How Do I Alleviate Feelings Of Sexual Shame?

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated May 20, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Societal influences like TV, movies, and social media platforms may portray sex as something positive that everyone should enjoy, or they could portray quite the opposite. Some people may feel shame surrounding their sexual selves, sexual desires, or sexual experiences with partners. At times, these feelings of sexual shame may be so powerful that someone wishes to avoid sexual intercourse entirely and feels uncomfortable even talking about sex.

It can be important to remember that sex and sexual desire are completely natural. While sex can feel good, it can also be good for your health, and when people feel sexual shame, they may begin to engage in unhealthy thoughts or behaviors. Sexual dysfunction and a lack of sexual satisfaction can result from internalized shame related to a person’s sexual self.

While speaking to a mental health professional like a sex therapist may be one of the most beneficial options for your mental and sexual health, there are steps you can take that might answer some of your questions or help you resolve feelings of shame or guilt. If you are already feeling shame around your sexual thoughts and sexual pleasure, then you may need to seek help for your mental health, but there can also be actions taken to ensure that more people never feel sexual shame. Sex education can be an important tool in ensuring that young people develop a healthy relationship with sex.

Getty/Halfpoint Images
Take the first step toward resolving feelings of sexual shame

What causes sexual shame?

Some individuals may feel ashamed when they have sex, perform sexual acts, use sex toys, masturbate, or even when they think about sex. This shame response may happen for several reasons. However, everyone’s individual experience with these feelings of sexual shame is different. Some may not realize they harbor shame related to sexuality until they have a sexual experience. Sex shame can be common, and it can impact people individually and within intimate relationships with sexual partners. 

Physical insecurities 

At times, feelings of insecurity about physical appearance are so intense they may influence sexual shame. These feelings can make it difficult to fully embrace sex, even if you have a supportive partner. With time and assistance, people can work through feelings of sexual shame associated with negative body image or other causes. A lack of self-esteem and excessive self-consciousness can cause a person to not feel worthy and to experience sexual shame in some cases. Often, not having self-confidence has a negative impact on a person’s sexual well-being.

For some transgender or non-binary individuals, body concerns may be due to gender dysphoria, which may mean a disconnect between your gender and how your body looks. In this case, speaking to a mental health professional or a doctor specializing in gender may be beneficial.

Childhood trauma 

Sexual shame may have origins in childhood or adolescence, perhaps from exposure to sex-negative attitudes or insufficient communication resulting in a lack of understanding about the sex and sexuality. It’s possible that gaining a better understanding of your sexual identity, as well as learning information about sexual behaviors and sexual activities in healthy relationships, may be helpful.

At times, feelings of sexual shame result from sexual trauma in childhood, adolescence, or adulthood. For example, people who have had traumatic sexual experiences, such as non-consensual sexual experiences, including sexual assault or abuse, may feel sexual shame during consensual experiences as well. Negative past experiences involving sexual activity can affect a person’s entire life, potentially altering how they see themselves. These feelings of sexual shame can feel complicated, so reaching out to a mental health professional may be valuable for coping with the negative effect of a traumatic sexual encounter. Not all people who experience sexual shame have been sexually abused, but many individuals who have been abused in this way find therapy supportive. 

Religious or cultural beliefs about sex

Some may feel sexual shame due to religious reasons, cultural beliefs, or family attitudes. Some religions may teach that sex is impure, or that sexual intercourse is only appropriate under strict circumstances. For instance, some religions have rules against premarital sex, same-sex relationships, or sexual relationships with others outside their religious affiliation. Some religions or cultures may consider masturbation and other sexual behavioral patterns to be “wrong,” even if the only person affected by these sexual behaviors is yourself.

Not all religions have these kinds of sexual values or have strict rules regarding sexual intercourse. However, if there is a specific sexual desire you have that causes you to feel shame because it conflicts with your religious beliefs, exploring that may be necessary to begin healing. Otherwise, it may be possible that sex continues to be linked to shame in your mind. Working with a certified sex therapist can be helpful.

Sex education

When sex education is incomplete or taught with a judgmental attitude, it can unintentionally lead to feelings of shame for some individuals. If the information provided is limited, biased, or mostly emphasizes abstinence, it may create a sense of fear or guilt rather than promote a healthy understanding of our bodies and desires. As a result, people might internalize negative messages about sex, making it difficult for them to embrace their sexuality in a positive and fulfilling way. 

It's important for sex education to be comprehensive, inclusive, and positive to ensure that individuals can develop a healthy relationship with their own sexuality without feeling sexual shame or guilt. Proper sex education can also help in understanding and accepting one's gender identity, which can be a significant factor in experiencing sexual shame.

Asexuality

Sometimes, people decide that they do not wish to have sex at all or do not experience sexual attraction and identify as asexual. In this case, you may decide to refrain from sex or redefine your romantic relationships to work in a way that does not cause sexual shame. Some LGBT-friendly therapists may be able to work with you on understanding the cause of your sexual shame. 

Determining the source of your sexual shame

With all the potential sources of sexual shame, it may feel overwhelming to determine where the shame originated for you. While finding its roots may help, that alone may not completely alleviate feelings of shame associated with sex. 

