel. And of course I didn’t have any of that training at all. And so I would, they couldn’t go to their churches because they were either alienated or couldn’t tell. And one time, I’ll never forget this, I had a group, I was doing gay men’s therapy groups in the 90s and I had brought in, I had like eight men and one left.

Speaker 1:        And so I brought in this sexually active Catholic priest, um, who was struggling. And uh, there were maybe six out of the eight guys that were in that group were Catholic. And when I brought him in, they were in furious, infuriated with me. And I was like, what? What’s going on? How could you do this? Bring a Catholic priest. And so to me as a Jew, the rabbi is another man, um, who speaks about God. But for them the priest was like next to God. And so it was so they were so angry at, and I said to them, I remember this, I said, and the guy was upset himself. And I said, look, this could be either an opportunity for all of you to heal because they were even angry that he was sexually active. So this is an opportunity for all of you to heal. Or you can decide that you don’t want him in the group. And my rule at the time was that we won’t have him in the group, but my recommendation was let him stay and let’s work, work this out. And we did. And it was a really cathartic thing for everyone, but it was the first time I’d ever seen how powerful sexual shame can be.

Speaker 4:        Oh, right, exactly. Yeah. You know what was interesting, Joe, and I can talk about this more later, but, um, I went looking on the Abrahamic line to see if I could find anything sex positive. There are some beautiful, amazing things when you get into Hebrew writing and Hebrew mystic writing. And it’s why you won’t find the kind of sexual shame in, um, in Judaism or often in Jews lives because it’s just not there in the same way. It’s, I mean there’s, it’s not like there’s not some shame hanging around, but they’re just, there just isn’t, um, the, the same kind of thinking there. And in fact, there are some really beautiful writing that show a way in which you always celebrate sexuality as a way to access, uh, God’s love to you, that the way to find how much you are beloved of God all over old Testament writing. Can you say over the Torah? And it’s, and it’s why so often, um, you’ll, you’ll hear beautiful stories from people who grew up in Jewish homes, um, that you’ll just, you’ll just not see in people who grew up in Christian basis. Oh, that’s so interesting. It just got really messed up in the formation of the Christian Church. What makes sexual shame so debilitating, especially when it’s religious sexual shame?

Speaker 4:        Well, so you have all the, all the things that are, um, so at the fundamental level, you cannot tell somebody not to feel something that’s impossible, not to feel. And you cannot tell somebody to sync something that’s impossible, not to think. So the middle minute that hormones come on board, and it’s natural to start thinking about sexuality and to start feeling sexual feelings, but you told somebody at eight, nine or 10 before those things that you’re supposed to not think and not feel right. And then they do. But you’ve told them at a younger age that they’re going to be able to word those thoughts and feelings off. Then they believe that they can do that. Right? And so they go inside themselves and begin to tell themselves that they should be able to do that. Okay. But, but what, what I want to emphasize is a long before that, eight, nine, and 10 age, and this is what makes sexual shame so profoundly hurtful, is that our very first shame is sexual shame.

Speaker 4:        So we know that shame, uh, affects our core worthiness. It affects our belief of am I worthy of love and belonging? Am I, am I worthy of being seen, known, loved, and accepted? So that’s at the core of my being. But what makes sexual shame our first shame is that if you think about an infant, an infant doesn’t realize that their hand is connected to them until somewhere between eight and 10 months. And that’s when that hand stops randomly hitting them, right? And they realize one day or two days or a week that they have some control over that hand and they’re like, Oh, I can grab things right? Or I can control whether or not it hits me in the face. And at some point around that time, that hand, as they’re getting their diapers change, it lands at their genital and they discover they’ve got a load of wonderful nerve endings there.

Speaker 4:        And they began to place their hand there a little more deliberately as their diapers getting changed or in there they’re in the bath or whatever, and that becomes something they do more often now. Unless that child just happens to be born in a home that understands that that is a good and normal thing, and someone is there to say, yeah, that’s your penis and that’s a great part of you, or that’s your clearest and that’s a great part of you, which very few children in America have. Now, if you’re in Scandinavian countries, that might be true, but not in America. Somebody is there to freak out, slap their hand away, say yucky, that’s dirty or whatever. Right? So that happens at 12 months and happened hundreds of times before the first time that child remembers getting in trouble for something around sexual curiosity, which is usually playing doctor and they’re five or six. That’s the first memory they’re going to remember, but it’s not the first sexual shame that’s happened. There’s been hundreds that have happened before. They were in the bathtub. They were playing on their tummy as a little boy with all their toys and they called mommy, mommy, daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy, whatever. Come in here. Why is my penis so big? Right? That happened at three right? These things happened hundreds of times, but they don’t remember those.

Speaker 1:        Well, let me got in trouble

Speaker 4:        a bunch of times, right? So these first shames happened a ton of times and they got all in trouble and they went way, way underground. So they got wired in their DNA as this is a bad, bad thing.

