Pratisandhi

Sexual Shame: Two sides of the same coin and here’s how to deal with it

Key Takeaways:

  • Identifying and understanding the cause and symptoms of sexual shame 
  • Practising self-awareness and acceptance goes a long way to help deal with shame
  • Dealing with sexual shame by various methods such as professional help, open communication, self-compassion and seeking new experiences

Have you ever felt your cheeks getting red, heart dropping, a looming sense of impending doom and the intense urge to hide and retreat? 

Well, then you are no stranger to the feeling of shame. Shame is an all-encompassing emotion: and while all us feel it from time to time.

Over time, there have been layers and layers added around sexual urges, and some of them have moral undertones, deeming sex to be “sinful” or “dirty”.

Sexual shame can look different for everyone: whether you are queer, straight, single, in a relationship, or even asexual. And for some of us, it might even start affecting our sex life, fret not: there is hope. 

Understanding Sexual Shame

Sexual shame can manifest in different ways:

whether it be in experiencing shame while interacting with others, feeling like others are judging you (relational shame),

feeling a sense of disgust, humiliation and unease surrounding your sexual urges (internalised shame),

or even sexual inferiority i.e. feeling that you are failing to meet a certain standard or expectation surrounding your sexuality (often stemming from social and cultural norms).

Well, the first step in dealing with any challenge is getting educated and informed on the topic. So let’s discuss some symptoms of sexual shame:

  • Avoiding talking about sex or anything sexual

Feeling deep unease and avoiding discussing sex altogether might mean shame surrounding it. E.g. discomfort during sexual scenes in media or changing the topic during sex. 

Not everyone has access to comprehensive sex education. When this lack of knowledge is coupled with sexual embarrassment, discussing your body or needs can be difficult.

You might use euphemisms like “down there” instead of “vagina” when referring to genitals, or choose softer terms like “intimacy” to talk about sex.

 

  • Insecurities about body and intimacy

Shame makes you feel that there is something wrong with you and that you are unworthy. It can manifest in self-doubt and body dysmorphia (“Am I attractive enough?” “Are they judging me?” etc). This makes even intimate moments seem stressful.

  • Protective and closed-off body language

Classic signs of shame in body language include avoiding eye contact, trying to make your body appear smaller, or otherwise adopting the posture of a person who feels they need to stay guarded.

During sex, this can even be reluctant towards being naked in front of partners during intimate moments (or preferring to have the lights off instead).

  • Holding back during intimate moments and getting affected by external pressure

You might feel the urge to meet external expectations of others about sexual experiences, and might even feel the pressure that your relationship hinges on that. Remember: true consent is always between eager individuals.

You might even feel embarrassed by the natural noises you make during sex, and hence try to be as silent as possible or nervous, and hold back during intimate moments to enjoy yourself.

  • Avoiding self-pleasure and being dissatisfied with your sex life

Boredom or sexual incompatibility may stem from underlying shame. True comfort during sex is internal; unresolved shame can hinder connection and even discourage healthy masturbation and self-intimacy.

5 steps to overcome sexual shame

  • Feel your feelings and acknowledge them

Understand where your feelings of sexual shame originate, whether from upbringing, cultural norms, religious teachings, or personal experiences. Recognize and accept your feelings of shame as a normal human experience. Self-awareness is the first step toward healing.

Try journaling about your thoughts and feelings in a safe space and use the following prompts:

“What’s the first emotion I feel when I hear the word “sex”? 

“Which sexual acts inspire negative emotions within me? Why?

“When was the last time I felt really comfortable sexually? What made me feel that way?” etc.

  • Practise open communication

Shame is fueled by constant secrecy, and while talking about it, you can stop giving it power as it loses its hold on your mind. Develop healthy relationships and regularly engage in direct and honest conversations about sexual urges, dysfunction, interests etc with yourself and others.

  • Embracing yourself

It is easier said than done, but embracing yourself completely is the antidote to shame. Think about the sexual identity you want to have, minus the societal expectations. Who would you rather be, if no one judges you?

Try developing self-care routines which help tap into your physical senses such as dancing, singing, spending time outdoors, and even meditation, and concentrate how moving your body and other physical sensations present in your body. Being mindful and practising a non-judgemental outlook helps significantly in improving feelings of shame. 

  • Cultivate self-compassion

Talk to yourself as if you are your own best friend, because you are. It is human to go through complex emotions, and it is important to believe that it is not your fault. Many incidents such as trauma survivors, abuse survivors etc and even social media perceptions can cause a deep sense of guilt and shame surrounding sex. Be gentle and kind with yourself through this journey and remain patient. 

  • Lean on your support system

You might feel isolated and alone while dealing with shame, but you are not. Confide in your close confidants and communities. Sharing and talking about your vulnerabilities mends relationships and helps develop meaningful connections. Give yourself the chance to receive support and also provide others the platform to share their experiences.

  • Seek professional help

Exploring therapy such as CBT and psychotherapy, along with working with liscenced and certified professionals in mental health and sexuality can really help in your journey of reclaiming your sexuality. If the symptoms persists and/or you are experiencing worsening health, immediately seek help of medical professionals.

Conclusion

Sexual shame can feel intimidating and difficult to address, but fret not: there is hope. It affects individuals from all walks of life, disproportionately persons identifying as women and LGTBQ+.

 With love, patience, and a sprinkle of courage, it is possible to overcome shame and stigma around sex and intimacy. Empowering oneself and practising the above suggestions will go a long way in this journey.

 

Image credits: www.pexels.com

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