Choice and Tyranny
It is not a novelty for a naked picture of me to be on the Internet. If one knows where to look, there are a number of them out there. So while I include a photo with this post, it does not represent the “naked” part of this for me. It is there for illustration, perhaps personalizing the account that follows.
Having worked in amateur porn and as a webcam model, images of my physical nudity may be found in various places. Displaying physical nakedness has not tended to faze me, and on the contrary I have (for the most part) appreciated the context in which those photos were taken and have been displayed.
Of course, as with most things, there is a reason for that. It took a while for me to be in a position to make those choices.
I was fairly young—about eight—when I was informed that according to “God” it was “wrong” to have sex “before you were married.” (Lots of quotes in there, I know, but I don’t want to reinforce or give the impression that I condone that which seems dubious to me—which in that sentence includes everything in quotation marks.) This is not earth-shatteringly unusual, I realize. I also feel no doubt that my mother imparted this with the best of intentions, as it was what she herself sincerely believed, and I appreciate that she was taking the responsibility to speak with her children about sex.
It happened that for me, that message ended up with implications perhaps more extreme than many may have found in it.
I didn’t know that what I had experienced as a common part of life may be categorized as a psychological disorder until I was twenty. I was taking an Abnormal Psychology class in undergrad, and one day the professor was introducing the five categories of anxiety disorders. He put an overhead up about obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and started to talk about it.
I had barely heard of OCD, so it had never occurred to me to wonder if it was in me. The first examples of obsessive-compulsive-related thoughts and behaviors I recall in me were at about age seven, so it might have been the seeming normative experience of them that resulted in my not questioning their implications in such a way. I hadn’t really known anything different.
In class that day, I looked at the overhead and thought, “Huh. That is what is in me. Apparently it’s categorized as an anxiety disorder. I’d always wondered if other people were doing the things in my head that I was.” For some reason, it felt that casual. It was certainly unquestionable—there was no doubt that the descriptions on the sheet reflected what I had experienced. While I felt surprised and somewhat fascinated, I think it had been such a normal part of my experience that it seemed almost quaint to see it labeled as a disorder.
The first time I had sex (by which I mean vaginal intercourse, the phrase “have sex” seeming perhaps ambiguous), I had seen that it was okay to do so. Despite how simple that sounds, it is so far from a casual statement I hardly know how to describe it. I had a choice about whether or not to have sex. That had never been the case before. The choice had formerly been hijacked and made in me before I even realized there was one. The day I “lost my virginity,” I chose to—clearly, freely, and comfortably.
I was 25 years old.
OCD was about one underlying thing for me: “God.” What I thought of as God was watching me all the time, always, and the entire focus of watching me was to ensure that I never, ever did anything wrong, and that if I did, I paid for it or was punished.
Potential punishment was simply unimaginable. For the most part the details of such were kept from my consciousness, their very consideration too traumatic. “Controlling” thoughts in order to keep such terrifying details from materializing into consciousness was one of the purposes of earnest and obedient repetitions of compulsions.
The other was to avoid said punishment itself. Generally, I was paying “in advance” to earn the allowance of scathingly horrendous things not happening to me or my family (on whom OCD frequently seemed focused). Compulsions were demanded to allow the keeping in check of such occurrences, since the chances were I had or would eventually do something “wrong” that would require such obligation.
Appeasement of the orders of OCD (which is to say compulsions) could come in numerous forms—counting, repeating phrases in my head, fidgeting a certain way, saying certain things…an innumerable list of penances that seemed inexhaustible and that I wouldn’t know how to realistically detail in any comprehensive form. Demands could and often did come at any time, and there was no negotiation involved.
The real, underlying fear—the very thought of which was usually kept from consciousness as per above, so much so that I wasn’t even aware of its being the case for some time—was Hell. In life too, indeed, I was in (unwanted) control of what happened to myself and my family, but the ultimate responsibility with which I was charged, and for which I was singularly responsible, was to keep myself and my family out of Hell.
I realize such a specter may seem silly if one doesn’t subscribe to traditional postulations of Christianity. All I can say is that it wasn’t so much a literal belief as the simple vague, indelible, perpetual terror of the threat of the literally most horrifying experience possible. I use no hyperbole in that description.
If I did or thought something “wrong,” of course, backpedaling in the form of increased compulsion was frequently necessary. The catch was that, in large part, what was “wrong” was arbitrary. It was at the absolute discretion of the savage, unrelenting, maniacally tyrannical “God” in my head.
But there was one rule attributed to “God” that had been externally and overtly presented to me.
I had not sought any kind of treatment after the realization in the psychology class because I thought, frankly, that the phenomenon that the sheet described as OCD had been in me since I was seven, I was “used” to it, and I could handle it and for whatever reason doubted it would ever become much “worse.”
This assessment was erroneous. In my early 20’s, I experienced a dramatic increase in the intensity of OCD to a degree that sometimes impeded general functioning. Around that time I also discovered, through a gradual process, that not having sex before I was married was the pinnacle of OCD in me. It was the ultimate—the one action that epitomized my responsibility and what I was allowed to do or not do. This was the thing that, if done, would result in not only me but my family undergoing indefinitely the most horrendous and torturous experience imaginable (or not imaginable). If I had sex outside of marriage, that result would be entirely my fault.
I could write an entire other post (and probably will sometime on my blog) on how and why OCD has not controlled me for about the last eight years. I honestly don’t know how to put it succinctly without going into considerable detail, so I will just say that a distinct process transpired that I didn’t even realize was happening at the time that resulted in a shift I hadn’t known or imagined existed.
Over the course of about six months, and in part without my even realizing it, an unimaginable (to me at the time) shift and expansion of perspective occurred in me. Without my at all “trying” or having such a thing as a “goal” (as again, I was not even able to conceive of it to make it into a goal), this process involved the distorted perception that had hijacked and held hostage my experience dissolving.
That distorted and hijacking perception being OCD.
It is difficult to describe how OCD not controlling me anymore felt. As I mentioned before, I didn’t really have anything to compare being under its control to since I had experienced it from such a young age. The shift was like being presented with a new color, one completely unlike those you had known existed, or a new number—0 though 9 are not the only ones. A whole new one is there, changing the way you have viewed things all your life.
One of the ways I was aware this shift had happened was the seeing of sex being a choice. Of knowing that how I acted sexually was up to me. The symbolic pinnacle of the expansion in me was a reflection of the same subject I had experienced as the pinnacle of OCD.
In light of which I said quite literally to the tyrannical authority that had been OCD in me,
Emerald is an erotic fiction author and general advocate for human sexuality as informed by her deep appreciation of the beauty, value, and intrinsic nature of sexuality and its holistic relation to life. Her erotic fiction has been published in anthologies edited by Violet Blue, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Jolie du Pre, and Alison Tyler as well as online at various erotic websites. She currently resides in suburban Maryland where she works as a webcam model and serves as an activist for reproductive freedom and sex worker rights. She blogs about sexuality in cultural, social, professional, and spiritual contexts at her website, The Green Light District: http://thegreenlightdistrict.org/wordpress/