Do you feel embarrassed, shameful, or fearful when discussing or engaging in intimate and sexual behavior? If you do feel or have felt this way, you are not alone. Many people experience varying levels of discomfort, sadness, fear, and shame when talking about, thinking about, or engaging in sex. There are varying reasons why people experience intimacy and sexuality negatively. It is essential to understand these reasons in order to create a positive shift in our perception of intimacy and sexuality.
Shame versus Guilt
Before diving into why shame and negative feelings around sexuality arise, it is crucial to clarify the differences between shame and guilt. Guilt is a healthy emotion that individuals experience when they do something wrong that calls for correction. For example, if you forgot to put a lunch date on your calendar and missed meeting with your friend for lunch, that may create some internal guilt. On the other hand, shame is feeling you are wrong, and there is no specific reason or event that creates this feeling – it is a state of being. In short, guilt means you feel bad because you did something wrong; shame means you feel bad because you, as a person, are inherently bad or wrong. Guilt can usually be corrected, forgiven, and healed, so the person experiencing the guilt can move forward in life. Shame does not allow this. Instead, the shame festers and increases with no opportunity for resolve.
People who struggle with negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions about sexuality tend to feel shame about their relationship with intimacy and sexuality. They can believe that a portion or all of their sexual nature is bad. In other words, people who feel this way did not do anything wrong in their sexual or intimate lives to create uncomfortable feelings. Instead, something (or many things) in their lives introduced shame into how they relate to intimacy and sexuality.
Why Do I Feel Shame around Intimacy and Sexuality?
Several causes may link shame to sexuality. One root of shame in sexuality can stem from a childhood in which there was a lack of knowledge or guidance in healthily acknowledging humans as sexual beings. Someone whose family of origin – even if inadvertently or with positive intent – did not discuss sexuality and physical development can create internalized beliefs about sexuality. These internalized beliefs could include ideas that their bodies or sexuality are inappropriate, secret, or taboo topics to avoid. Unfortunately, these core beliefs do not often shift in adulthood, as core beliefs and internalized messages tend to remain consistent throughout the lifespan. Only with intentional processing and support can these emotional and mental beliefs be rewired.
Embarrassing or uncomfortable experiences, particularly events that occur during our formative years of life, can also lead to shame. A phenomenon known as generalization occurs when an isolated event’s sensations and experiences get applied to a range of other events. An example of this is if you ask someone out on a date and they decline, you internally broaden the experience of that single rejection to all people, which causes you to refrain from asking others on dates. Generalization, when it fosters shame, inhibits healthy engagement in intimacy and sexuality.
Whether it is sexual, physical, or emotional, trauma is another factor that significantly impacts a person. Trauma can change relationships with others and with oneself both inside and outside the realm of intimacy. Healing from trauma is possible. With professional support coupled with internal work, there can be restoration in how one experiences and relates to their sexuality and intimate life.
How to Heal from Shame
Shame, though deeply felt and internally intertwined, can be reversed. There is hope because we are not born with shame. Shame is a learned emotion, and almost anything learned can be unlearned. By treating yourself with compassion and practicing self-love, you can diminish shame and positively shift your relationship with sexuality and intimacy.
Professional counselors and mental health providers can also be catalysts in ridding the shame cycle and discovering sexuality and intimacy in the healthy, beautiful, and shame-free way it is intended to be experienced. The decision to begin counseling to work through your shame around your sexuality and intimacy takes vulnerability and courage, and we at Get Centered are here to support you. If you are considering counseling services, please reach out to us, and we can guide you in taking steps towards mental wellness and healing. The process of choosing to participate in counseling can create questions. For this reason, Get Centered offers complimentary 15-minute phone consultations before scheduling to answer questions and prepare you for what to expect in your counseling journey. Click here to schedule your call. We hope to hear from you and look forward to joining you on your path to wellness!