I want to talk to you today about how shame affects sex, specifically the various things that make up healthy, confident and optimal sex and I’m going to dive into eight areas specifically.
Those eight areas are:
That’s a lot, isn’t it?
Shame can have a HUGE effect. I shared in the last post about the ripple effect from shame into pretty much everything. You can see what I mean in that list!
First, let’s talk about honesty.
Honesty is one of Doug Braun-Harvey’s principles of sexual health that I talked about in a past episode.
It’s actually kind of a deep idea, more than what might come to mind at first when you hear the word. It’s more than just not telling a lie, for example.
It’s about having enough self-awareness to be able to be honest with yourself about who you are sexually, what you like and don’t like, your values, what you really want, what you need, what has affected you in the past, and so much more … so you can be true to yourself and not fake it or go along with something just to please someone else.
And it involves communication of these things to others in a way that’s open, vulnerable and truthful.
It’s about creating a space of safety for yourself and others and not exploiting your own trust with yourself or a partners’ trust.
Kind of a big deal, right?
So, what can happen with honesty when shame comes into the picture and how can that affect sex?
Well, shame hides and puts on an image. It people-pleases. So, it’s not honest … or is only partially honest with what feels safe to be honest about.
There may be self-honesty but the truth of what you truly desire is kept silent and secret inside your own head. This is what I used to do.
Sometimes, though, you may not want to face what you really want and so, you bury it and keep it as far away as you can from even yourself.
And you most definitely hide it from others out of fear that they would reject or judge you if they knew, or that they’d confirm your fear that you really are shameful.
When this is the case, you’re not honest about who you are sexually, what you like and don’t like, your values, what you really want, what you need, what has affected you in the past and so many other things.
So, you’re not true to yourself.
And you and any partners aren’t experiencing the fullness of what it could be, so there isn’t honesty in the expression.
I can totally relate to this because in the past, I kept my kinky desires to myself. For example, I didn’t share about my latex fantasy, my desire to dominate (especially dressed in shiny, wet, black leather) or my thoughts about the feel and sensation of candle wax. I also kept my sexual orientation hidden and because of shame in general, I also put on a mask or an image and tried to be someone I thought others would accept or like or approve of, and not reject or judge.
So, there was definitely a lack of honesty with myself and others, even though I didn’t necessarily recognize it at the time.
And there was a lack of authenticity, which is the next area that we’ll go into.
Honesty and authenticity are closely connected. They each impact the other and sort of play off each other. If you’re not honest, you’re not fully authentic and vice versa. You can see that in the bit of my story that I just shared.
And so, authenticity affects sex in the same way that honesty does.
Peggy Kleinplatz, who outlined eight keys to optimal sexuality, seven of which I’m addressing today, wrote this about authenticity based on her study:
“Participants reveled in the freedom and liberation to be completely emotionally naked with another person."
That’s a great description of both honesty and authenticity. And kind of leads nicely into how shame affects it. Because by nature, shame hides.
That's the opposite of revealing yourself, being transparent, accepting yourself fully or being uninhibited.
Shame puts on an image and tries to be perfect, therefore it’s not fully authentic. Just like I did in the past as I shared earlier.
Honesty and authenticity are both connected to the next area that I’ll cover as well, which is vulnerability.
Vulnerability is about being open and unprotected. Shame protects, shields and puts on armor, so it’s the opposite of being vulnerable or open. In fact, it prevents vulnerability.
Vulnerability is one of the keys to great sex. But what comes to mind when you think of the word vulnerability?
Maybe it's hurt … pain … risk … an image of a sword or arrow piercing someone’s heart through a hole in the armor … being open for injury.
Typically, it's scary or negative things that come to mind, right?
But, really? Vulnerability is a GOOD thing. And like I said, it’s essential for great sex.
The thing is? Shame wants us to protect, rather than be vulnerable. So, it takes a lot of work and courage to open up. For me, courage has to do with:
Knowing who I truly am underneath the layers of stories and limiting beliefs that I built up over time ... that we all build up over time ... from influences and experiences.
Living from that place of power (and this includes acting even though there's fear).
