Sex and shame are two words that are too often found in one sentence, especially for women and feminine-presenting people.
Many of us are brainwashed into the idea that women aren’t supposed to have sex outside of the boundaries of love and marriage. Or we’re taught that a woman who has a lot of sex — or even one who enjoys sex “too much” — is a slut. On the other hand, men are taught they aren’t “real men” if they don’t have “enough” sex, or if they don’t enjoy specific kinds of sex “enough.” These primitive notions can cause us to shame ourselves for any sexual choices that fall outside of what’s considered “acceptable.”
Sexual shame refers to all the ways we come to feel that who we are as sexual beings (including how we think about sex, our sexual beliefs and values, our sexual desires, and our sexual behaviors) are wrong, broken, fundamentally bad or even evil.
People experience sexual shame in response to many things, including:
- who we feel sexual desire for
- who we want to have sex with
- the kinds of sex we want to have
- our sexual thoughts and fantasies
- the ways that we see ourselves as sexual (which often includes how we understand our gender)
All of those things fall under sex-shaming, and it’s time to stop doing it to ourselves.
Here are three steps you can take to stop sex-shaming yourself.
1. Identify the shame message and its source.
Contemplate on where that shame is coming from. Is it from your family background? Your religious tradition? Your friends? Or is it something that’s truly coming from you? That last voice is the only one you should be listening to. It’s the one that tells you what’s right or not right for you.
If your ideas about sex and shame are coming from outside, it’s time to question whether they’re working for you or even right. Don’t just accept perspectives from other people and institutions. Question them. Examine where they come from. Then decide for yourself if you want to listen. Remember that your sex life is your responsibility. Take charge.
2. Think about what you really want.
Are you doing the sexual things you like doing? Do you enjoy the way they feel? Or are you doing these things for another reason, like acceptance, attention, or to make someone else feel good? Sometimes we feel shame about things when a deep part of us knows that we’re doing them for less than great reasons. So take a hard look: What are your motivations? If you’re making sexual choices that are truly based on what you want, there should be very little room for shame to sneak in.
3. Decide if you agree.
Once you identify the shame-based message, you can decide if you genuinely agree with it. Do you think desiring a sensual spanking makes you a bad person? Are your thighs so monstrous? Would you actually feel great in that sexy dress? Think about your own values and see where the shame fits into your own authentic beliefs. Most of the time, these messages aren’t our own beliefs but something we’ve acquired from an outside source. With this insight, you can choose to shed the shame messages and become more authentic.
4. Own your sex life.
While people of any gender can be pressured into sexual situations that they’re not one hundred percent on board for, women are often taught to be nice and to go along to keep the peace. Men are sometimes taught they should always want sex, in any form. But when we let these ideas take control of our lives, it’s hard to discover and ask for what really turns us on. And that leads to a less fulfilling sex life for everyone involved. If you commit to making conscious decisions about your sex life — about the sexual acts you’re doing and why you’re doing them — then you’re owning your sex life in a major way. And if you own your choices, why would you ever feel ashamed of them?
Sex shame is deeply ingrained in our culture, and getting rid of it will require a lot of grit and patience. Nonetheless, this article can help you to figure out where your feelings are coming from—and how to move past them—because a shame-free sex life is the best sex life.