Some of the couples I see in my practice complain about the difficulties they have talking about sex and intimacy with each other. When we start exploring what the obstacles are it often turns out that they are inhibited and have feelings of sexual shame. So where does this emotion of shame come from?
None of us is born with sexual shame. We learn this negative feeling about sex from our family, friends and peers. This shouldn't be a surprise because in our culture sex unfortunately is still very much a taboo. So many religions and customs have linked sex with shame or guilt that few of us escaped entirely unaffected.
As children we were sexually innocent, touching our genitals with no sense of shame or embarrassment. But soon we were told to stop doing it, without any explanation as to why. We were often given silly names to refer to our penis or vagina, as if to use the correct name was somehow offensive. And if we were caught exploring our bodies while playing childhood games, we were told off and made to feel ashamed and guilty. There are probably very few parents around who would explain to their children that masturbation is a normal and healthy activity and would encourage them to just enjoy it.
Since social media has become so powerful, it has become a common arena for harassment. For example, the expression "slut shaming" is often used online when teenage girls are being criticised (shamed) for their sexual expression or assumed sexual experiences. I doubt we will ever see "stud shaming" used to the same extent.
Being shamed can affect anyone, but it especially affects those who don't fit the norm: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer (LGBTQ) people are easy targets. They are recognised as being a high-risk group for suicide and they often feel marginalised because of their sexuality; this is how sexual shame hurts people.
So if we don't want people to feel ashamed about sex, what exactly is 'normal' sex? There really is no definition what 'normal' sex is, but it's a consensual act between adults and you can do anything you want as long as it's legal. For example; group sex, polyamory, swinging, kinky sex, cybersex, looking at porn or using sex toys -- anything goes. And if you don't have a partner, solo sex is a great way to self-pleasure, increasing self-confidence and our emotional and physical connection to ourselves.
This is an interesting local TEDx talk by Dr Faith Harper, a counsellor/educator in San Antonia, Texas, called Shame, Sex and Silence. I love her talk, it certainly resonates with me.
Shame can easily turn into inhibitions. Men quite often find it difficult to show their feelings because they believe it's not a manly thing to do. They may have body image issues, concern about the size of their penis, or worry they may lose their erection or come too quickly. Many women don't like their body shape, the size of their breasts, the look of their vulva or the fact that they find it difficult to have an orgasm with their partner.
Shame can be tremendously powerful. It can isolate us and stop us from letting a partner getting close. It can make us feel uncomfortable in our own bodies. It's no surprise that so many couples are sexually frustrated, when they feel embarrassed or ashamed about something they find difficult to talk about it. This can keep us from exploring specific sexual activities we may like to try out and can prevent us from experiencing the possibilities of more intimacy and sexual pleasure.
It may sound like a broken record, but when it comes to sex, good communication can help you better understand each other.
It may sound like a broken record, but when it comes to sex, good communication can help you better understand each other. It will result in increasing intimacy and you will feel more comfortable with each other.
Nowadays we live longer and research has shown that many people still have sex well into old age. The need for intimacy is ageless, and it's never too late to get rid of your inhibitions and shame. Make sure you enjoy the time you have left to improve your sex life.
It's really time to stop feeling ashamed.