How Do We Overcome the Shame of Sex?
It could seem odd, nowadays, to feel shame about one’s interest in, or feelings about, sex.
As modern enlightened people, we’re all meant to be extremely confident, well-adjusted and enthusiastic around the topic of sex.
But far from it.
Sexual shame has, in truth, never remotely gone away, for many of us be it is primarily a psychological, not some sort of political or religious problem.
Our capacity to express our sexual selves confidently and happily, our ability to say what we want, to ask for it without embarrassment and quickly to leave situations where we are unfulfilled or humiliated, all are enormous psychological achievements.
They are also generally only available spontaneously to those who enjoyed highly supportive and emotionally evolved early environments.
For us to be naturally sexually untroubled adults requires that, way back, others (who were relaxed in their own selves) will have left us feeling acceptable to ourselves:
enjoying a sense that our bodies and their functions were natural and fine things, that we were not naughty or sinful for expressing curiosity about our bodily pleasures, that it was OK to make a mess now and then
and that it was, for example, more than a good idea to be, at the age of two, properly delighted by the strange and wondrous existence of one’s own bottom.
Sexual desire is one of the most personal and vulnerable things that we are ever called upon to express – and it exposes one to potentially momentous degrees of ridicule.
As bullies of all kinds have always known, if you want to destroy someone fast, shame them about their sexuality; they’ll never have the self-confidence to challenge you again.
Overcome the Shame of Sex?
There are few things more deeply ‘us’ than our longing for a sexual connection and therefore any feelings of unworthiness –
any worries about how nice we are, how deserving we may be or how legitimate it is that we exist – have a sure habit of cropping up in the bedroom and of destroying our ability to be straightforward and unconflicted sexual beings.
To generalise crudely, if there is any danger of us feeling bad about ourselves, we’re going – by a psychological inevitability – to feel bad about ourselves and sex.
What gets called sexual problems – impotence, vaginismus, lack of desire, harmful addictions or a general fear of intimacy – are, first and foremost, always problems of self-hatred.
As a rule, one can’t both hate oneself and be having a terrific time in bed.
Beginning to repair the problem of sexual shame relies on a basic acceptance that the problem exists and that it has probably been playing havoc with our lives.
We need to learn to name and track the matter, to say to ourselves and then a few loved ones: I feel debilitating shame around sex and that’s OK.
A commitment to change is what counts; despite all the cheery suggestions to the contrary, a lot of us, women and men, are right now (as in the heyday of the Spanish Inquisition) walking the earth intensely ashamed of ourselves sexually –
not because what we want sexually is in any objective way ‘bad’ (that is, willingly hurtful to someone else) but because our histories have predisposed us to feel so negatively about our own selfhood.
A central effect of sexual shame is to silence us. We are so embarrassed that we cannot even speak of our embarrassment.
It is of huge importance therefore to dare to put our feelings into words and to seek out warm-hearted, broad-minded people with whom we can, in safety, finally admit to our inhibitions –
and learn to see ourselves through more unbiased, non-judgemental and caring eyes.
Through their love, we can hope to find a way to express what we desire and who we are with a little less terror.
Overcome the Shame of Sex?
It’s even a massive advance to stop imagining that sex can be uncomplicated for us – and simply to own up to the huge difficulties we have with it. Acknowledging that we can’t feel about sex what we’re mean to feel is the beginning of progress and liberation.
To take a measure of how much shame we are carrying within us, we might along the way ask ourselves a few poignant questions to which we might not have pleasant answers:
How do you feel about your own body? How sorry do you have to feel for a person having sex with you?
Could someone know you sexually, properly know you, and still like you?
We – the ashamed ones – deserve to rediscover sex not as a zone of guilt and fear but as an intensely fulfilling, innocent and in the profound sense ‘fun’ pastime, something we truly deserve to enjoy in the same way that, despite early intimations to the contrary, we truly deserve to exist.