On Sex and Shame

On Sex and Shame

Delacroix Unmade Bed

Sexual shame is the gift that keeps on giving. Take your pick of things you can feel shameful about when it comes to sex: liking it, talking about it, doing it too much, doing it too little, preferring this or that. It’s all mostly unwarranted, of course. But this doesn’t mean it’s going away.

However, the one time when I think having sexual shame is warranted is in the instance when sex happens between people who once had great feelings for each other and no longer do.

This kind of sexual shame tends to be experienced repetitively. At least it was for me. I didn’t learn for a long time how to stop falling into it. It happened with someone whom I’d felt love for when I was very young and dumb. I didn’t know what I was doing. Neither did he.

What we did know was how all the dials and gears worked on each other’s bodies. So we kept working them in these sporadic, random sessions. Times when there was no reason for us to be in the same room, but we machinated to make the stars align in order to flip the
dials and grind the gears and see if that skin-bound magic would make what had been lost reappear.

This is different than hooking-up or casual sex. In casual hook-ups, there’s an expectation of loss. Or loss isn’t the point; you haven’t gained or earned anything, anyway. With a one-night thing or a hook-up, there’s been scant investment.

But with someone you’ve once loved, it’s like the engine keeps running until every bit of fuel is used up. Used up to the vapors. You make some weak-tea reason to get together, you take off your clothes, you turn the dials and wrench the gears and feel all the machinery of the past start to work again. Until it’s over.

Then the gears stop turning, the dials are still, and you look at this person next to you, or above you, or beneath you, this person who used to be everything possible you wanted. But now there is no next step. No next anything. You have nothing else to say or do because the one thing that you can say or do has been said and done.

It’s been said that you don’t pay a prostitute to have sex with you. You pay him to leave after he has sex with you. Too bad you can’t make the same agreement with this old flame. It might be easier.

It might be less painful, too, in the empty afterward, when you’ve dressed and are leaving. When you feel the direct hit of shame.

I can still feel it, after all the breathing slowed and the heartbeat returned to normal and it was just bodies and sweat and finding your shirt and “see you later, maybe.” That great canyon of shame into which you dropped yourself, willingly.


  • Carrie Mesrobian on Feb 18, 2013 Reply

    You seriously don’t want to know! Chalk it up to country music…:)

  • Ela on Feb 18, 2013 Reply

    So beautifully, perfectly put.
    The other part is the second-guessing of the past, conning it to see how it conned you, how you conned yourself–how were you able to screw yourself up (no pun, for once) to be able to have such excited feelings; what was their reality if they disappeared so abruptly and totally…

    But why is this on your mind now?

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