The Confusion of Shame & Sex and How it Affects Us
Living in a culture where sex is relentlessly promoted in media and advertising, we find ourselves surrounded by messages that imply "sex sells." However, we also encounter shame and stigma when it comes to discussing sex openly. This conflicting situation is what my teacher called "sexual schizophrenia." We hear mixed messages urging us to embrace our sexuality, but at the same time, we are denied the freedom to talk about it and explore it openly. To understand this complex issue, we need to unravel how shame affects our ability to enjoy self-pleasure and maintain a satisfying libido. Keep reading to explore the effects of shame on sexuality.
What is Shame? Understanding its Effects
Renowned researcher Brené Brown provides a powerful definition of shame as "the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging." Shame thrives in secrecy, silence, and judgment, permeating various aspects of our lives. In sex therapy, we encounter shame related to our bodies, our sexual desires and kinks, unpopular beliefs, and past sexual experiences, ranging from decisions we regret making to traumatic, life-changing events. These feelings of shame often leave us questioning how "normal" we are and, on a deeper level, how worthy we are of being loved.
Shame and Gender: The Burden of Expectations
Think women are the only ones who experience shame around sex and sexuality? Think again. Shame's grip knows no gender boundaries. Men commonly experience shame tied to their perceived inability to attract and sleep with attractive partners, concerns about penis size, and performance anxiety. On the other hand, women face shame related to feeling like they are not "sexy enough" to maintain their partners' interest. Both genders fall victim to double standards and unrealistic expectations imposed by society.
Unraveling the Roots of Shame around Sex
Religion can have a big impact on how we see and feel about sex, and it often brings in feelings of shame. Many religious teachings label certain sexual behaviors as sinful or immoral, making us feel guilty and ashamed. Some religious beliefs push for abstinence and sticking to traditional norms, which can make us feel ashamed if we don't fit into those expectations.
Here’s an interesting correlation between sin and shame - in religion, sin is defined as “missing the mark” from the rules and standards that are set forth, while Brené Brown has found in her research that shame is a feeling that occurs when we “fall short.” Essentially, sin and shame go hand in hand. If we do not abide by the religious doctrine, we believe that we have sinned, therefore we have fallen short and feel shame.
It's not just religion, though. Movies, media, and society in general create these unrealistic standards that add fuel to our feelings of shame. In addition to all that, when we don't have enough knowledge about our own bodies and sexual desires, it can leave us feeling even more confused and ashamed.
Freeing Yourself from Shame's Shackles
To free ourselves from the clutches of shame, we must bring it to light. Drawing from Brené Brown's research, we learn that shame thrives in darkness, but loses its power when exposed. By courageously sharing our experiences and vulnerabilities, we eliminate the all-consuming feeling of loneliness that shame brings up.
Normalizing conversations around topics of sex within our own communities such as friends and family, helps us break down shame's most powerful tool: the feeling of being alone, being weird, being the only one. Talking about our shame let's us realize that our experiences are not as unique as we may think- and that's a good thing!
Talking about sex and our sexual experiences helps us realize that the very things that kept us prisoners of shame, may bring us closer to those we love. It also helps foster deeper relationships within your community by bringing an air of transparency and vulnerability.
The Effect of Shame on Sexual Relationships
During a recent conversation with Dr. Daisy Monterroso on her podcast "The Truth About," we delved into the intricate connection between sex and shame. In that insightful episode, we explored how shame can deeply affect our sexual relationships, shaping the way we connect and engage with our partners. You can check that out here. When shame infiltrates the intimate space we share with our loved ones, it creates barriers and inhibitions that hinder the full expression of our desires and pleasure.
One way shame affects sexual relationships is through the fear of judgment and rejection. When we carry a heavy burden of shame, we may find it challenging to be vulnerable and fully open up to our partners. We fear that they may judge us based on our desires, preferences, or past experiences, leading to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. This fear can prevent us from expressing our true selves and experiencing the deep connection and intimacy we crave.
