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By Tabatha Bird Weaver
No matter who you are, you’ve likely experienced sexual shame at some point.
Women are endlessly shamed for owning or expressing their sexuality (yet are also shamed if they’re not sexy enough). Members of the LGBTQ community get shamed for wanting non-heterosexual sex. And shame falls on those who like kink or BDSM for wanting the “wrong” kind of sex. Straight men get shamed for wanting sex at all.
So as a culture, what do we do about this?
Luckily, a slight cultural shift is taking place, as demonstrated by the recent Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage and runaway best seller books like, Sex at Dawn that challenge our foundational sexual concepts. Culturally, we’re starting to understand that “slut shaming” is negative and we’re supporting brave, outspoken public figures like Monica Lewinsky and Kaitlyn Bristowe for speaking up on the topic.
So, what’s the best way to continue nudging our culture away from sexual shame over to sexual acceptance? By challenging and transforming our own perceptions, then living into those positive shifts. Here are five ways to start:
1. Be honest about what you really like
We are all enculturated to various degrees about what is “normal,” “good,” and “bad” sexual behavior. The problem is, there is no such thing as normal; at best we can define typical or average. While this step seems the most challenging, it is key to your happy sexual life — just ask any person who is “out.” Research by Michael Vess, PhD at Montana University, indicates that authenticity greatly reduces shame. So the answer is to discover your true sexual self and then be that YOU bravely, honestly, and unapologetically.
2. Take responsibility for your pleasure
This occurs by nurturing your sensuality: hearing, sight, feeling, smell and taste. Start to notice things that you like, then slow down and acknowledge what you’re enjoying. Savor that dessert, pause and fully feel that breeze on your skin. You are the only one in control of your experience and desire. Once you understand what your senses like, ask for more of that with your partners … in and out of bed. And when your partner tends to your pleasure well, compliment them.
Better yet — you do it, too! Eli Coleman PhD, director of the Program in Human Sexuality and Chair in Sexual Health at the University of Minnesota, summarizes that “… masturbation has been found to be a common sexual behavior and linked to indicators of sexual health.” Plus, you get to know your fantastic body and what makes it shiver. Inform and empower yourself through therapy, books, classes and videos.
3. Begin a love affair with your own body
If you’re like most of us, there are places on your body that you want to change (or get rid of all together). Heads up, this is culture controlling you again. Everyone has different views of beauty. Brene Brown advises the following, “Talk to yourself like you talk to someone you love when you’re feeling unworthy,” because criticism reinforces the shame cycle. But remember, Vess’s research says we require authenticity. If you can’t honestly say, “I love my thighs,” maybe you can say, “I am so grateful for all the work my thighs do.”
Neurobiology demonstrates that changing self talk, emotional patterns and negative associations is crucial to changing self value. Check out this 3-minute clip of researchers Candice Pert, PhD (she discovered the opiate receptor!) and Dr. Joseph Dispenza, D.C. explaining exactly how this works.
4. Stop judging other people, including your partner
Judging leads to shame. The University of Nebraska published research that shows a strong correlation between positive judgments of others and how joyful, stable and capable we describe ourselves, and how others perceive us. Negatively judging others leads to our own shame, also impacting the views others have of us. Start a positive cycle with your partner: Stop judging and start praising. Create a safe space for honest conversation about sex and what you each desire.
5. Find a tribe
We all need, want and deserve support. Armed with the new information and skills from steps 1-4 start to find a like minded group for support. Build a new community — and be prepared to leave some people behind. Check online for “sex positive” and “body positive” groups in your area.
Though sometimes painful, letting go of old relationships that judge or shame you is vital to personal happiness and solid self-esteem. If you aren’t willing to release the relationship, re-evaluate and adjust your boundaries and expectations within them.
Sexual shame is pervasive and insidious.
These tips help my clients find success. These tips are also how I moved sexual shame out of my own life for good, which freed me to begin having sex I didn’t know was possible! This process is deep, and takes work — but you are worth it.
Tabatha Bird Weaver is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and spiritual healer. Find her here.
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