How to Overcome Sexual Shame
Overcoming sexual shame is not an easy thing. Shame is built on a deep-seated foundation of beliefs (thoughts that you think over and over). For me, overcoming sexual shame was not an easy task. In fact, it is an issue I still struggle with to this very day. And growing up in an ultra-conservative society and raised as a staunch Catholic made it considerably more difficult to break free from the stifling mold.
I was trained to believe that sex was a dirty, sinful and shameful act – masturbation, ‘impure’ thoughts and desires, sex before marriage, homosexuality, using sex toys, watching sexy images or movies all WRONG. No one discussed sex in a positive and wholesome manner. The Church even condemned the inclusion of sex education in schools. Whatever I learned about sex came from other misguided boys I hung out with at school. Imagine how traumatic puberty was for me and for many who grew up in similar situations. Being gay was certainly no help. Any sexual feeling I had as a teenage boy was always followed by bouts of guilt. Every erection, sexual stimulation or desire was met by equal or greater feelings of shame.
Sex was supposed to be reserved for marriage only. Self-gratification was totally out of bounds and non-heterosexual relations were ‘an abomination’. Even certain sexual acts within marriage were considered ‘illicit’ – pretty much anything non-penile-vaginal that took place that could not result in the possibility of having an offspring was considered wrong. If it was outside marriage it was a great sin. And if it was not heterosexual in nature then ‘all hell would break loose”.
The easiest way to over some sexual shame is to understand sex or sexual desire for what it is objectively. As with all things, sex has both a positive as well as a negative aspect to it. Consider water for example. Water could be used to quench thirst or to wash yourself. But it could also drown a person or destroy an entire town. Similarly, sex can be used for good or for bad. You can use sex for pleasure, for making a baby or as an expression of love between two persons. Sex can also be used to shame, hurt or control someone else. You could feel positive emotions towards sex, such as, appreciation or expectation or you could feel negative emotion such as guilt, frustration or fear.
Hopefully, this article will help you focus on the positive aspects of sex, both the act itself and the emotions surrounding it.
Step 1. Understand and Accept Sex for What it is
The first step in overcoming sexual shame and indeed all negative emotions surrounding the subject of sex is the understand and accept sex for what it is. Let’s dissect sex for what it is.
- Sex is a tool. It is not an end but a means to many ends.
- Sex is a basic need of the human person just like sleep or food. No one feels guilty for sleeping or for eating. S why should you feel guilty for satisfying other basic needs such as, sex.
- But there could be certain circumstances where sleeping or eating could be harmful. For example, gluttonous behavior or binge eating might not be so good. Similarly, starving yourself and engaging in anorexic or bulimic behavior are also not the best options for a human being. What’s the point? All actions must have balance and moderation. There is an Italian saying, “Virtue is in the middle”. Extreme behavior is not healthy. Stifling your sexual desires is not healthy either physically, psychologically or emotionally. Too much sex, to the point of addiction, is also not good for you, especially when it is affecting other areas of your life, such as, your relationships, work, school and other social norms.
- Sex has three important purposes – procreation (making babies), expression of love and pleasure. Any one or combination of the above, with the backdrop of a positive, consensual and mutually beneficial environment, is good and healthy.
- Sex is pleasurable and should be playful, enjoyable and fun
- Sex releases tension and stress.
- Regular sex has positive health benefits
- Sex is meant to be joyful. It should never be used to control, manipulate, use, abuse or oppress another. And you should never tolerate that kind of behavior toward you.
- Your body is beautiful and is made for beautiful things. Sex is a beautiful thing.
- You are a free being whose main purpose is to enjoy the deliciousness of life
- The physicalness of life has great value
- Your body is made up of hormones, chemicals and electrical impulses that are normal, natural and working in harmony for your benefit.
- Sexual desire is merely a combination of chemicals and impulses that are created by the brain to elicit a response from the body similar to hunger and thirst.
This is a list that we started. Go get a notepad and continue this list. Start writing down some of the positive things you know to be true about sex. If you like, share it with us in the comments section below. Let’s keep the list rolling.
Step 2. Identify What You are Thinking and Feeling about Sex
The second step in overcoming sexual shame is to identify what you are thinking and feeling about sex. I remember a dear friend of mine once told me that most of our problems exist in our minds. It’s only as I became more mature and started experiencing adult life that I fully understood what that meant. When we develop a mindset or a system of beliefs we are actually setting up how we will live our lives.
An important step in the healing process is to identify that your thoughts or beliefs around the topic of sex are erroneous to start with. Consider that:
- Many of the erroneous beliefs and perceptions that you learned about sex were developed mainly by fearful and misguided persons and institutions.
- Accept and understand that thoughts and beliefs can be changed by unlearning misguided teaching and reprograming new and beneficial thought habits.
- Be glad that you have reached a point where you recognize that you have beliefs that are not serving you.
- Be glad also that you are regaining control of your life.
- Isn’t it nice to know that you can reprogram your thinking to create healthier and more wholesome belief systems around the topic of sex?
To determine if the kind of sex you are engaging in is healthy or not here are a few questions to ask yourself.
- Is sex objectively wrong? If your answer is no, then you have conquered a major hurdle and the rest will be easier to move past. If your answer is yes, sex is objectively wrong, then this is an erroneous thought that needs to be unlearnt. Sex is no more wrong than eating a sandwich or breathing or enjoying a beautiful sunset.