Supporting Your Partner on the Journey
When it comes to supporting our partners in navigating shame, it's essential to shift our perspective away from performance-based expectations and focus on fostering meaningful intimacy and pleasure. This shift is especially valuable for men, as they can benefit from embracing a mindset that prioritizes connection rather than solely focusing on performance. By cultivating open and honest communication, as well as creating a safe space for exploration, we create an environment where shame gradually loses its hold, allowing both partners to fully embrace and enjoy their sexuality without fear or inhibition.
When it comes to supporting women through shame, partners can play a vital role in creating a safe and nurturing environment. By actively listening to the women's concerns and emotions without judgment, partners can provide a non-threatening space for open communication and vulnerability. Encouraging self-acceptance and promoting a positive body image can also help women overcome feelings of shame and cultivate a healthier relationship with their own sexuality.
Shame and Masturbation: Decoding Your Own Sexual Relationship
Society's mixed messages about self-pleasure can leave individuals feeling confused, guilty, and even ashamed of their own desires. Many cultural and religious beliefs view masturbation as immoral or sinful, instilling deep shame in individuals who engage in this natural and healthy form of self-exploration.
It is important to recognize that masturbation is a normal and natural part of human sexuality. Understanding and accepting this truth can help us break free from the grip of shame. By exploring our own bodies, we gain valuable knowledge about our sexual desires and preferences, which in turn can enhance our sexual experiences with partners.
Embracing our desires and engaging in self-pleasure without shame allows us to cultivate a positive and fulfilling sexual connection with ourselves and our partners. Breaking free from the shackles of shame surrounding masturbation can open up new avenues of self-discovery, pleasure, and self-love.
How Shame Affects our Libido
Shame can have a profound impact on our libido, affecting our ability to experience and engage in sexual desire. When we carry shame surrounding our sexuality, it can create a disconnect between our minds and bodies, making it difficult to feel aroused or interested in sexual activities. The negative emotions associated with shame, such as guilt, embarrassment, and self-judgment, can inhibit our ability to fully embrace and enjoy our sexual experiences.
Shame can also lead to a decrease in self-esteem and body confidence, making it challenging to feel desirable or attractive. It creates a constant sense of self-doubt and can lead to a fear of judgment or rejection, both of which can significantly dampen our sexual desire. The societal and cultural expectations surrounding sex and the pressure to meet unrealistic standards further contribute to feelings of shame and can lead to a diminished libido.
Moreover, shame often creates a barrier to open communication and intimacy in sexual relationships. It can prevent us from expressing our desires, discussing our needs with our partners, or exploring new aspects of our sexuality. This lack of communication and vulnerability can further hinder the development of a satisfying and fulfilling sexual connection, ultimately impacting our overall libido.
Addressing and overcoming shame surrounding our sexuality is essential for reclaiming a healthy libido. By challenging negative beliefs, fostering self-acceptance, and seeking support, we can gradually dismantle the shame that inhibits our desire. Cultivating a positive body image, practicing self-compassion, and embracing vulnerability in our relationships can also contribute to rebuilding our libido and experiencing a more fulfilling and enjoyable sexual life.
Shame's influence on our ability to experience self-pleasure and maintain a fulfilling libido should not be underestimated. By understanding the roots of shame, challenging societal norms, and embracing vulnerability, we can reclaim our sexuality and cultivate healthy relationships with ourselves and our partners. It's time to break free from shame's hold and adopt a more open, accepting, and empowered perspective on sex.
Want to continue deepening your understanding about the way shame impacts our sexual self? Check out the YouTube video of the podcast below, or listen to it on Spotify!
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Board Certified Sex Therapist
You deserve to feel safe within your intimacy, and I'm specially trained to do that.
As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Certified Sex Therapist, my main mission is to help you foster true intimacy within yourself by guiding you through the therapeutic healing journey.