by Chris Maxwell Rose
There is an invisible force that affects all of us, in and out of the bedroom. It can disrupt your pleasure, limit your ideas of what is possible and hold you back from pursuing your true desires. This force goes by a deceptively simple name: shame.
Leading shame research Brené Brown makes a distinction between shame and guilt: “Based on my research and the research of other shame researchers, I believe that there is a profound difference between shame and guilt. I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort. I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”
If shame is about the fear of losing your worthiness and social connections, sexual shame is all about being deemed unlovable, unworthy of partnership and being branded abnormal. Sexual shame shows up in many different ways:
- body shame (I am too fat, too thin, too ugly to be loved)
- shame about being sexual (good girls don’t want sex, I’ll seem slutty, I’ll seem cheap)
- shame about specific desires (if I ask for what I really desire my partner will think I’m weird, only perverts do that, it is abnormal)
- shame about sex being sinful (this desire or action makes me bad and dirty in the eyes of God)
Sexual shame is a cultural force, rooted in thousands of years of sexual oppression. For generations, sexuality has been repressed by the church and state. The only permissible form of sex was reproductive intercourse. Women who were deemed too sexual were punished and locked up. Children were brutally punished for masturbating. Getting pregnant out of wedlock would mean being cast out of your family and social network. All of this is just one generation behind us, and in some parts of the world sexual oppression is still so insidious that women are killed for being accused of adultery. It is important not to underestimate the power of this history. We are all affected by this cultural legacy, no matter how liberated we believe ourselves to be.
The good news is that it is possible to free yourself from the invisible web of sexual shame that holds you back. It takes time and persistence, but the results are well worth it. Once you identify the ways that shame is holding you back you can start undoing it’s power over you and start feeling more authentic and free in your sex life. Here’s how to get started:
Step 1: Identify The Shame Message And Where It Came From:
Maybe you have always wanted to be spanked but think it means you are a pervert. Maybe you don’t want your lover to see your naked thighs. Maybe you think wearing a sexy dress makes you look cheap. Whenever you notice a moment of shame, identify it for what it is. Notice the “if-then” connection. If you do a specific thing, then you will be judged, rejected or deemed unlovable. Anytime you feel this message holding you back, name it specifically and then think about where you learned this. Was it from culture at large? Your parents? Your church? A past lover? Name it and take a step back.
Step 2: Decide If You Agree:
Once you name the shame based message, you can decide if you authentically 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 inherited from an outside source. With this perspective, you can choose to shed the shame messages and become more authentic.
Step 3: Change The Story:
When you decide to shed the shame, you have to start changing the story you tell yourself. Next time you are confronted with a moment of shame, notice it and then tell yourself a more positive message. Instead of “don’t let him see your thighs” shift your internal monologue to “my body is beautiful and worthy of pleasure!” Instead of “If I wear this dress people will think I’m a slut” put on the dress and think “I love the way this dress makes me feel and I’m going to go to the party feeling confident!” It will take repetition to shift your emotional patterns, but it will happen over time. Think of it like flipping a switch in your brain to send your brain train down a different track. It may feel rusty and forced at first, but eventually it will become your natural response and you’ll feel shame loosening it’s grip.
Step 4: Notice Your Body:
As you go beyond your comfort limits and start embracing more authentic sexual expression, take a moment to check in and notice how your body feels. Get out of your head and into your hips! How does it feel to wear that flirty dress? What does it feel like to allow your lover’s hand glide along your sensitive thighs? Once you dare to ask your lover for a spanking, pay full attention to how it feels to receive your lover’s touch. Feel the pleasure that is available to you and let your physical sensations guide you towards what you enjoy and what you crave more of.
Step 5: Slay Social Shame:
In order for all of us to be free, we must change our sexual culture as a whole. Participate in this shift by refusing to shame others. Anytime you notice yourself judging someone or making a joke out of shaming another person, stop yourself. Call your friends out when they shame other people. Notice how often it happens: “I can’t believe that woman is dressed that way, what a whore.” or “He’s driving that Hummer to make up for his small dick” or “What kind of woman dates a younger man like that?” You’ll be amazed at how often these thoughts and conversations happen once you start to notice.
I often visualize shame as a spider web: nearly invisible, but ready to trap everything in it’s path. But like a spider web, once you snip away one thread it is weakened. A few more snips and it dissolves completely. Once you start noticing moments of sexual shame in your life, you can start taking action steps to dissolve the shame and find your more authentic sexual expression. The more of us who do this the better. Together, we can create a more sex-positive culture that is safer, happier and more pleasurable for us all.