Shame is often one of the core emotions surrounding an individual’s sexual difficulties when seeking support from therapist doing sex therapy. Dr. Noel Clark (2017), defined sexual shame as, “a visceral feeling of humiliation and disgust toward one’s own body and identity as a sexual being, and a belief of being abnormal, inferior and unworthy.” Dr. Clark (2017) stated, “this feeling can be internalized but also manifests in interpersonal relationships having a negative impact on trust, communication, and physical and emotional intimacy. Sexual shame develops across the lifespan in interactions with interpersonal relationships, one’s culture and society, and subsequent critical self-appraisal (a continuous feedback loop).”
Unfortunately, many individuals have some degree of sexual shame that presents at some point during their lifetime. So how does one even begin to address this? In 6 steps you can explore your values and beliefs around sexuality- while learning to radically accept it and all of its beauty.
- Identify core beliefs and values around sex and sexuality
- QUESTION. Think of this as a time to explore your thoughts. Begin by asking yourself the following questions. Who taught me about sex and sexuality? How did my caregivers show love and affection? Was unwanted touch forced on me by caregivers or others as a child? When I look at my body how do I feel? What are my beliefs around love, marraige, relationships, sex, idea of purity or being virginal? Did anyone shame me for being sexual? How was sex and sexuality addressed and discussed by caregivers, family members, friends, and teachers?
- Understand your body’s anatomy
- LEARN. Learn how your body works and what the names are of your genitals. Not only does this give you the correct terminology to use, but it also allows you to connect to your body by providing you with facts. Knowing how your body works is the first step to accepting it.
- Identify sexual needs and desires
- LIST. Everyone has desires and needs. The question is, what do you want and need when it comes to sex and sexuality? Do you want to masturbate daily? Do you never want to have sex? Do you want to wear a butt plug throughout your day without anyone knowing? Do you want to wear clothes that make you feel sexual? Do you not want someone to touch your body in certain places? Whatever you want and desire, list it out. Note what you like and don’t like. What felt good and what didn’t, and write it down; this will help you with the next step.
- Create/implement sexual boundaries
- CREATE. Creating boundaries is the easy part. Implementing them is the part that people struggle with the most. To create sexual boundaries:
1. Identify sexual needs, wants, desires.
2. Identify if those are being met.
3. If yes, what emotion/s (is/are) elicited?…..If not, what emotion/s (is/are) elicited?.
4. Identify how you communicate (expressive, analytical, passive, aggressive, etc).
5. Stay true to how you communicate at the same time, know that altering may be needed if you are too aggressive or analytical (this can shut down lines of communication with the other person).
6. Communicate needs, wants, desires (these are your boundaries).
7. Use “and” or “at the same time”.
8. Include emotions and feelings.
9. Provide alternatives if needed (i.e. I don’t want to do [X] at the same time I am open to [Y]).
10. Communicate those boundaries x1000.
11. Adjust boundaries as you need, want, desire as well as how you communicate them if needed.
- Learn to touch your body in ways that feel pleasurable to you
- TOUCH. Learning to accept your body as a sexual entity one must learn to know what feels pleasurable and what does not. To do this begin by slowly caressing a part of your body that feels comfortable to start; this may be your hands, nose, head, or feet. As you do this, be mindful of how it feels, notice if you enjoy light or hard pressure, soft or course. Notice what you do not enjoy and what does not feel good. As you explore other parts or your body, use different objects to touch your body (i.e. hair brush, pine cone, etc.).
- Reach out to a sex therapist for further support and processing
- SEEK. Psychotherapists trained in sex therapy or a Certified Sex Therapist (CST) are the folks to reach out to as they have recived specialization training focused on unpacking the different systems that live within sexual shame and difficulties. To find a CST or a therapist that does sex therapy, ask them if they have received training in sex therapy or look on the AASECT.com directory.
Healing your sexual shame and radically accepting your body and all of its desires and needs is a process. A process that can be beautiful, scary, comforting, and unclear. Remember to question what you think you know. Learn more. Make a list of things to help you organize and remember. Create boundaries that work for you and with you. Touch yourself in pleasurable ways. And seek support if and when needed
CONTRIBUTED BY PHILADELPHIA THERAPIST, KATHRYN EWERS, MFT
Kathryn Ewers is an AAMFT supervised, pre-licensed marriage and family therapist in Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania who works with individuals, polycules, groups, couples, organizations, and families. Struggling to feel connected and/or communicate your needs in relationships? I am here to support you and your partner(s) deal with issues of intimacy, mismatched sexual desires, infidelity, communication issues, sexual shame, boundaries within the relationship, navigating social stigmas while in a lgbtqai or interracial partnership, and more. My desire is to provide a safe and comfortable space for partners who struggle to fit into the heteronormative and eurocentric box. If you are seeking support, warmth, directness, and empathy to help identify the individual experiences that inform your relationships, I am here for you. Interested in learning more or booking a session with Kathryn? Click here!