Now that I have your attention, I will admit it was a very broad and assumptive statement on my part. Many of us may not feel ashamed of pursuing and indulging in the drama, the intrigue and pleasure of sex. But I believe that it is very important for us to first understand where the taboos came from concerning those of us who do have feelings of shame concerning indulging in pleasure and those of us who don’t and what I believe to be the reasons why.
To begin with we must first ask ourselves who were the first settlers of this country? It is generally accepted that it was the Puritans. Puritanism originally took a stand for a purer interpretation of Christian scripture. That is, they opposed the reforms made by the Catholic and Anglican churches of England because they weren’t strict enough in their reforms. Underlying that was the whole of the Puritan movement seeking to replace the personal pride of birth and status with a professional's or craftsman's pride of doing one's best in one's particular calling. As a result of both motivations they emigrated to the Netherlands, Ireland and, eventually, New England. Their focus was originally against inadequate religious reforms and unequal birth status up until the 1560s. After the 1590s Puritanism was applied to anyone having overly strict religion and morals. The majority of those who immigrated to New England were the Puritans. As they settled here they set the tone for moral and religious conduct. So our country’s earliest starting point for our perspectives on life and how it was to be lived came from them. One of the reasons that we have such diversity in our beliefs on how to live now is because as a country we eventually became a melting pot allowing other nationalities and religions to integrate into the whole contributing to our current day variations in the religions, morals and life styles of our citizens thereby diluting the moral influence of the Puritans. However, having originally set our moral tone, it had already become ingrained in the foundation of our moral code and actions and is still a very strong, mostly unconscious, compulsion in favor of adapting the behavior that we’re trained into and expected to follow even today. This is probably the ancestor of what we refer to as the “Moral Majority” today. The Puritans did not exclude pleasures such as sex or alcohol from their life styles but had very strict rules about their engagement in them. This mindset has become a very pervasive and conflicting undercurrent which many of us, especially the younger generations, have difficulty complying with. For the older generations it surfaces as a force utilizing guilt, shame and the need to disguise our natural animal urges. For the younger generations and especially those of other integrated cultures, it is a pillar of antiquated perspectives to be circumvented if not outwardly disregarded or rebelled against. So when I say some of us have been trained into feeling shame and others have not, we can understand how our diversity and melting pot experiences have created such a disparity in the way many of us perceive or even acknowledge morality involved in the way we believe we should be living. The majority of these types of perception have emanated from our own familial history and religious roots. Since US culture emanates mostly from Puritanical roots, Europe, with many more years of history and experience in these matters than us, not to mention having less of an influence from Puritanical traditions, is a lot freer and permissive, if not celebratory, in its expression and pursuit of our natural instincts toward pleasure.
The remnants of our Puritanical background are still present but appear to operate from a much more subdued level, especially in light of the years of progressing social changes we’ve been through since its inception into this country. Our prevalent religions, mostly Christian, still carry on some of the traditions openly while emphasizing humility and self-effacement in deference to others as a component of the religious code but most of them also still struggle with the underlying urges of our innate animal nature for survival and pleasure that remain suppressed through their respective mandates within our unconscious. In dealing with these innate urges it’s probably easier for those of us with no religious leanings or preferences. I feel this is so because it seems that religion still has the propensity toward denying the animal characteristics we all still share which only tends to compound the intensity of our struggle with them. Because the Native Americans who lived here before us personified the integration and acceptance of these urges into their culture, they were seen by our ancestors as a threat to their ability to deny their existence within us and, therefore, judged as savages and refused membership in our social structure.
So those of us who have families rooted in early American and Puritanical values still carry on, mostly within our unconscious, the struggle between our own personal and animal urges against our intended and desired image of appearing “civilized” and/or “holy” in our social interactions and demeanor. In psychology this has arisen as the separation between our Id and Superego with our Ego bearing the brunt of the culturally required mediation between the two. Hence, we now have developed all sorts of complexes and neuroses to label the different parts of the struggle that each of us may be dealing with at any given moment. We even have medications to subdue their effects so the intensity of the struggle may be minimized if not jammed back into the unconscious where it wreaks havoc from an “undisclosed” or untenable perspective generally surfacing at the most inopportune and unexpected times. In this it becomes the bubble under the wallpaper which refuses to dissipate and simply moves around the pressure in order to avoid its own extinction.