And being seen (seeing ourselves as all of who we are - - the awesome stuff and the not-so-awesome stuff and letting ourselves be seen by others).
Like Brené Brown said,
"Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen."
That's all about vulnerability.
We don’t WANT to be vulnerable because we see it as all that negative stuff. We NEED to be though if we’re going to live from a place of courage, be seen and create the sex life we want.
But instead, we retreat. Hide. Protect. Silence ourselves. Stay safe. And we do it through fear and self-sabotage (like perfectionism, avoidance, busyness with “safer” things, people pleasing).
For me, it was fear of what I thought others might think . . . and perfectionism through putting on what I thought was a more acceptable image. All from unconscious limiting beliefs that kept me hidden and stuck.
How about you?
Peggy Kleinplatz, who I referred to earlier, said this about shifting the things that get in the way of vulnerability:
"We need to help couples create relationships safe enough to be worthy of the vulnerability inherent in revealing oneself authentically."
This quote shows the connection between vulnerability and authenticity.
The next area I want to talk about that is profoundly affected by shame is intimacy and the connections continue because vulnerability is tied to intimacy as well. In fact, there’s no intimacy without honesty, authenticity and vulnerability.
I want to be clear that intimacy is NOT just “sex” as it’s typically thought of. It’s so much more than that.
It’s often said that intimacy is “into me you see.” I love this because I think intimacy is exactly that - - seeing into another human and seeing into myself.
To me, it’s about:
Getting honest with myself about myself and the layers of not-so-awesome things about me.
Being open and curious with myself in terms of who I really am underneath the crap that often gets in the way.
Compassionately doing both of the above things with others and really seeing myself and others through the lens of their inherent worth and as our true selves, rather than through the lens of the fucked up shit we sometimes do.
Seeing yourself and others is about deep honesty, awareness, acceptance, openness and transparency.
It’s about asking questions and really listening to the answers.
It’s about being asked the same questions and fully sharing yourself.
It’s about exploring desires, dislikes, fantasies, thoughts, visions, fears, shame, experiences, fetishes, identities and more.
I just mentioned shame and that’s a good segue into the fact that shame wants us to hide and NOT be seen in order to avoid rejection or the confirmation that you are, in fact, flawed. So, shame impacts intimacy in a profound way. It prevents the full seeing of yourself and others and doesn’t allow them to see you.
Shame closes off and so, it’s not intimate.
In its closing off, shame also separates and that leads into the next area that I want to talk about, which is connection.
Connection comes from intimacy, whether in a moment or long term.
There’s an interesting interplay of the areas I’ve talked about so far. It’s like there’s first a foundation of self-knowledge, self-awareness and self-acceptance and that allows for an erotic union and a deep connection with another person or with multiple other people.
Because shame impacts all of those areas, and because shame isolates, which is the opposite of connection, it impacts connection with others as well.
In fact, one definition of shame is that it’s a fear of not being worthy of connection, love and belonging.
I FELT that in my life to the point that I would create disconnection with myself and others to avoid them disconnecting with me first. At least then I could be in control of it.
… The next area that we’re going to look at is presence.
Presence is letting go, focusing on the now and being in the moment. It’s about being aware of the sensations that are being experienced in the moment.
It requires honesty and vulnerability. Go figure. There’s a relatedness here, too, with some of the other areas. 😉
Shame gets in the way of presence because shame is about being self-conscious, self-judging and self-critical. It keeps you in a thought loop or commentary in your head, full of negative self-talk or even just thoughts about the day or what you need to be doing. You aren’t present in the moment because you’re focused on what’s going on in your head. You may even be dissociated in order to protect or not feel.
Someone I spoke to recently in a market research conversation shared that if she just felt more confident, she would have better sex. She said that it’s hard to be present and enjoy sex when you’re constantly beating yourself up in your head and worried about what someone else might be thinking.
That’s a perfect illustration of how shame affects being present.
Can you relate to that?
Up next is exploration.
Exploration is about openness to adventure, new things, taking risks and experiencing new discoveries about yourself or someone else.
It requires honesty, authenticity, vulnerability, communication and consent.
Really, it’s about growth and expansion.
