How Shame Keeps Us From Owning Our Sexuality

From the moment we are born, we are taught what it means to have a body, what it means to be a woman or a man or neither, what it means to have (or not have) sexual desires, what our attraction (or lack of attraction) to another human being means and so on.

We're taught these things by our families, our friends, our media, our schools, our cultures and our governments. Some of these teachings become beliefs that we unconsciously hold to help us navigate our lives.

Let's bring them to the surface and name the beliefs that prevent us from owning who we are, creating intimate connections with those around us and getting free.

 

This week, we taught our webinar on 5 Patriarchal Beliefs That Keep You From Owning Your Sexuality, and we're going to be sharing each belief with you in separate blog posts. Let's dive in!

First let’s define what we mean when we say patriarchy. We define it as:

a gender-based system of oppression that shows up in every area of society (political, social, and mental system) that perpetuates myths of male dominance and gender norms and expectations and binaries. It uses misogyny and our ideas of what it means to be “masculine” to accumulate and maintain power. (This definition is inspired by the article, Buddhists & Ethical Misconduct: We All Have Patriarchy Work to Do)

 

In our first two blog posts, we talked about how gender socialization and heteronormativity, two constructs of the patriarchy, keep us from owning our sexuality (or asexuality).

Another major belief from patriarchy that affects our relationship to our sexuality is: 

Sex is shameful

 

There is a lot of shame of our bodies and sexualities. For women, in particular, we are taught to be a virgin, not to be a slut, and if we like to have a lot of sex or sex with a lot of different people, then we are shamed. Men are taught to have high sex drives and always be “on” and if they aren’t, then they aren’t a “real man”.  Men get shamed for not getting hard or not being in the mood or being attracted to another man, which goes back to gender socialization and heteronormativity. These beliefs are so seeped into our culture.

The patriarchy teaches women not to say "no" (to be a “good girl”), and it teaches men, in particular, to not respect a woman’s "no". If a woman rejects a man, then he is seen as and may feel like he is not “masculine” enough. We are taught that gender is part of our personhood, so when men, for example, are told that they aren’t man enough for “getting laid” or not taking no for an answer when it comes to having sex with women, they aren’t seen fully human, and they may not feel fully human as a result. Men are dehumanized too when they are taught that their personhood is directly tied to acting like a “man”, dominating women, and feeling entitled to women’s bodies. Women are dehumanized when they are taught that their personhood is directly tied to how sexually desirable and available they and their bodies are.

Another part of this socialization for men, as an example, is that you’re not truly valid, as a man, unless you’re having sex with a cis women, which perpetuates transphobia.

 

Thus, when cis men are attracted to trans women or trans folks, they may feel shame or be shamed. We can see how shame in a myriad of ways connects back to gender and heteronormativity. 

 

One of the most deep seated beliefs we have in society is that you shouldn’t charge or pay for sex. We encourage you to think about this for a minute. We tend to think of sex workers and sex work as shameful, that it’s dirty or not feminist (and a lot of other stereotypes that get perpetuated in the media and our culture).

 

We need to ask ourselves why we believe that it’s shameful to charge or pay for sex.

 

This shame stems from the belief that sex work is not real work, and because of this shame, sex workers are dehumanized. There is a lot of shame for people who pay for sex work as well. Cis men, in particular, are taught that sex should just be available to them, thus there is shame for them if they choose to pay for sex. When feminists decide to punish clients who pay for sex work, they are preserving that shame.

 

Another common way we teach that sex is shameful is by believing that children should not have sex education. We don’t make space for children to explore or learn about their bodies and their natural feelings that show up in their bodies as they’re growing into fully formed adults. We think that if we make space for this, then it’s going to encourage deviant activity in children, thus sex is seen as shameful, dirty, something to hide. Children do have sexual feelings and those feelings are natural. When children are only taught abstinence, we deny their natural sexual desires.

 

We can’t fully own our sexuality or asexuality when we are ashamed of it or when we are shaming others for not fitting into gender and sexuality norms. 

What were the messages that the adults around you growing up gave you about sex and sexuality that may have invoked shame?

 

Want to unlearn and heal from these beliefs that keep you from fully owning your sexuality (or asexuality)? Join us at our upcoming workshop on Exploring Sexuality and Patriarchy. We'll be going even deeper into how patriarchy is connected to accessing our power and freedom within our bodies and desire. (Go here to learn more)