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How to handle feeling ashamed about sex

It can be difficult to deal with feelings of shame around sex


Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in sex-relationships


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Talking about sex is not always easy, and some people struggle with it because they feel a sense of shame or embarrassment. Sex is not something to be ashamed of so long as it is consensual and each person is comfortable. 

Dealing with these feelings of shame can be difficult, but it is possible to work through them and accept that side of who you are. It can help to understand where those feelings have come from in the first place.

Why do people feel ashamed about sex?

There are a number of cultural and social reasons why someone might view sex and sexuality in a negative way. 

In Ireland, the Catholic Church has historically had a big influence over attitudes and opinions around sex and sexuality, as well as influencing Irish law, education, and healthcare.

The idea of having sex for any reason other than having a baby is seen as a sin in the Catholic Church, which led many people to feel guilty if they wanted to have sex for pleasure.

There are a number of things that are banned in the Catholic Church, including sex before marriage, contraception, and homosexuality. This influenced Irish society in a number of ways, including:

  • Sending unmarried pregnant women away to mother and baby homes or Magdalene Laundries until 1996 when the last laundry closed.
  • Banning the sale of books and information that was considered sexual in any way, including anything that mentions contraception.
  • Banning the sale of contraception in Ireland until 1979, when it became available only with a prescription from a doctor, usually for married couples.
  • Making homosexuality illegal until 1993.

These laws and attitudes still shape the way people feel about sex today.

Different expectations for men and women

Men and women can be held to different standards when it comes to sex, sexuality and dating. This can be damaging and dangerous to all genders. 

Almost all people are assumed to be straight, or heterosexual, from a young age, when in reality, many people are LGBTI+.

Men and women both experience gender stereotypes. Men might be encouraged to:

  • Be “manly” or macho
  • Act tough
  • Chase people they like and convince them to go out with them
  • Have sex with a lot of people
  • Pay for things on dates

While women are sometimes judged for:

  • Being sexually forward or talking about sex openly
  • Taking part in sexual activity such as masturbating
  • Wearing certain clothes
  • How they look
  • The number of sexual partners they have had

These expectations can be damaging to both men and women’s self esteem. They can make it hard for people to feel comfortable just being themselves. 

These expectations also do not take LGBTI+ people into account, and leave some people feeling like they don’t exist.

Expectations and pressure of sex

Some people feel pressure to either take part in sexual acts, or not to. 

Everyone’s sexual desires are different. Before you engage in sexual activities, think about why you want to first. Make sure it is because you really want to, not because you feel pressure to, either from another person, group of friends, or the culture or media.

You never have to do anything you are not comfortable with, regardless of your age, gender or anything else.

How to deal with sexual shaming (‘slut shaming’)

Sexual shaming can happen to anyone, but often happens to girls and women. It can come from family members, friends, peers, people online and even medical professionals. 

Here are some things you can do:

  • Keep note or screenshots of incidents of sexual shaming in case you want to report them now or at a later date
  • Talk to someone about how you are feeling and get support
  • If it is on social media, report or block them - this counts as cyber bullying

Remember that it is natural to experience sexual pleasure, and you can explore this either by yourself through masturbation or with a consenting partner without feeling any guilt.

If you are struggling with feelings of shame or with negative feelings towards sex, you can speak to someone about it. A counsellor will be able to work through these feelings with you, and there are also sex therapists who specialise in this area.

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Published Feb­ru­ary 6th2020
Last updated Novem­ber 30th2020
Tags sex positivity
Can this be improved? Contact editor@spunout.ie if you have any suggestions for this article.

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