For many, coping requires acknowledging and exploring feelings of sexual shame. Some choose to do this in silence by keeping a journal while others speak to a sex therapist. This process may feel uncomfortable at first, but it can be essential to understand that taking steps to resolve feelings of sexual shame is often beneficial for healing. Therapists may use a grounded theory study and shame resilience theory to help individuals overcome sexual shame.

Take things slowly

Attempting to understand your feelings of shame may take time, but eventually, you might be able to have sexual thoughts without feeling bad and adjust to healthy sexual behavior of all kinds. For instance, some individuals feel ashamed about masturbating, but studies have shown that masturbation can be a healthy part of your sex life. 

Conscious masturbation practices can help you to get to know yourself and what you like or don’t like. It can also be an effective method of working to establish feelings of pleasure without shame around sex. Tapping into your sexual preferences by yourself may be a step in the right direction toward engaging comfortably in sexual behavior with a partner when you’re ready.

Find a supportive sexual partner

Sexual shame can harm intimacy, but a supportive partner may help you overcome and work through your feelings of shame to cultivate a robust and healthy relationship. 

If you are uncomfortable with sex or conversations about sex, your partner should meet you where you are emotionally and not push you to sexually engage until you’re ready. If you are having sex, but you have difficulty or don’t enjoy it, a healthy partner may be open to talking about that (if you feel comfortable) without negativity or blame. 

Suppose your partner doesn’t provide you with this kind of sexual support. In that case, it may be necessary to address it with them and, if they’re open to it, speak with a professional specializing in intimacy and relationships for help. 

Work to build confidence regarding sexual desire

It can feel challenging to learn not to be ashamed of your body, no matter your body type. For some folks, poor body image is difficult to overcome because the factors contributing to it begin at a young age.

study from the University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada, finds critical linkages between body image and sexual functioning constructs and indicates that interventions to improve body image could have concomitant benefits related to sexual experience. 

The study confirms that positive body image is directly related to a healthy sex life. According to the University of Colorado, Boulder, there are five ways to practice positive body image that may help you feel less sexual shame.

Post positive affirmations

Sticking positive statements about yourself on your mirror may help remind you that your value doesn’t rely on appearance. Start with short points such as “I am strong and capable” or “my appearance does not define my value”. As you think of other positive attributes you possess, add them as well.  

View yourself as whole

Try to focus on who you are instead of what your body looks like. Think about how others see you. Are you a kind friend? A supportive person? For some, writing these thoughts down in a journal can also be a helpful reminder. 

Focus on the influence of positive people who embrace their sexual selves

Surrounding yourself with positive people who make you feel supported can be essential when attempting to cultivate a healthy body image and sex life. Try to limit your time with people who engage in negative self-talk and tend to compare themselves to others. 

Be mindful of social media and shame 

Whether it’s friends and family or celebrity accounts, take a moment to explore how social media posts make you feel about yourself and your body. If posts from certain accounts negatively impact your body image, hide them or unfollow them entirely. 

Focus on positive pursuits

Some individuals struggling with body image may be preoccupied with negative thoughts about their appearance. To detract from those thoughts, you may find it helpful to spend time and energy on positive activities you are passionate about, particularly activities that involve doing things for others. 

The words we use to describe ourselves, our bodies, and our experiences can greatly impact how we feel about our sexuality. It is important to seek out the positive and avoid the negative. Negative or judgmental language can make feelings of shame or guilt worse, while positive and affirming words can help promote self-acceptance and a healthier relationship with our sexual selves.

Everyone is different, and some of these suggestions may not work for you. If you experience difficulties with sexual shame related to body image, you may also benefit from speaking to a professional, like a sex therapist.  

Rawpixel
Take the first step toward resolving feelings of sexual shame

Therapists help navigating sexual shame

Regardless of the reason, if you are experiencing these feelings of sexual shame, know you’re not alone. Reaching out to a professional who can suggest methods and strategies for moving past sexual shame is one step in healing. Sex therapists are professionals who specialize in helping individuals address and overcome feelings of sexual shame or discomfort related to their sexuality. They can offer a unique perspective on how past experiences, societal expectations, and cultural norms might cause shame around sex, genitals, or intimate sexual expression.

There may be barriers that deter some individuals from seeking help in person. They may also feel uncomfortable discussing these feelings of sexual shame face-to-face because of the subject matter. Others may have an inflexible schedule that doesn’t allow for regular appointments, and some may have difficulty finding transportation to and from appointments. Online therapy may be a good solution for those with barriers to overcome. 

With online therapy, meeting in person doesn’t have to be a barrier to getting help. Studies show online therapy is as effective for treating anxiety, depression, and trauma as seeing a traditional therapist. The licensed, accredited online therapists on platforms such as BetterHelp have experience in various specialties. You might consider signing up if you’re ready to talk about your sexual shame. 

Takeaway

For many people, including women and people of all genders, societal messages about their bodies and sexuality can lead to feelings of shame, which can negatively impact their lives. It's important to recognize that everyone experiences shame in different ways, and what might be triggering for one person may not affect another in the same way.

With assistance from a therapist, you may discover the source of your feelings of sexual shame and move past them. If you’re ready to start healing, consider trying one of the tips above or reaching out to a licensed therapist.

Gain insight into healthy intimacy
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started