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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Support Groups » Sexual shame

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Author Topic: Sexual shame
MusicNerd
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So, to make a long story very short: I've discovered recently that I harbor a lot of internalized sexual shame. It's pretty ironic for me that I harbor shame towards my sexual self especially considering one of my fields of study is literally Gender/Sexuality/Women's studies.

I guess I'm struggling with different things surrounding this shame I've recently discovered I've been harboring:
1. How the hell do I still have shame surrounding sex and the sex-negative messages I received from my parents/Catholic elementary school growing up when I'm an atheist adult who now studies it and the dynamics around it?
2. What if it takes me a really long time to get over this shame? Like, what if I don't get over it and start having sex until I'm 30, 40, 50, what-have-you? (P.S. Totally nothing wrong with starting at those ages, but I just personally would like to not wait that long.)
3. What do I even do to start grappling with this shame? I've read quite a lot of feminist lit, but clearly that hasn't been helping my subconscious any.

Any advice/shared experiences is greatly appreciated!

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"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." ~Dr. Seuss

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September
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You know, I am wrapping up a PhD in Gender Studies right now and I also still have a lot of feelings of shame tied up in my sexuality that I still need to work on. It is an ongoing process, and having a deeper understanding of where that shame comes from unfortunately does not magically make it go away.

Would you like to talk about some of these feelings of shame that you are having, or would you rather talk about how to accept that you are still struggling, and giving yourself the room to do so?

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Johanna
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"The question is not who will let me, but who is going to stop me." -Ayn Rand

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MusicNerd
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Hey September, thanks for responding. [Smile] Wow, that's amazing! Congratulations!! [Big Grin]

Hmm, I guess I'd like to start with talking about the feelings of shame I'm having. Sorry in advance if this post seems too long! Here's a brief list of what I feel ashamed about in case you wanna skip over the rest:
1. I feel ashamed about having sexual desires
2. I feel ashamed of expressing sexual desires to person I'm sexually-attracted to (like flirting or giving them compliments) even if they seem like they'd be receptive to it
3. When I inevitably don't express those desires in any sort of subtle way, I feel ashamed that I wasn't able to do that, and then I start to feel ashamed of my sexual inexperience
4. I feel shame for being ashamed of my sexuality

For instance, I do things like go on dates with people I know I'm emotionally/intellectually compatible with even though I'm not sexually attracted to them, because I reason to myself that: I want to avoid being "shallow" and thus avoid the people I'm actually physically attracted to in order to not be superficial. In reality, it's more that I avoid people I'm sexually attracted to out of fear/shame of having and expressing sexual desire. I'd say that that's my main point of shame.

Even though I've gotten better at silencing that inner critic in me in other areas of my life, by being like, "Actually inner-Simon Cowell, I'm quite a good person who has a lot of positive things to offer thankyouverymuch. Nice try," I still can't get that inner critic to shut up, or at least quiet down a bit, when it comes to being sexually attracted to someone. In fact, that voice gets especially loud and mean during those times.

That inner judge simultaneously makes me feel bad about having sexual desires, while also making me feel like I don't deserve to be sexually intimate with someone (even though, I consciously know that's not true). It just doesn't make sense to me, because: if my internal self accepts that I deserve to be happy about other parts of myself and my life, why do I still feel bad about having the sexual side of myself or attempting to express sexual desire to someone? It doesn't make any sense.

I guess I also seem to have shame around being inexperienced and not expressing my sexual desires to people. I even feel shame for being ashamed of my sexual self!

[ 06-06-2014, 10:25 AM: Message edited by: MusicNerd ]

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"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." ~Dr. Seuss

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Heather
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It seems to me, then, this might be something where it works best to work backwards.

In other words, how about first doing some thinking and work on ditching feeling ashamed about feelings ashamed?

Shame is something that is pretty much always learned, especially this kind of sexual shame. And just like, say, internalized racism is learned, it takes time and work to unlearn. But that we have learned it? Nothing to be ashamed of: what we are taught is utterly outside our control or doing. And if and when we're taught with very strong messaging -- and many people are when it comes to sexuality -- we're pretty much bound to feel as we're taught.

