The Theology of My Body: A #Catholic With a Fear of Sperm

Yesterday was my 4th EDMR session. While it feels weird to jump right into the results (rather than lay the foundation over several blog posts), that can’t be helped. The story takes too long to tell.

Here’s the short version: in 2014, my husband and I started learning about Natural Family Planning (NFP) and the Creighton Method (CM). At the time, we were married, practicing Catholics using condoms. We made it about six months through the NFP practice before our conversations about and understanding of sex radically shifted. We weren’t “trying to conceive,” but it quickly became clear that a healthy, happy marriage does not stand on birth control.

Then we started having sex all the time without a condom. Easy peasy, right? Not so fast.

Fear of Sperm

The first few times we tried to have sex without a condom in 2014, I freaked out. I couldn’t pinpoint the issue, but when the moment arrived for us to follow through with the whole sexual act, something inside of me spazzed and I couldn’t do it (no pun intended).

Starting-a-family anxiety? Parenting issues? That’s what I assumed at first. I googled everything I could think of, starting with “Sperm is gross” and “Fear of sperm,” hoping to find camaraderie in a pregnancy forum. But I only found one comment about it and it was pretty innocuous (“Does anyone else think sperm is pretty gross?” “Yeah, ew! But whatcha gonna do?”) 

However, when I started talking about it with a counselor it quickly became clear that I had an awful lot of negative associations with the sexual act and sperm in particular. And in January of 2015 (this year) I realized that what I thought was just a crappy first relationship at 15 years old was actually sexual abuse.

A Bad First Impression

I never thought I’d be someone who suddenly “remembered” being abused, but that’s exactly how it happened. In the course of one 60-minute counseling session I went from “Yeah, I dated a jerk,” to “Oh, I remember X and X, and it was consensual, but looking back I would never do that and I would be disgusted by anyone who asked me to do that.”

I’ll leave the details for another post, but my first introduction to sex was as far from Catholic as possible. It was secretive (I snuck around my strict parents to make it happen), it was selfish (on behalf of the guy), it was not loving, and it was as far from respectful of of a woman as it is possible to get without getting into forced rape territory.

It was also calculated, inspired by his desire to experiment and act out scenes he enjoyed from pornography, and inappropriate based on our ages (he was 19, I was 15, a senior when I was a freshman).

Forgiveness & Recovery

I won’t get into the guy too much — looking back, what he shared about his sexual compulsiveness indicates to me that he was sexually abused as a child. And no matter how inappropriate, misguided, or uninformed I was, it was also always “up to me” what we did.

Instead, I’m drawn to how this story impacts my understanding of femininity, my ability to be open to life within my marriage now, and how my husband and I will approach pregnancy staring down this less obvious form of psychological infertility.

The more I unravel this situation in the EDMR sessions, the more clearly this becomes a far-reaching theme into the secular history of my body, including the following:

  • The respect/love my body didn’t get from my mother (because of the respect/love she did not give her own body for being overweight, abused, and prone to overeating)
  • The teasing I received in middle school because I was overweight
  • The abusive relationship I entered into in high school
  • The dramatic and sexually-active relationships I maintained through high school and college (even with my current husband until we were married and then entered the Catholic Church)
  • The chronic illness that became active in college and after college
  • The current sense of “invasion” at the thought of completing the sexual act (a million sperm verses just me)

In each of these segments of my history, my body was the enemy. I was not a spiritual being working with a physical body, as CS Lewis says. I was a spiritual being burdened by a crappy body that didn’t work properly (it was too fat, too sick, too abused by someone else).

It wasn’t mine. It wasn’t me. The me I held on to and cultivated was the me of the mind and the intellect. I was me in spite of my body not because of it. The two were separate, and the one (the mind) was preferable to the other (the body).

Beyond Plugging the Hole

 

This is where I hope the abuse ends. Using the Church’s teaching and sacraments, I want to get to the bottom of this and merge the two again. I want to find away to accept my sick, broken, and abused body, and love it again. Because, honestly, I don’t think I do.

Reading Women, Food, and God helped me stop hating my body. But it mainly just plugged up the abuse. I didn’t take the next step to actively love or accept my body. I just moved on to other things, grateful to ditch my body issues once and for all. Cue the phrase, “The opposite of hate is not love, it’s apathy.”

But as anyone who moved to one town to escape relationships in another, you know that ditching the issues is just the first step. There’s also a lot of work to be done with digging out the rotten roots and filling it with something that will let your body heal. If you don’t, you’re just building your emotional house on sand over and over again.

