It’s virtually impossible to grow up in a culture like ours, which treats sexuality as taboo, something to be afraid of, or something to avoid, without experiencing sexual shame.

At some point in our lives, we all take in messages of shame about our sexuality, our sexual body, our sexual responses and desire, our experiences or lack of experiences, our gender and identity, or other aspects of who we have been or who we are as sexual people.

That shame is tremendously powerful and it isolates you and makes you do anything you can to never feel that way again.

It comes from all directions: from your family, friends or peers, church, synagogue or temple, from the media. As you are molded to be a certain kind of sexual being (or even a non-sexual being), if you divert from cultural standards and expectations, you are questioned, and sometimes feel a sense of guilt for what you have done or not done, or shame for who you are.

I was shamed by my mother for touching my genitals when I was 8 years old and that kept me from touching my genitals, masturbating, or otherwise exploring my body until college! For 10 years, I internalized all kinds of messages about my genitals and what it meant to be curious about them. Shame is powerful.

Maybe you got caught masturbating, playing childhood games, exploring your body, or playing make-believe in ways that made the adults around you feel uncomfortable. They may have even come from a good place of wanting to protect you, yet the result was your being humiliated by them, which can turn into a deep sense of shame for who you are.

 Sex is so personal that it’s the most painful place a person can be shamed.

There is a new term being used, “Slut shaming” where teenaged girls are being shamed for their sexual expression or assumed sexual experiences. This has become more commonplace with the internet being such a convenient way to harass someone.

Shame affects everyone, but it especially affects those of us who do not fit the dominant norms of our culture. So gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are easy targets, as are sexually expressed/powerful women and girls.

Many shaming experiences happen so quickly you hardly know what happened, but the result can be years of feeling bad.

If a peer who you respect asserts that she doesn’t do such-and-such kind of sex, or that only “sluts” would do that, you become red in the face if you are the “slut” who has done that.

Shame is often tied up in people’s experiences with abuse: a victim of abuse might be humiliated as part of the abuse, and told that they deserve it for some reason. They might walk away holding so much shame for what happened that they never tell anyone, or they do tell and the person they confided in blames them for what happened or questions them in a way that shames them all over again.

The thing about shame is that it exists and becomes bigger in isolation. So the more you keep it to yourself, the more it can overcome you and the more painful it gets. Shame is never good for sexuality. It serves to keep you feeling small, staying in line, acting small or outside of what you would authentically do, feeling undeserving, and it keeps you disconnected from others who can support you and help you escape it.

We all have experiences of shame to work through at some point relating to our sexuality. Sometimes it comes later as you age and have shameful feelings about how your body and sexual responses are changing.

To live a sexually empowered life, you need to directly work on your internal shame that keeps you from being the fully actualized sexual person you are meant to be.

I am constantly helping my clients look at their shameful places and work on releasing the shame that holds them back.

Quietly holding onto shame does not serve your sexual growth-it only serves to limit who you are or believe you can be. The antidote to shame is compassion, according to Brené Brown, so creating situations where we can speak our shame and be received in a place of compassion and empathy is one of the ways to let it go.

And if you are making decisions based on feeling shame, or fear of future shame, that’s a sign it’s time to look at how shame is getting in the way of you living your life and being who you want to be.

Releasing sexual shame and blockages is the second step of my “9 Steps to a Sexually Empowered Life”, a dynamic process I use in my private coaching and in my Fire Woman Virtual Program.

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