So, now that we’ve looked at how our traditional social structure deals with our animal nature and urges toward pleasure, let’s take a look at pleasure from a personal point of view without the attendant socially required stamp of selfishness and the stigma of applied shame. When we’ve been with someone who really turns us on, we enjoy immensely, have just had sex, had tremendous orgasms together and we’re totally and blissfully spent, do you think we’d feel like getting up and going to work? Of course not. If we’re into marijuana and we’ve just smoked the cleanest and most potent joint we’ve had in a long time and we’re floating in nature and its music, do you think we’d want to clean our apartments or do our taxes? Of course not. If we’re partying with friends and having the best tasting wine, laughing, joking, playing games, talking about life and we’re loose and relaxed with not a care in the world, do think we’d want to go home, change diapers, mow the lawn or fix the faucet? No again. These “hedonistic” activities release us from self-consciousness, worry, fear, tension and anxiety. They allow our innate animal urges to come to the surface. They allow us to indulge in and feel pleasure. Pleasure is the release from pain, stress and daily tension. When we’re feeling this way, does anyone have any effective influence or control over what we do if it countermands the pleasure we’re feeling? How manipulable are we when we’re in a pleasurable state if the activity we’re being pushed into performing interferes with our pleasure? Not much. Right? They why, might we think, that religions and government administrations want to set codes for, laws against and limits on our indulgence in these activities while at the same time inferring that they are immoral, selfish, ungodly, immature, unpatriotic and evil while encouraging our parents to emphasize this in our early training? When we’re comfortable and relaxed we are virtually uncontrollable and unmotivated by others. Then we only listen to our own motivations and urges. Pleasure and creativity are our main foci. The admonition against us, usually being very subtle and often unspoken, comes out as “Shame on you for not thinking about your brothers and sisters before your own interests.”
The current in our culture has been progressing toward an almost unspoken and innate mandate for our having more and more of a responsibility for, not only the welfare of others, but how they choose to feel about how our actions affect them. This is often reflected in the growing irrational claims the someone has done or said something in their purview that has offended them. This only serves to emotionally confirm our early training that we are responsible for someone else’s feeling. In the balance between our being responsible to ourselves and accountable to the world, this has pushed the pendulum way far to the right in emphasizing the welfare and feelings of others over our own. This tilts the pursuit and indulging in our own pleasure much further into the domain of guilt, shame and embarrassment.
So now our pursuit of pleasure for someone coming from a traditional background is, on the surface, perceived and often felt as an aberration and/or an inadequacy that needs to be dealt with within ourselves when it is actually an externally generated social coercion in the form of social blackmail. Yet, when we are alone and not in a social setting, we generally accept, enjoy and indulge in pleasure and its pursuit but always with and underlying feeling that we’re doing something that is not permissible and that classifies us as a less than an admirable or “godly” person. This is probably the original impetus for religion to call this type of activity a “sin.” I see it as an anachronistic trained mindset designed to evoke obedience. What is so sad is that with that morally social “assignment” its effect subliminally and emphatically encourages self-doubt and a diminished sense of self-confidence sabotaging our creative and joyful pursuits.
So many of us have been and still are raised in this country feeling ashamed of ourselves, and I don’t mean just our body and its basic needs and urges, but even our clothing has become just one more way for us to hide our trained and enforced perception that our natural desires and urges are to be viewed as inadequacies needing to be hidden from ourselves and others. For those of us with a traditional and religious training and upbringing it brings a paranoia pervasive within and generated by religion about acknowledging, viewing, respecting and beautifying our natural selves as evidence of excessive pride and something to be avoided at all cost lest we be labeled as Hedonistic, selfish, immoral, and then “excommunicated” from the civilized group of our neighbors. Even the bible tells us that Adam and Eve were ashamed when they saw themselves. THIS is the main reason why sex and pursuing pleasure is still such a problem in today’s US culture. The advertising agencies and our government know this and use it to the hilt. With their “aid” we receive an exacerbation of feelings of guilt and in front of our children, we are encouraged to hide how we relate to sex and pleasure while we continue to train them into our neurosis about it. It's an emotionally hurtful traditional that needs to be abandoned if we are to grow in emotional maturity and integrate our natural condition with our spiritual aspirations and awareness as balanced humans.