Because shame contracts and protects, it’s the opposite of this. I know this firsthand. When I was keeping myself silent and hidden, I wasn’t able to explore new things because I wasn’t saying who I was or what I wanted. It felt too scary to do that. My whole world opened up once I started saying it instead of keeping it quiet.
And that leads right into the last area I’m going to cover today. Communication.
Communication is KEY for great sex. And like the other areas, it is greatly impacted by shame.
I almost don’t need to mention that communication is connected to all of the others. I think that’s evident by now. But just to reinforce the point, communication requires honesty, authenticity and vulnerability.
It’s about communicating all the parts of you … all the things about you that make up what I call your pleasure profile … your wants, desires, likes, needs, values, vision, fantasies, identity, etc.
It’s about standing for what’s true to you, not acquiescing to whatever.
It’s about verbal and non-verbal communication.
And it’s about consent. Such a huge foundation for healthy sex.
As we’ve seen, shame hides and silences. Shame is about acquiescing and people-pleasing. Therefore, it’s not about communicating. As with the other areas, shame is the opposite. It’s silencing, rather than communicating.
My story shows this because I didn’t say anything for a long time. I held it all inside and buried it until I couldn’t keep it there anymore.
I’d love to help you express it a little sooner than I did. 😊
Speaking of helping, I want to wrap this post up by briefly sharing a few key things that can support you in shifting out of shame and into sexual confidence, healthy sexuality and great sex.
In general, shifting the shame requires:
Becoming aware of the old stories and shifting those.
Discovering or rediscovering who you really are and reprogramming your mind with that instead.
And expressing and exploring sexually.
Some of the specific things that can be a part of that are:
Techniques to shift old beliefs, like single belief change or neural energetic encoding.
Tools to gain clarity on who you uniquely are like designing your sexual vision and outlining your sexual values.
And creative ways to communicate your desires so that you can begin to express them in your sex life.
With regard to communication, a few fun things I did to start the conversation were:
Visit a sex store and explore with my partner. You can do this online or in person.
Buy a sex game at the sex store that includes questions and dares. Play the game together.
And take a quiz together, get into a conversation about your results, strengths and things you’d like to try that align with your results. The quiz I created, What's Your Sexual Communication Style? is a great option to use!
If you’re a little nerdy like me, feel free to check out these references that contributed to my thoughts in this post today:
The Six Principles of Sexual Health, Doug Braun-Harvey.
The components of optimal sexuality: A portrait of great sex, Peggy J. Kleinplatz, A. Dana Ménard, Marie-Pierre Paquet, Nicolas Paradis, Meghan Campbell, Dino Zuccarino and Lisa Mehak.
The Six Sexual Health Principles, Shelby Lueders with Michael Vigorito.
Episode 2 of Sexual Confidence Conversations: Three Key Foundations to Create the Sex Life You Really Want, Leanne Chesser.
Episode 4 of Sexual Confidence Conversations: What is Mindset and What Does it Have to Do With Sex?, Leanne Chesser.
Episode 5 of Sexual Confidence Conversations: Shift Out of Shame, Leanne Chesser.
The Etiology and Phenomenology of Sexual Shame: A Grounded Theory Study, Noel Clark, 2017.
Deconstructing Sexual Shame: Implications for Clinical Counselors and Counselor Educators, Stacey Diane A. Litam and Megan Speciale, 2021.
Talk Think About Sex: Applying Social Cognition Concepts to Sexual Relationships, Jessica A. Maxwell, 2022 (presentation to Sexual Health Alliance students).
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brené Brown, 2015.
The YesSupply Coach and Practitioner Manual, Reese Evans, 2021 (manual for students).
Hi! I'm Leanne. I'm a teacher, certified sex and mindset coach and creator of the Sexy brand, Your Pleasure Profile and the SEXY System. I'm passionate about helping you know who you uniquely are without all the stuff that says who you "should" be so you can be in your power, worth and confidence and express your authentic sexual desires without shame. I specialize in sexual desire discrepancy (a mismatch in the amount or type of sex that you and your partner/s want), sexual communication and shifting what keeps you stuck so you can create the sex life that you really want. You can learn more at https://sexysexualconfidence.com.
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