Childhood Messages

Our sexual behaviour is directly linked with the way we were treated as children. If our parents, or care givers, showed us love and tenderness, then as adults we are able to express this in our sexual and emotional relationships. When a child is held, cuddled and kissed they relax and feel deep pleasure and we build on this experience as adults. We learn in different phases and if these are not integrated then we cannot go onto the next phase of emotional development. To give us an understanding of where we are in our lives now we need to look at our past.

For many of my clients, the emotional and physical difficulties they are now experiencing began in their childhood. It was here that they learnt to disconnect from their emotional and physical pain and first experienced feeling alone and vulnerable. The root of their sexual shame often comes from these experiences and also receiving a message that they were somehow ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’. As adults this can manifest in sexual relationships fraught with difficulty, where it is almost impossible to connect lovingly with another or feel deep personal sexual pleasure. For these people their attempts to develop intimacy with another have brought up many old issues.

If sexual oppression and trauma are experienced in childhood, they manifest not only in our behaviour but in our body. A child who gets negative messages about masturbation often unconsciously pulls the pelvis back and tightens the genital muscles. If this stance becomes an ongoing posture, it gives the appearance of a sway back and will cause them difficulty in building up sexual feelings and holding them.

Numerous studies have shown that infants who have been freely allowed to explore their bodies, including masturbation, developed motor skills and dexterity far quicker than those who have been restricted. Early toilet training can be a very traumatic event, with many children being pressured to control their bowel before they have physically developed the skills to do so. This pressure around the genitals and the associated muscle tension can lead to adult sexual problems. For men this can manifest as a lack of control over ejaculation and for women it can be difficulty in achieving orgasm.

Bodily sexual functions are part of our existence from birth, with a boy having an erection soon after birth and a girl’s vagina lubricating within the first 24 hours. Yet societal messages are nearly always to the contrary, with our sexuality being portrayed as suddenly hitting at puberty. It is part of a child’s normal sexual development to explore and touch their body, just as they do with everything else in the external world. So a young male child who holds his penis to explore it or a little girl who fondles herself and possibly inserts objects into her vagina are both behaving perfectly normally. Their self exploration lays the foundation to having a relaxed and happy approach to the body and developing their own boundaries. When this is violated by an adult interfering with them, this normal development becomes an area of trauma.

Children who have been caught masturbating and have been reprimanded will stop exploring sexual pleasure through a sense of shame and this impacts in a major way on their future sex lives. I have worked with many women who have expressed difficulty in reaching orgasm and many men who have had problems with premature ejaculation and impotency. More often than not when they tell me about their childhood they remember being told, either verbally or nonverbally, that genital touch and masturbation were taboo. After receiving messages that their genitals were ‘dirty’ or ‘bad’ they closed down to feeling in that area of their body. As adults this manifests as not feeling connected sexually and not knowing how to feel pleasure in their genitals. A child who over masturbates or masturbates inappropriately indicates that the child is unhappy about something in their life and they are using masturbation to comfort themselves. This is akin to thumb sucking or clinging to a security blanket or toy.

Article: Childhood Messages