In a lot of ways, we're talking about a combo of fear and ignorance here, and they tend to really feed on negative feelings.

So, if a person can at least get started by knowing they feel shame, and just accepting that they do, that what they are feeling is what they have been taught to feel and unlearning takes time? Then they can at least have a better ground to get started on what that shame is about. Make sense?

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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MusicNerd
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Hey Heather! Great to hear from you. [Smile]

In other words, how about first doing some thinking and work on ditching feeling ashamed about feelings ashamed?
I would love to not feel this shameception thing I've got going on. How would I even start that?

But that we have learned it? Nothing to be ashamed of: what we are taught is utterly outside our control or doing. And if and when we're taught with very strong messaging -- and many people are when it comes to sexuality -- we're pretty much bound to feel as we're taught.
Hmm, I hadn't thought about shame in that way. I typically haven't been framing sexual shame as something that isn't my fault. I guess I just feel like since I know other people my age who've been taught overtly sex-negative messages growing up, and since they seem to be having fulfilling sex lives, then I just feel ashamed that I'm not totally past it yet myself. Pretty much I feel like: if other people my age who've been in my position have gotten past it by now, then there has to be something that I've done wrong.

I don't know if that makes any sense?

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"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." ~Dr. Seuss

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September
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Yes, that makes sense! It is totally normal to look to your peers to see how you "measaure up". We've all done that. But that doesn't mean that it is particularly useful. Even people who seem to share a similar background may have had different experiences and may also just simply be, well, different people. Who we are is made up from more than one factor.

Not to mention that all these messages from our cultural surrounding are STILL there, and a lot of them are conflicting. Who's to say that some of those people who seem to have it figured out aren't still secretly feeling just as confused as you are? And feeling just as pressured to sort it out asap?

So, no, there is nothing you are "doing wrong". [Smile]

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Johanna
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"The question is not who will let me, but who is going to stop me." -Ayn Rand

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MusicNerd
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It is totally normal to look to your peers to see how you "measaure up". We've all done that. But that doesn't mean that it is particularly useful.
Yeah, that's very true. Really, it just makes me feel bad when I compare myself to my peers in this area.

Who's to say that some of those people who seem to have it figured out aren't still secretly feeling just as confused as you are? And feeling just as pressured to sort it out asap?
I guess I don't know how they're actually feeling for certain, or if they feel those same pressures. I suppose it just seems from where I'm standing that they are dealing with it better, but I guess I should remind myself that I can't read their minds.

So, no, there is nothing you are "doing wrong". [Smile]
Thanks. [Smile] I guess I'll just have to keep reminding myself of what you and Heather are saying about how this shame isn't my fault as I keep working to dismantle it.

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"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." ~Dr. Seuss

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Heather
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For sure, what Joey said about your ideas about how other people are feeling.

One thing we know in sexology that's pretty much a cornerstone of the field is this: people's sexual behaviours do not necessarily tell us anything about people's feelings about their sexualities, including those behaviours.

People can be engaging in sexual lives and having a very good time while still dealing with shame issues and having them come up. People also can have times of life when those issues aren't coming up for them, then times when they are, so the idea someone is all over them as a young person? Maybe. Or maybe they just haven't dealt with it yet, or maybe they're having a nice little vaca from shame for now, but it's on its way back soon.

Per the how-to with starting to work through shame, I'd first need to know what you've been doing. Probably the biggest thing to know is how have you been caring for yourself - if you have -- with those feelings? What do you tend to do when they come up, and what's your internal monologue like when they do?

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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MusicNerd
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One thing we know in sexology that's pretty much a cornerstone of the field is this: people's sexual behaviours do not necessarily tell us anything about people's feelings about their sexualities, including those behaviours.
Yeah, that's very true. Like, I don't have any idea what their inner voices are telling them about sex. As you pointed out, there's a lot of variety there.

Per the how-to with starting to work through shame, I'd first need to know what you've been doing. Probably the biggest thing to know is how have you been caring for yourself - if you have -- with those feelings? What do you tend to do when they come up, and what's your internal monologue like when they do?
Well, these thoughts mostly crop up when I'm around whoever it is I'm attracted to, or after we've talked and I'm heading somewhere else. My inner voice is getting much quieter (and dare I say, nicer?) about other things it used to pull me apart for, but now it's really loud and really mean whenever I'm around said-person.

