I remember very clearly a moment during my first in-depth tantric retreat with the late Dr Shakti Malan, South African Dakini and sacred sexuality teacher, when she asked us about our feelings of shame. At that point in my life, I felt quite certain that shame was something that I was not burdened with. It was only over time, with continued reflection, that I realized how deep and surreptitious, how ingrained and secretive this powerful, yet paralyzing thing called “shame” can be.

The Big S

Shame can show up in various ways in our lives — like feeling shame about having a period, our body shape or size, being diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease, or our gender identity or sexual orientation. Perhaps I overlooked shame because I felt free to express desire and I enjoyed sex. But the “big S” had its hold on me, too, just in less obvious ways. In a country which is conservative in many respects, it is no surprise that guilt around desire and anxiety around sexual activity can be experienced by South Africans of all genders, sexual orientations, faiths and standing. But certainly, some are more predisposed than others. And sadly, as Dr Sara Flowers, vice president of education and training at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in an article on the subject confirms: “Folks who experience shame and guilt around sex and sexuality may be less likely to get sexual and reproductive health care services or feel comfortable in their bodies and identities.”

Value and Virtue

As with life, not all things are fair in the game of love and sex. Still today, women and feminine-identified people have been socialized and taught that their virginity is something to be protected (and their sexuality something to be hidden). In some religions and cultures, limiting oneself sexually as a woman ultimately adds to her value. These social pressures have led to some women feeling shame about or suppressing their sexual feelings.

Male prowess

Men, on the other hand, have traditionally been raised to see sex as a conquest. Sexual desire and activity and even masturbation tend to be more culturally accepted and expected among boys and men than girls and women. As Dr Carol Kuhle (Director of the Menopause and Women’s Health Clinic at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, which specializes in complicated sexual health issues for adult women) says: “Men have been given permission to orgasm. Women often don’t figure that out until later. It’s an easier path for men than for women.”

Can’t get no satisfaction?

Not only are women less inclined to freely embrace their sexual nature, but to add insult to injury, emotions of guilt and shame that they may experience can disrupt their sexual response. As Jennifer A. Vencill, Ph.D., L.P., a licensed psychologist and sex therapist says: “It might be difficult to experience physical arousal and orgasmic functioning and might actually put you at risk for sexual pain, if you’re anxious and tensing up your body. And certainly, if you’re feeling anxious with sex, it’s going to make satisfaction really difficult to come by.”

Let’s talk about Sex, baby…

The more openness and support there is for conversations about sex, about desire, about fantasies and taboos, the less space for guilt and shame. Sam and I are proponents of honest conversations about sex and pleasure. It’s important to start normalizing conversations outside of the immediate sexual experience and the bedroom where this could just lead to more pressure. Let’s start those conversations – whether they are with a qualified therapist or with a dear friend. Let’s support each other. As the Lube Ladies, we are pleasure activists: We believe that pleasure is empowering. We launched our Clitoria CBD Arousal Oil to encourage women to take more time for themselves and their pleasure, to get more in touch and in tune with the needs and desires of their bodies – and without the shame.

How to Overcome Shame Around Sex | Psych Central