Childhood Messages – Interview

Dr Robert Maciver, Relationships and Sexual Counselling, BMBS, Diploma of RACOG, Diploma of Family Therapy

“I am interested to know how people see themselves sexually, especially the stories about who they are individually, in relationship with others and in their sexual relations. I explore with people how these stories affect their lives and whether they are helpful, or detrimental and limiting. We examine together the origin of these stories, from the direct or indirect messages received in childhood and as we grew up, usually from the people most meaningful in our lives. If the messages are detrimental, they will hold the key to low self-esteem, shame, to self-blame, self-criticism, and self-rejection. I am trying to help people undo these stories through questioning and examining the ideas and their origins and help them to identify the way they want their life to be.

“In addressing these we open the door to preferred alternative ways of thinking about sexuality and relationships, ways that could challenge the old stories. If the person is willing to look at new or preferred ways to live their life there are ways to explore this, such as learning to interpret their behaviours from new perspectives, recognising and practicing new behaviours, self-exploration and expressions of feelings.

“In our society it is not all right to have sexual difficulties, yet sexuality is a normal part of life and it is important to be able to talk and share these issues. For example many men and women have feelings of shame around sexual performance. Talking about these concerns is a first step to healing, and to exposing the enormously powerful societal and family messages that limit and control our very attitudes around sexuality. Together we look at accepting normal body functions and desires as natural and acceptable. I help them to move away from shame and self-rejection, to self-acceptance and self-love.

“For example many people experience shame around masturbation and I ask them where this shame came from. We then look together at where we can create a loophole in this story. I also recommend the Human Awareness Institute’s safe workshops on relationships, love, intimacy and sexuality for anyone who has done some work on healing their sexual shame. I believe that one of their workshops is worth three months of therapy.

“Only about 10 per cent of people look at and discuss their sexual issues and I really think these people are courageous and need to be applauded for their willingness to address their concerns. For about 70 per cent of people will have the same difficulties but have not made the first step, which is to free themselves enough from the constraints to be able to speak about sexuality and difficulties. From my own experience my biggest insights are about learning to speak about what I feel and being able to differentiate this from feeling responsible for another’s feelings. I help people to learn to ask for everything they want in my relationships around intimacy and sexuality and to be willing to hear what the other person wants and respecting that. I help them to learn not to feel shame, rejection or that they are wrong if what they want is not what someone else wants.

“To do this takes real self-acceptance, and this is the key to healing our shame. I also believe that our relationships are very important in our healing and that real healing occurs in the safe and accepting arms of our loving partners when we are vulnerable and able to express what is really going on for us. This requires that we do indeed have safe and loving relationships and if someone does not, then I would encourage them to work to creating this or seek ways to find it elsewhere.”

Touch was the first thing that made us feel emotionally and physically connected with our mother. As babies it was our first sensory input and an essential part of our growth. Many studies have repeatedly shown that the more a child is held, kissed and touched, the stronger and happier they are. Although we have no conscious memory of it, adult sexual behaviour often has its roots in infancy. A baby’s instinctive need for nourishment causes it to suckle and much adult eroticism is duplicated in sucking, kissing, biting and other types of oral expression.

Research has shown that when a child’s senses of touch, taste, sight, sound and smell have not been fully explored they will manifest in unbalanced adult sexual behaviour. Some examples of this are people who are only able to be turned on by one sense, e.g. by phone sex, looking at pornography, ‘talking dirty’ or by being drug or alcohol effected. Being able to use all the senses to be sexually aroused is very important if we want to expand our pleasure and connect with ourselves and a partner.

When someone becomes obsessed with a certain way to get turned on, or having sex, then this becomes an incredible limitation on their sexual expression. Much of this originates in childhood, when their way of relating to pleasure became narrowly focused, often through repression or sexual trauma. Fantasy can help you to become aroused, but can also take you away from your partner and the sensations you are feeling in your body. If your obsession about fantasies is causing you to become distant from yourself and your partner, it removes you from pleasure sensations in your body. Often sex and intimacy become mixed up and when we want closeness and love, or to be touched, we feel that the only way we can be touched and held is if we have sex.