Words and illustration by Faith Bugenhagen | @babyybug
Photo by Sam Wachs | @schmoomer
I often think of one word when I am in the arms of someone else: safe. What is safety? How is it inherently applicable to intimacy? How is it defined emotionally? Because, when I think of safety it is not in terms of consent (although consent is essential), but rather in terms of abstract safety.
Do I feel as if the arms around me will protect me, should I sink in deeper, or should I reject this empty promise of safety that can’t be guaranteed to be continuous or conscious?
My fear in intimacy resides within this safety. Within my own security.
“I wouldn’t call it negative, I would say it fluctuates. I would say it’s an awkward relationship, I like the idea of it, but when it gets down to it, I am a bit hesitant around it.”
In a recent interview, an individual expressed his uncertainty around the act of intimacy itself.
Sex, theoretically, he could appreciate, even desire—but embracing and participating in it realistically, he struggled with.
This all-encompassing fear perpetuated a constant sentiment of disappointment in his mind. His relationship with his parents had long been fractured, then eventually rebuilt. The foundational bond, however, had been broken before and couldn’t be promised to not be broken again.
His father was the figurehead of his fear, the cause of it. He had been through a lot and had not wanted his son to make the same mistakes that he had made.
“Middle school and early high school, drugs, drinking, and hooking up, I felt like my parents would find out, judge me, and not approve.”
Safety and security of the aforementioned participation was defined within the constraints of this fear of judgement. He searched for an explanation and a way to come to terms with and embrace intimacy as an entity in life that existed with the premise of enjoyment.
These are similar to struggles and realizations I have faced, but for me it has always extended more broadly. Judgement wasn’t the main concern, sexual repression wasn’t the main issue, all the issues I thought were present within my relationship with intimacy weren’t the main obstacle thwarting my embrace.
This extension was present within the relationship he had with intimacy as well because it wasn’t his relationship with his parents that led him to construct a culture of fear around sex and intimacy—it was the haphazard and convoluted experiences he had had. “I am not even religious, but I went to confess to a priest [because] I was so nervous, and he asked me how long it had been since I last confessed. I told him I had never been to church.”
Within each moment he reflected on and talked about, he had almost always run to a nearby church after the act of intimacy each time. Regardless of the situation, he knew he would need someone to talk to and provide him with the security he needed.
I never acknowledge the fact that I need security, I need safety—and again I remind you—within the abstract sense. I need reassurance, I need validity. I have come to terms with my struggle to equate myself to one who deserves to be desired. I was the catalyst that constructed my own self-discovery and self-acceptance within intimacy, disregarding the stigma around sexuality.
As soon as I stopped referring to myself as “baby” or “inexperienced,” I was able to somewhat conquer my sexuality.
He began to do the same, to construct his own narrative around intimate encounters, and breached the separation between him and his parents. He knew that empty searching within individuals who could not properly formulate thoughts or opinions about intimacy wouldn’t help him get over his anxiety. This could only be done by him. So he did it.
“Part of the reason why I am [a] virgin is because I want it to be something more, to mean something more.”
He found security and safety in knowing that intimacy for him was not defined by haphazard attention to the act itself, but what the act meant for him. This care deconstructed the culture he had created. Fear, shame, and judgement no longer defined the constraints of his sexuality.
Fear, shame, and judgement no longer define the constraints of my sexuality.