Overcoming Shame and Sexphobia

Many of the clients I see come to me with shame because of their sexual desires. They may have come to the end of their rope emotionally, wondering what is wrong with them and how they can overcome it. Unlike fear which is a primal survival mechanism, shame is a learned emotion. We likely experienced shame for the first time in our childhoods as a parent or other authority made a comment to the effect of: “shame on you”.

Shame is one of the most difficult emotions to overcome, as it is ingrained deeply into our psyches. It reaches into our hearts and pokes at our self-worth. It’s more than just embarrassment over behavior, but rather a true distress and humiliation. Unresolved shame can lead to depression, suicide, substance abuse and self-destructive behavior.

When it comes to sexual thoughts, desires, and actions, both typical and atypical in nature, feelings of shame are common because of cultural sexphobia. Cultural sexphobia is present when talking about sex is taboo, being a sexual being is undermined, and even when children are made wrong for curiosity about sex and genitals. Even therapists can perpetuate sexual shame rather than arousing healthy sexuality. Shame does more harm than good.

Shame keeps many adults from exploring sexual interests, deeming them wrong, even if pleasurable, simply because they are outside the norm. By breaking down the deep connection between self-worth and shame, and truly identifying, and affirming healthy sexuality, we can better manage the painful self-destructive behaviors associated with it.

For example, in the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender community (LGBT), there is a high rate of suicide and self-destructive behaviors associated with shame over sexual orientation. What if this could be reduced or eliminated because the self-worth issues were no longer a problem? What if sexual shame in a marriage could be eliminated, releasing fear, depression and unhealthy behaviors?

A Step to Overcoming Shame

Understand that everyone, regardless of their experiences, has felt shame. You are not unique in that. Admit your feeling of shame instead of running from it. Everyone has flaws and no one is perfect, but we tend to exaggerate our own and minimize others. Take a deep breath and feel your emotion. Be gentle with yourself- lifelong habits are hard to break.

Because shame can be overwhelming and “sticky”, speaking to a professional therapist with a positive and healthy approach to sexual shame, sex, and sexuality is important. Dr. Rhoda Lipscomb, PhD is passionate about helping couples, partners and individuals through counseling and therapy work with a relationship, sex and sexuality focus. Contact her today if she can be of support.

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