- Are your intentions relating to sex positive or negative? If sex is a tool to achieve pleasure, love or create new life then you are on the right track. However, if you are simply seeking self-gratification at the expense of another; if you objectifying another human being to be simply a sexual toy; if you use sex to control, hurt, use or manipulate another; if there is no consent or benefit to the other person involved; if you checked affirmative for any of the previous scenarios, then your intentions are not positive. You need to reprogram your belief system around the topic of sex.
- Are their positive or negative emotions associated with sex, either before, during or after sex? When engaging in sex or thinking about sex, do you feel any of the following emotions – fear, anger, frustration, guilt, anxiety, hopelessness, restricted, oppressed, malice, or any negative emotion? If you answered yes to any of the previous emotional states then you need to reprogram your thought system on the topic of sex. This will also involve ultimately removing the stimuli that cause you to feel that way, even if it means choosing a more wholesome relationship. However, if you feel appreciation, joy, contentment, hopefulness, excitement, frisky, free or any positive emotion at any stage of sex (before, during AND after) then you are on the right path.
In essence, we’ve boiled down the guilt process to three areas – the objectivity of sex, sexual intentions, and the emotions and thoughts surrounding sex. If any one or combination is negative then your ideas around sex need some work. Now, while certain actions are clearly wrong, e.g. violently forcing someone into having sex, you have to understand that these actions first started with a thought or belief system. Change your beliefs and you will change your life.
We want you to feel freedom and joy where sex is concerned. In fact, freedom and joy are two key pillars of life that are innate rights of every human being. They are both the driving force behind every decision we make in life. When it comes to sex you should always feel freedom and joy as opposed to fear and guilt. Harboring any negative emotion around the topic of sex means that whatever you are believing is not perfectly aligned with your innate desires for freedom and joy.
Step 3. Identify the Source of Your Shame
This is an important step in overcoming sexual shame. Sit and do some reflection. There are two layers we want you to uncover. Firstly, think back to your childhood or adolescent years and think about what you were taught about sex. Who was doing the teaching and what were they saying? It could be your parents, your school or your church. Make a list of the things they might have said to you about sex. Compare them to what you have come to learn through your own experiences or simply compare them to what you have learned in Step 1 above. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do these teachings or rules make sense rationally, biologically, scientifically and even spiritually?
- Do these rules serve me and my happiness?
If the answer is no to any of those questions, you need to modify your thinking around the subject. Through this process of identifying the source of your belief system around the subject of sex, you will identify what works for you and what does not. The great thing about knowing what you do not want is that it helps you redefine and refine what you do want. Go ahead, pull out your notepad and start doing some soul searching. Take a trip down memory lane. Do not spend more than 10 minutes on this exercise. If you want, share your notes and story with us in the comment section below.
Step 4. Learn to Love Yourself
You are the first and greatest lover you’d ever come across. If an understanding of that is the only ting you take away from this post, you would have achieved a great deal in your journey of overcoming sexual guilt. Indeed, you would have achieved much in overcoming all forms of negative self-loathing and shame in any form. Sometimes and I wink at myself whenever I pass by a mirror or while brushing my teeth or combing my hair. I don’t do it because I’m a narcissist. No, I do it because we so easily allow self-hate to creep into our thoughts. Instead, I encourage myself to think positive thoughts and take positive actions towards loving myself. It may be as small as a wink at myself or something bigger like removing myself from a negative situation or relationship. Why is it so difficult to learn to love ourselves and express that love in tangible ways? It could be a wink or buying ourselves something special or treating ourselves to a nice meal, much like taking ourselves out on a date. The only relationship that you need to really work on is the relationship between you and yourself. Once you can master that, then other relationships can be better developed as you already know how to feel comfortable in your own skin. Find time to love yourself and express it in tangible ways. Sexual pleasure is one of those expressions of love and bond with another human being. Why not with yourself?
Here, we want you to make a list of all of the positive things about yourself. Be sure to include a few positive things that are related to sex as well, e.g. I’m a great lover, I’m beautiful, I’m well-endowed, I know how to last long in bed, I have mind-blowing orgasms, I give my lover mind-blowing orgasms, etc., etc., etc. Do this on a regular basis, daily for a couple of weeks and you will be surprised how you begin to reprogram yourself and start having a more positive outlook on your sexuality and your self-image.
Step 5. Educate Yourself
Knowledge is truly power. When you know the truth you will be free from all of the BS rules that are imposed on you by ‘well-meaning’ people and institutions. Take time to read and research about sex and sexuality. This will give you a better appreciation and understanding of sex and your own sexuality. The fact that you are here reading this article is already a great sign that you are making progress and moving towards achieving your goal of freeing yourself of sexual shame. You’d be surprised what you learn and how over time, your perspective on sex and sexuality will begin to change. Feel free to share with us what you’ve learned about sex by sending us a private message on the “Ask Jay and Kay” page or share it in the comments box below. For instance, in my research, I learned the difference between sexual orientation, sexual identity and sexual physiology. Often many people confuse the three as being interchangeable. Tell us what you have learned from your personal experience.
In conclusion, it is extremely important that you learn to overcome guilt and shame and all forms of negative thoughts. You’d find that most often your negative thoughts and beliefs stem from fear of something. Sexual shame often stems from fear of hell and damnation. Perhaps it could be fear of your parents (I remember my father telling me he’d break my hands if he ever caught me masturbating). Maybe it is fear of your own self. Who knows? Only you can answer those questions. Maybe you had no choice or control over the source of your shame and guilt. However, at this red hot moment, you have complete control of how you continue to think and feel. You can start the process of change and progress by simply making the decision to begin your healing journey today. Take action now!
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