Here's a flow-chart of my thought process (idk, it's the best way I can explain it). Also, every sentence doesn't happen in the same occurrence, but each section is like an idea of how it pretty much goes:
"Oh wow, that person's super attractive and they seem quite nice! You should get to know them better/ask them to casually hang out sometime. Maybe invite them to that fun event with your friends or do something chill like grab lunch. It's not like you haven't asked people out/gone on dates before, you can do it!" --> "What are you doing? Don't let them know that you're interested in them in that way, because then you'll creep them out. You're not someone who flirts! God, that's so rude to impose your desires onto someone else like that!" --> [insert slew of negative thoughts that crop up and cause me to avoid the person I'm attracted to in an attempt to shut up the inner critic] --> [consequently I feel bad because I really did want to get to know said-person better and see if we would get along on some level] --> "Look at you, you're pathetic. You can't even subtly flirt with people, that's why they always think you only wanna be friends with them. Wow, you really suck at getting close to people."

Yeah, this shame is also really good at downplaying the progress I've made regarding my fear of getting close to people (which has decreased a whole lot now, and I've made myself very vulnerable in a lot of situations, but it still comes up in these kinds of scenarios). :/

Typically, I don't do much in terms of self-care when I'm literally around the other person and those thoughts are happening; but afterwards I do things like take a nap in order to get myself together and just feel my feelings (and cry or whatever) for a bit. After I've done that, I typically throw myself into my art by writing music or spoken word poetry or playing my violin or something. I also try to make a concerted effort to see my friends during this time just because being around them tends to make me feel better, too. Pretty much, I do things that try to distract me from how mean my thoughts were.

(P.S. Also, sorry for all the quoting y'all; it helps me keep my thoughts organized.)

[ 06-06-2014, 05:55 PM: Message edited by: MusicNerd ]

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"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." ~Dr. Seuss

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Heather
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Okay.

Have you tried putting a stop on those internal scripts by building a detour?

In other words, when the shame and negativity start to get going, what do you think you might instead start learning to interrupt yourself with; kinder, more compassionate statements that do not lead you down that spiral?

What NICE, supportive things can you start saying to yourself?

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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MusicNerd
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"Spiral" is actually the perfect word for it.

Hmm... Ideally I would like to stay in the first section with all the encouraging quotes. But if it ends up getting to the second section (which it typically does) I could say things like:
"When has anyone actually considered you creepy? You're anything but that, and I'm sure your friends would agree."
"Why not be someone who flirts? You're not really being rude."
"It's okay to let them know you like them."

Maybe something along those lines? I think the hardest thing for me is going to be actually believing the positive thoughts when I try to use them in those scenarios.

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"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." ~Dr. Seuss

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Molias
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I think those all sound good. Even if those thoughts are hard to believe, getting practice in reminding yourself of them isn't going to hurt - and with experience it may very well get easier.

In addition, do you find other people creepy, disrespectful, or imposing desires on others when they flirt? I wonder if you can't help reinforce this by thinking about positive flirting that other people do.
I often find that I'm judging myself by this weird standard I don't hold anyone else to, and when I stop and say "hey, I think it's fine when other people do this thing, there's no reason I can't do it too" it can help me to get past my worries and judgment.

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MusicNerd
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Even if those thoughts are hard to believe, getting practice in reminding yourself of them isn't going to hurt - and with experience it may very well get easier.
Yeah, I really do hope it'll get easier with experience and reminding myself.

In addition, do you find other people creepy, disrespectful, or imposing desires on others when they flirt?
Not really, no. As long as they're not doing anything like ogling my chest or something like that. In fact, even if I'm not interested in them, I find it kinda flattering. [Smile]

I often find that I'm judging myself by this weird standard I don't hold anyone else to, and when I stop and say "hey, I think it's fine when other people do this thing, there's no reason I can't do it too" it can help me to get past my worries and judgment.
Me too!! I do that way too often. Yeah, I should probably work on reminding myself of how I'm not creeped out by other people doing the same thing to me.

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"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." ~Dr. Seuss

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