How the Church Saves

I think that something that can fill me and let my body heal is Jesus Christ. Someone who came to us with a perfect body, a perfect intellect, and a perfect spirit… and submitted to God to watch it all be broken and torn apart in full confidence that it was for the best.

I might think I am suffering and I might be afraid of the sacrifice I would have to make as a pregnant woman (the overshadowing, the submission, the loss of control), but I would not be the first, the last, or even the most notable.

Jesus already showed me how. Mary already showed me how. But no one can do it for me. I have my own cross, my own trial, and my own issues to overcome (because yeah, I haven’t met anyone else with a fear of sperm yet!). It won’t be easy, but at least now I can see the path laid out before me instead of wandering alone.

Next Steps

Step one: I ordered an introduction to Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. I’ll be reading it and writing about it in hopes that I can unravel these complicated emotions and embrace the simple heart of the Catholic Church: a respectful, loving, life-giving marriage.

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4 comments

  1. mollybenz

    I came across your blog because today because I typed in ” EDMR Catholic” on google and you were the first link that showed up. I have only read a couple of your posts but I want to thank your for your courage and honesty in your writing, it’s refreshing and helps me feel less alone and crazy.

    I have been struggling with PTSD depression and anxiety for the past 5 years because of sexual abuse and other trauma I endured when I was a kid. I have been going to therapy ( the past five years) going to college and working well struggling with all of the this but I have been able to go to school and work . Two months into my first job out of college my depression got so bad I had to quit my job this Monday. I have a Catholic Theraphist that I love but she doesn’t have the correct training for what I need so I have been looking for a new Theraphist. I have recently heard about EDMR and how it can be extremely effective, but am finding it hard to find a Theraphist trained in it. I apologize for reaching out to you in such a personal way, I am writing this in hopes of hearing a little more about your experience with EDMR because I am a devout Catholic who has found a hard time finding people in my life who have similar experiences or are will info to talk about them with me. I know things in my life won’t be perfect until heaven but because of the trauma from my past I have a big fear of men and hard time trusting others and want to be able to move past it and receive the right healing and EDMR seems like something that could help so I would love to hear about your experience in a little more detail. I understand you are busy so don’t worry if you can’t get to me and apologize if this is TMI for you but thanks for helping me feel less alone by your writings and I’ll definitely be keeping you in my prayers!

    • hannahjeankahn

      Molly thank you so much for your note! I only started this blog in hopes I would meet someone like you. By which I mean someone like me, for what we’ve gone through!

      First, I have to thank you for being persistent about your mental health. It is so, so hard to keep going when you’re depressed. And you’re not only keeping going but you’re trying to find help in many different ways. I know how much energy that takes, and it says a lot about the person you are at heart!

      My experience with EMDR has been wonderful. I’ve been going about once per week since January 2016 (this year). It’s very similar to talk therapy (all I do is talk) but it has a physical component. It’s just rhythm of some kind, something that makes your eyes look side to side and activates your brain and memory in a special way. My therapist uses little vibrating pods that I hold, but my husband’s therapist just uses her hands with a side-to-side motion.

      That’s where the magic happens! It’s exactly like having gunk in your teeth. When you think of something similar to your trauma, you “taste the gunk all over again” and you’re stuck in it emotionally and mentally like it’s happening all over again.

      EMDR works like floss — it gets in there and removes the gunk. So, you still think about the event and you might be sad (I still cry all the time in my sessions!) but the gunk is gone — it’s not sticky, and it’s not as overwhelming as it used to be.

      So, for example, I’m still really uncomfortable with sperm and when I think about it or talk about it in my sessions I don’t like it at all. But the past three times I’ve made love with my husband, we’ve been able to go all the way. It’s like the pain and the feelings that used to be there and that would make me say no to going all the way just kind of dissolved or aren’t there anymore.

      So my uncomfortable memories are still there, and I am still at a place where I have to decide from one time to another whether I’ll want to go all the way, but the feelings aren’t as big, real, and painful as they were because that “gunk” is gone from my brain.

      I hope this makes a little more sense! You can find a local EMDR therapist here: http://www.emdr.com/find-a-clinician/. I’ll follow your blog… let’s please stay in touch!

      • Molly

        Thanks for the kind words. It can be difficult for sure and hard because I don’t know almost any Catholics who are vocal about mental health/ trauma issues and it can make me feel a lot different from people. I actually signed up for a blog on accident when I was trying to comment so I apologize I don’t have anything on there haha! But I would love to stay in touch and asking you a couple more questions about EDMR as I attempt to go through the therapy myself and if you feel comfortable I would love to email about it. I know you are busy so I totally get if you don’t have the time, but if you do let me know. Also congrats and the pregnancy I’ll be praying for you!

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