Sexual guilt is a self-imposed struggle. It takes place entirely within our minds, and yet it holds us back from open, spontaneous, and authentic sexual expression. Feeling sexy and feeling guilty are mutually exclusive. The guilt we carry is inversely proportional to the pleasure we enjoy.
Self-criticism is a learned behavior, and its most destructive result is to turn pleasure into something unclean. As children, we were innocent adventurers exploring our bodies with no sense of shame or embarrassment. It was a journey of discovery and wonder, until an adult made us feel guilty or embarrassed about what we were doing. Here are a few variations of shaming words you might have heard as a kid.
1. Touching yourself will make you go blind. (That was my mother’s favorite. I am happy to report that I am in my early 30s and not only am I NOT blind, but I don't even wear glasses.)
2. Stop that. It’s embarrassing.
3. Nice girls don’t do that.
4. It’s a sin to touch yourself. People who do that go to hell.
5. If I catch you doing that again, you'll stand in the corner until you understand what you’ve done wrong. (I’ve spent hours staring at a wall. You don't learn anything except to do whatever you were in trouble for in secret.)
Adults uncomfortable with sexual exploration usually get that attitude from their even more conservative parents/authority figures. Those adults inherited Victorian taboos, religious misinformation, and centuries of ignorance. You can't change what they think, but you can extricate yourself from the guilt.
Unlearning sexual guilt means separating your own beliefs from other people's programming of your sexuality. It absolutely does not mean compromising your boundaries or changing your values.
It’s difficult to “unlearn” long-term habits, but that's what it takes to overcome your sexual guilt and move toward a healthy relationship with sex. Here are three strategies to help:
1. Turn guilt into pleasure.
Allow pleasure to inhibit guilt, not the other way around. Try to inch toward things that might make you feel guilty without actually reaching that point. When you feel guilt creeping in and dampening your pleasure, focus on what feels good. By listening to your pleasure rather than your guilt, you're feeding positive associations with sex and starving negative ones. Over time, with repetition, guilt's hold on you will weaken, and you'll be able to feel unbridled pleasure where you couldn't before.
2. Get to know your turn-ons and turn-offs.
Most of what we have learned about sexuality comes from porn, media, our friends, and other unreliable sources. Rather than let external sources tell us how we should feel about something, why not take the time to explore how you actually feel? Once you're confident of your sexual personality, it becomes infinitely easier to reject the uninformed judgments and opinions of others.
3. Embrace your unique ability to give and receive pleasure.
An intimate knowledge of the way our bodies receive pleasure increases our emotional and physical connection to ourselves. It also makes us more comfortable exploring with a partner. You won't be able to do something for someone else if you're ashamed of enjoying it yourself.
Sex is a deep, lifelong search to uncover the connection between mind, body, and spirit. It's beautiful, healthy, and humanity's single source for total ecstasy. Enjoy that journey.
For more on embracing your sexuality, start here: