Our culture is saturated with sexual shame. Some of it is overt and obvious (religion, gay jokes, slut shaming) but much of it is implied and subtle. Sexual shame occurs any time we feel uncomfortable, unworthy, or immoral about our sexual thoughts, feelings or actions.
So if telling your date that you think she looks sexy in such a nice dress feels inappropriate; if a woman wanting to have sex on the first date feels forward or “slutty;” if wanting to kiss a someone you just met even though you don’t really know them feels wrong or undeserved; then chances are you are suffering from some level of sexual shame.
Sexual shame inhibits us. It slows us down in our romantic interactions. It causes us to hesitate when we want to kiss or touch someone. It makes us feel like we need to earn sex or deserve it from someone. It makes us feel guilty about expressing our sexual desires. It causes us to repress our sexual urges and to experience them vicariously through pornography or strippers. It keeps us in our room, on the internet, in front of video games, instead of out sharing a warm and beautiful moment with a someone else.
If you’re a man who has struggled in the past with the “friend zone,” who has had women lose interest in him after one or two dates, or who can’t ever seem to “take things anywhere,” it’s because you’re not making the interaction sexual enough and are therefore not expressing your sexuality freely or clearly. Chances are you are suffering from some degree of sexual shame and may not even realize it.
Women suffer from sexual shame in our culture the most. Almost every woman has a constant gnawing fear of being too “slutty” or not being inhibited enough to have a man respect her. These expectations reinforce the idea that a woman’s sexuality is somehow bad or gross or dangerous or distrustful. As a result, many women live with an excess of anxiety around their anxieties and are untrusting of men and their intentions.
Some men and women with a lot of sexual shame become sexually compulsive and continuously act out on their desires even though it’s unhealthy or not in their best interests.
Where Sexual Shame Comes From
Like most of our sexual and emotional hang ups in dating, sexual shame is instilled in us throughout our lives, particularly our early lives. Sexual shame can be pushed upon us by our family, our community, pop culture and by society at large. Negative experiences in adolescence with members of the opposite sex can also trigger a lot of sexual shame and self image issues as we enter adulthood.
Some examples of sources of sexual shame:
- As a child, Mom or dad punishing you for touching or acknowledging your genitals, telling you not to experience or explore your body.
- Religious upbringing where sex is demonized and taught as immoral or wrong.
- Boys who are raised with a radical feminist influence who are taught that expressing their sexual desires openly are offensive and disrespectful to women.
- Women who are raised to believe that expressing their sexuality too much makes them a slut and that they will not be respected if they give their sexuality away too easily.
- An emotionally absent or smothering mother reinforces into the boy’s subconscious that he’s done nothing to deserve love and affection from women, that he’s unworthy. This often transfers into a shame about expressing the desire for sex and affection. Similar can be said for father’s and girls.
- Television shows or cartoons where men are shamed for hitting on women or expressing their sexuality openly. Pop culture where women are shamed for being too forward about their desires. This could be anything from Roger Rabbit drooling around Jessica Rabbit or Vince Vaughn being laughed at and shamed for pursuing a girl in a movie. These are small but can add up quite a bit over time.
- Consistent or brutal rejection from boys/girls growing up, particularly in adolescence. Teasing and bullying. Can cause self-image issues which lead to sexual shame, or a feeling the one doesn’t deserve or needs to earn affection.
- Traumatic experiences, sexual abuse as a child, sexual assault, rape, both of yourself or loved ones close to you.
The list goes on and on.
Like most shame, sexual shame is usually not experienced consciously or at least it’s not consciously recognized. Instead, it’s experienced through anxiety, avoidance, anger and guilt. When you’re on a date and are terrified to kiss your date even though they’re been giving you the big doe eyes for hours now, you’re not consciously thinking “Oh, I’m so ashamed of what I want to do, kissing them is bad and I don’t deserve it.” No, instead, it feels like there’s a brick in your stomach. You start rationalizing excuses about the “right moment” or whatever, and believe that you haven’t “earned” enough of a connection or enough affection from them to warrant kissing her yet.
These bizarre feelings seem logical to those who have them. I can’t tell you how many men I’ve talked to who were adamant that they didn’t know how to kiss a woman because they couldn’t spot the “right moment.” I always suggest to them that perhaps the “right moment” is not a moment, but actually something that’s always happening, you just have to create it together. Or that the belief that they need to have a “right moment” or that they need to know “how to kiss” a woman implies that they believe their sexual desire is not sufficient in and of itself — that despite having strong feelings for a woman, they still must find a way to “earn” getting physical with her.
This is sexual shame. A feeling of unworthiness. A belief that affection is something you pay for through effort and struggle. An assumption that mere mutual sexual desire in and of itself is not enough.
How to Get Rid of Sexual Shame
The way to rid yourself of shame is to expose it. You expose shame by expressing it and experiencing it. So if you’re ashamed of your body, the way you overcome that shame is by exposing your body — hence those fat people at the beach in thongs.
The way you overcome your sexual shame is by getting in touch with your sexuality and then expressing that sexuality openly. Simple, right? Not really. As with many of these things, it’s a matter of doing, not rationalizing or learning.
The best way to do this is through a process of progressive desensitization. You can start by expressing your sexuality in the confidence of close friends. If you’re always the quiet one when your buddies are talking about which women they want to sleep with, maybe it’s time to speak up. Tell your next date she’s beautiful and go to hold her hand. Start simple and slowly work your way up.
As time goes on, you will become more and more comfortable sharing your sexuality and expressing it openly. The anxiety will dissipate. The desire for “right moments” or “green lights” or “signals” or the feeling that you must “earn” sex or affection will disappear and you’ll feel foolish for spending so much time and effort looking for them.
For men, overcoming sexual shame is a cornerstone of my Sexual Confidence Program. I’ve created 18 interactive lessons to help you get in touch with your sexuality and begin expressing it to women. Learn more here.
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