Most people experience feelings of shame or guilt around sex at some point in their lives.
We live in a culture that has varied and often contradictory beliefs about sex, but sex-negativity — the belief that sex is bad, that desire is dangerous, that many, most or all sexual acts are shameful things — is a consistent and rampant one.
So if you’re experiencing persistent sexual shame to the point where it’s impacting your ability to enjoy sex or to feel healthy and fulfilling sexual desire, you’re not alone, and it’s part of the healthy package forced upon you that defines how a man should feel — and fuck.
“Society teaches that men need to be strong. That men don’t cry. They don’t sit around sharing their feelings,” explains clinical psychologist, sex therapist, and host of the Sex Therapy podcast, Dr. Caleb Jacobson.
“So this closes a lot of men off emotionally. At the same time, because of these stereotypes of what a man is supposed to be, when they encounter a sexual issue, for example, erectile dysfunction, there is a lot of extra shame around it.”
How Do Men Experience Sexual Shame?
According to Dr. Holly Richmond, a sex therapist and author of Reclaiming Pleasure, sexual shame is typically either the result of a repressed kink or desire or the result of sexual dysfunction like premature ejaculation or ED.
One 2018 review estimated that about a third of men experience some form of erectile dysfunction and that the risk increases with age. What that means is that ED is normal, and nothing to be ashamed about. Real life is not porn; it’s just not realistic to expect oneself to be rock hard and ready to ejaculate a massive load at every sexual encounter.
And while ED can be a medical issue, meaning you should see a doctor such as a urologist if you’re experiencing it, in many cases, its causes can also be psychological: things like sexual shame or anxiety around the pressure to perform.
“Most men in our culture have held some form of sexual shame at one point in their lives,” says Manhattan-based psychologist Dr. Jon Belford. “Common manifestations involve insecurities around one’s body, performance, or a general lack of freedom in expressing specific desires, particularly when those desires deviate from idealized cultural sexual norms.”
He adds that early sexual traumas are devastating for any human across the gender spectrum, but that men often struggle with feeling emasculated by the experience and are less likely to seek therapy and support as a result.
How to Work Through Sexual Shame
You deserve to have the sex life of your dreams. Let’s repeat that because it’s true: You deserve to have the sex life of your dreams.
Everything is above board if your desires happen between two (or more!) consenting adults. Any lingering voices that tell you otherwise stem from the sex negativity that lingers in our society like a bad smell.
Even if you identify as sex-positive and didn’t grow up in a conservative or strictly religious home, these sex-negative social attitudes likely affected how you view your sexuality.
First things first: If you’re experiencing physical issues related to your penis, your sexual health or any part of your body that are impacting your sex life, see a doctor to confront any medical issues that need addressing.
But once that is out of the way, or if you’re grappling with shame surrounding your desires, whether you want to try a new kink, explore sex with another gender, or simply worry that you’re way too horny and perverted (impossible), before you can open up to others, you must accept yourself.
“One approach towards this is defining a more idealized relationship to sex; asking oneself, ‘If I had no concerns of judgment, criticism or rejection, what would I want? How would I show up differently?'” says Belford.
“By making space to more critically examine early [sex-negative] messages and experiences, understanding how we took them in at that point in time, and recognizing our subsequent growth, development, and cultural shifts,” he adds, “We can start to disconfirm false, shame-based beliefs and free ourselves of these internal constraints.”
Masturbation and solo exploration is a wonderful and safe way to learn more about yourself and your desires. Let’s say you’re curious about pegging, but unsure if it’s just a fantasy or something you want to try in real life with a partner.
Maybe you have some outdated voice stuck in your head telling you that liking pegging means you’re submissive, which means you’re less of a man. Kick that voice’s ass. Only strong men can handle pegging, and anyone who can accept their sexual desires is bold.
But start slow. Masturbate to your fantasy, watch porn about your fantasy, and consider working with a sex-positive therapist to become more comfortable in your own skin. There is often a lot of shame associated with porn and masturbation.
But your desires are nothing to be ashamed of. It’s totally normal to watch porn, and perhaps even more normal to be really horny.
And after that? Well, that’s when it’s time to drop the shame and communicate your desires to others, so hopefully, you can experience them together.
How Can I Talk About My Desires With My Partner(s)?
First, remember that sexuality is fluid and changing, so becoming comfortable with your kinks and desires may be an ongoing process, and that’s OK.
But you need to share your passions with your partner(s) so that you get what you want. First, because everyone deserves incredible consensual pleasure, you included. And second because no one is psychic when it comes to the sexual desires of others.
Belford adds that hiding desires can also limit intimacy within romantic relationships, and Richmond seconded this by stating that there is a difference between privacy and secrets.
“Privacy we all deserve. Secrets are different, and secrets are directly linked to shame,” Richmond says.
Expressing your desires to a partner doesn’t have to be serious or scary. There’s no need to have a “we need to talk” conversation. This is sex; after all, it’s meant to be fun and feel good.
Have the conversation in person, and hold eye contact to create intimacy, but just be honest, and remember that a hint of flattery will get you everywhere.
Using the pegging example (but please replace it with your own hidden desires if you’re looking for something different), say something along the lines of,
“I’ve discovered that pegging turns me on. What do you think of that? Would that be something that you’re into?”
Keep it calm and casual. Sharing sexual desires is a very vulnerable act, and frankly, if your partner does respond rudely or judgementally, it might be time to get back on Tinder.
But, far more often than not, not only will your partner be interested in your pleasure, but they have their own hidden fantasies.
By talking about your desires, you not only get to have the sex life of your dreams, but you can inspire your partner to share their fantasies and, as a result, give them the sex life of their dreams, too.
Now, is there anything more romantic than that?