Speaker 1:        And so then all right, so then religion comes in and then you wrote your book, sex God and the conservative church that is addressed to both the everyday person and to healthcare professionals. And you had four key questions in that book. Would you mind sharing those people?

Speaker 4:        Yeah, exactly right. So I just want to layer on that, that, so then when I think I am bad, when religion gets involved, what layers on top of that then is then I believe God also can’t love me because then when the, when the teachings get inside of me, when I begin 10 1112 then I learn about what God thinks and I add to all the other stuff. Then God must also not be able to love, see no love and accept me. So that’s where it goes deeper. Okay. Right. So, so then as I began to read all these sexual autobiographies and see how deep this pain went and how it was manifesting in the lives of my students who were in their twenties and early thirties who were having sexual dysfunction, who were believing that they were bad to the core, their symptomology looked exactly like somebody who had suffered sexual abuse, but they had not suffered sexual abuse in the same kind of way.

Speaker 4:        And yet clearly their sexuality had been deeply hurt. Right? So I asked four questions, I said, did, did Christianity ever get it right? Meaning, did it ever have a sex positive part of it development? Because what I knew about the ministry of Jesus was that that was body positive, that was woman positive, that was all people positive, no matter what kind of person. Did it ever develop a sexuality out of that ethic? I didn’t know. So I went looking. That was the first question I asked. The answer to that question was, no it did not. It’s ethic was born out of the body is bad. I’ve got a mind body split, the body is bad, the spirit is good. And then then that bore out of the fourth century and then it went on from there and that’s the same ethic that it has today. So then I went further and I said, well on the Abrahamic line, was it ever sex positive? And that’s how I got into Jewish writing, Jewish scriptural writing and Jewish mystic riding. And then there was all kinds of beautiful stories that went way, way back in history. I put those stories in the book.

Speaker 1:        Okay. Just because we only have a few more minutes. What are the other three questions? Just so people know. I know it’s such a fast podcast.

Speaker 4:        So the other, the other three questions were, um, uh, is there a way to heal from religious sexual shame? And I developed, um, an evidence based model for how you heal sexual shame. And then I said, are there touch and non-touch practices that you can do? What no matter what configuration of relationship you’re in or if you’re single, that can give you an experience of the integration of spirituality and sexuality. Just a sense of meaning that involves touch, that feels, can feel kind of sacred to you, can feel meaningful to you. And so I worked with people around how do you touch in a way that feels meaningful and we put those practices in the book. Okay. We experimented. And the third question, those, those were the,

Speaker 1:        Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t hear them all right. Yeah. Okay. All right. All right. So those were the last three. Got it. I’m sorry. Um, yeah. Okay. Yeah, sorry. I just, I want to make sure that that’s really important stuff. And I like that you see it as a form of abuse because I do think it is religious abuse is a form of a tend to have, um, elements of it that is sexual abuse because of the sexual shame. And it sounds like you write about that and talk about that.

Speaker 4:        Yeah, absolutely. That’s how it manifests in people’s lives. Yeah, absolutely. Does it to you?

Speaker 1:        No, I have seen it very much so. And um, you know more, you know, we could probably have a whole podcast just on how it affects LGBT people in addition to a non LGBT. So where can people find your Tina if they want to find you online?

Speaker 4:        Yeah, they can find me at, um, Tina Schermer, sellers.com they can find me at an Instagram at, at um, dr Tina shameless sex. So D R T I N a shameless sex, um, that’s my Instagram. Um, and those are probably the two best places to find me. And, um, I also have an Institute that trains all kinds of practitioners, doctors and therapists, um, teachers in sexual health so that we can help people get the information that they need. Um, and um, uh, and that’s, uh, NW I O i.com and there we also have trained, um, practitioners that list that they are comprehensively trained, um, whether it’s uh, physicians are out there, um, trained in, in sexuality and um, their particular area and in, in spiritual intimacy so that people can find practitioners that are comprehensively trained because that most people don’t understand that physicians and therapists and, um, aren’t, do not receive information on sexuality when they go to grad school. So they are just as ignorant as the rest of us. I’m a big proponent on getting yourself trained as a practitioner.

Speaker 1:        Me too. And I left and let’s not forget about your book, sex God and the conservative church erasing shame from sexual intimacy. That’s also something they can get online, I’m sure@amazon.com and other places. So thank you so much, Tina. This was very helpful.

Speaker 4:        Yeah, you’re so welcome. I’m so glad to be here and to talk with you this morning, Joe.

Speaker 1:        All right. Thank you. I’ll talk to you later.

Speaker 4:        Okay, great.

Speaker 1:        All right. See you. Thanks for listening to this episode of smart sex, smart love. I’m dr Joel court and you can find me on Joe court.com that’s J O E K O R t.com. See you next time.

© 2019 • Smart Sex, Smart Love Podcast Series