Sex and shame are closely linked in our society, especially for women and feminine-presenting people. Many of us are taught that women aren’t supposed to have sex outside of the boundaries of love and marriage. Or we’re taught that a woman who has a lot of sex—or even one who enjoys sex “too much”—is a slut. On the flip side, men are taught they aren’t “real men” if they don’t have “enough" sex, or if they don’t enjoy specific kinds of sex “enough.”
Those outdated ideas can cause us to shame ourselves for any sexual choices that fall outside of what’s considered “acceptable.” I was lucky to be raised by parents who taught me about sex without ever making me feel bad about my sexuality and desires. As a result, I’m pretty sex-shame-free, and I’m excited to help other people get to that place, too.
After all, sex and sexuality are for everyone. Maybe you’re queer or you’re kinky or you like having random hookups. Maybe you’re polyamorous or you’ve slept with a lot of people or maybe you’re a virgin and feel like there’s something wrong with that. All of those things fall under sex shaming, and it’s time to stop doing it to ourselves.
Here are three steps you can take to stop sex-shaming yourself.
1. Examine the shame.
Take a hard look at where that shame is coming from. Is it from your family background? Your religious tradition? Your friends? Or is it something that’s truly coming from you? That last voice is the only one you should be listening to. It’s the one that tells you what’s right or not right for you.
If your ideas about sex and shame are coming from outside, it’s time to question whether they’re working for you. Don’t just accept perspectives from other people and institutions. Question them. Examine where they come from. Then decide for yourself if you want to listen.
2. Think about what you really want.
Are you doing the sexual things you like doing? Do you enjoy the way they feel? Or are you doing these things for another reason, like acceptance, attention, or to make someone else feel good? Sometimes we feel shame about things when a deep part of us knows that we’re doing them for less than great reasons. So take a hard look: What are your motivations? If you’re making sexual choices that are truly based on what you want, there should be very little room for shame to sneak in.
3. Own your sex life.
While people of any gender can be pressured into sexual situations that they’re not one hundred percent on board for, women are often taught to be nice and to go along to keep the peace. Men are sometimes taught they should always want sex, in any form. But when we give into those ideas, it’s hard to discover and ask for what really turns us on. And that leads to a less fulfilling sex life for everyone involved. If you commit to making conscious decisions about your sex life—about the sexual acts you’re doing and why you’re doing them—then you’re owning your sex life in a major way. And if you own your choices, why would you ever feel ashamed of them?
Sex shame is deeply rooted, and getting rid of it will take more than advice from one article. But I hope that this helps you figure out where your feelings are coming from—and how to move past them—because a shame-free sex life is the best sex life. And don’t we all deserve that?