Growing up in America in the last half a century, the parenting I received centered around making sure I didn't die. Teach me the basic skills to not do things that would result in severe harm to my body, make sure I can open cans of food and basic stove functions. Keep the blankets away from the radiators. The focus was on general physical development, and a bit of emotional and social development. Grow big and strong and don't be a jerk to others.
But what about our sexual development? Whether you like it or not, your genitals began developing in the womb, and your capacity for sexual thoughts, feelings, and sensations started as early as age 3. And yet, conversations about sexuality, body parts, arousal, tingles in your bits, or curiosity about others bits are generally avoided until much later in life, sometimes forever. I never got a sex talk. Education in my school was subpar, focusing primarily on periods and STI's.
On the contrary, instead of education most children are exposed to heaping doses of sexual shame from early ages. Eyes and ears are covered, channels changed, voices lowered, and code words or pet names for genitals are used.
Masturbation is shamed, hurried or ridiculed, interest in sexual images is shamed or banned, touching others in exploratory ways is shamed or seen as harmful. And yet, you're supposed to move into healthy, consensual, fulfilling sexual relationships as you move into your teen and adult years. Really?!! That's insane. I hear this same story so often in my office.
So now, you're this amazing big and strong person, fighting to feel comfortable in your body and your sexual thoughts and feelings, despite being told not to your whole life. So how can you fight these molds you've been put it? Here's a few ideas.
5 Ways to fight ingrained sexual shame:
Think about the specific ways your family hid, forbade, or spoke negatively about sex. Do your behaviors related to sex reflect those ideas? (ie: Is it hard to talk about sex with partners? Is it difficult to masturbate in front of a partner or share fantasies or ideas?)
Do the opposite!! Identify the areas that your sex is hidden, or reactive to fears of acceptance and exploration, and try to opposite. Have a direct conversation about sex with a partner, try out a new idea or discuss shared fantasy.
Watch pornography. There is some great stuff out there, here's one list. Try watching with a partner, sharing thoughts, feelings or reactions. All your reactions are okay, be they sexy or not. Learn what might turn you on, that you we're allowed to see or experience before.
Analyze how you view others. When you hear stories about sexual behavior in the news or see others in public, what do you find shameful, or disgusting? What bothers you? Are these views consistent with who you are? Do you have all the information to understand that sexual behavior or activity? How could you learn more about it?
See a therapist! I know, you're shocked by this one. But it is really helpful! Therapy is a good place to work on changing the template you were given to move into your sexual relationships with confidence and pride. Maybe there's some deeper familial, religious or emotional factors, or trauma in your past, which make it difficult for you to fight the demon of sexual shame. Perhaps gender or orientation uncertainty are causing great distress. Let's work through it together! If you're not in Oregon, you can find another great therapist near you here.
Fighting sexual shame allows you to feel confident and comfortable in your body, no matter how you choose to express yourself sexually, tingly bits and all.