Sexual Shame is an epidemic right now! Especially in religious communities, due to religious conditioning. From a very young age, “boys” & “girls” hear specific messages about their bodies, sex & sexuailty that do nothing but hurt their mental health.
What is Sexual Shame?
Sexual shame is a visceral feeling of humiliation and disgust toward one’s own body and identity as a sexual being, and a belief of being abnormal, inferior and unworthy. This feeling can be internalized. It also manifests in interpersonal relationships, having a negative impact on trust, communication, and physical and emotional intimacy. Sexual shame develops across the lifespan in interactions with interpersonal relationships, one’s culture and society, and subsequent critical self-appraisal (a continuous feedback loop). There is also a fear and uncertainty related to one’s power or right to make decisions, including safety decisions, related to sexual encounters, along with an internalized judgement toward one’s own sexual desire.
From the dissertation work of Dr. Noel Clark at Seattle Pacific University, 2017
Sexual shame in Christianity looks something like this:
- Sexuality is a sin
- Girls are “sexual stumbling blocks” aka a danger to the relationship between man & god.
- If women remain virgins until the day they marry, they’re holy, if not, they are damaged goods
- The perception that sexuality is a weakness & corrupts the mind
- That our souls can & should transcend our physical desires
- Masturbation is a sin
- Sex outside of hetero marriage is a sin
- Girls are responsible for their own purity and that of boys as well because their bodies are the gateway to sin.
- Sexual women are temptresses that stand in the way of man’s relationship with God
These messages make it more likely that no matter the frequency of things like masturbation or watching porn, young people in the religious community often believe they have an addiction problem. When they seek out help in their community it is common to hear that they must suppress their urges and are sent to “treatment” programs where their desires are portrayed as a sickness.
These types of experiences lead to folks feeling humiliation & disgust towards their own bodies and identities as sexual beings and a belief of being unworthy, self-hatred quickly develops. We are all sexual beings, it is at the core of being human. No amount of brainwashing can eliminate that, but with proper education about sex & the human body, we can prevent more unwanted pregnancies & STI’s than Purity & Abstinence culture ever has or could.
Not to mention, the damage religious culture does to people when it teaches that the only healthy, acceptable relationships are those between a married heterosexual couple, this leaves out any LGBTQ person, as well as teens in the education process. Therefore leaving them unable to learn about and understand their own bodies and urges. This has created an influx of young adults dealing with sexual shame. Young adults are going out into the world confused and ashamed of their innate human desires.
Sexual shame causes young people to hate their desires and bodies, when we are at war with our own bodies, it leads to dysfunction in adults. Creating PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) when we tell young girls and women “Protect your Virginity!” their whole lives and then when they marry “Give your virginity to this man on your wedding night” oh and regularly after that!
This leads to Depression, Self-hate, panic attacks, anxiety as a result of religious sexual shame as well as “Vaginismus”, the physical tightening of the vagina, which has been linked to the fear of penetration. As you can see sexual shame can be crippling and it’s happening all over the world every day with purity culture and abstinence-only sex education.
Sex education has been primarily fear based, pushing abstinence & “purity” culture. You will have seen purity culture showing up in ways like Purity Balls, that are practiced by christian groups, where a young girl pledges her virginity to her father until her wedding night. It is set as an almost fairytale like ball & dance.
Founded in 1998 by the evangelical Randy Wilson and his wife Lisa in Colorado Springs, the idea has spread across 48 states and 17 countries rapidly. The National Field Director for Church Ministries at the Family Research Council – Wilson – said he founded the Purity Ball for his five daughters as a way to celebrate the importance of the father-daughter relationship.The daughters in attendance can range from as young as 4-5 to college-aged, although the average girl is 11-14. There is a fancy dinner, dancing, and speakers, followed by ritual pledge-making. Where the father makes the pledge for his daughter, it is not common for a girl to verbally pledge, she may pray to her god as a pledge but the rest is done by her father in front of everyone.
These purity balls imply that a young girl’s & women’s value is held in their being “pure” and virginal until her wedding night. All her worth is held in her virginity, but virginity is a made up concept used to control young women. And we must take note that these same pressures and pledges are not put on young boys and men. This pressure further perpetuates the idea that women are possessions of men, passed from the father to the husband on their wedding day.
Studies show that in adolescent studies, people who take pledges of chastity go on to have sex earlier and have higher rates of STDs than those who do not which has shown to be due to less sexual health education and resources available to them.
Young people are denied sexual health education, and they are taught that their sexual urges are immoral. Dress codes are stipulated for females because our bodies tempt & arouse young boys/men, furthering the idea that boys & men are the predator aka the uncontrolled, and the girls/women the prey aka weak. There is so much pressure on young girls and women not to tempt men with their bodies. This sends a terrible message that our bodies are bad, we are bad! But yet on their wedding nights they are expected to freely and easily give their body to their new husband, after hearing their entire lives that they must cover up, not tempt, be chaste, be pure, don’t let anyone touch your body and take your holy purity away. Talk about a mind f*ck!
The true root of most sexual problems are pain, fear, lack of knowledge, self-hatred and shame. We can help those struggling with sexual shame by teaching them that their sexuality is part of them. Accepting themselves as one with it, not seperate. With information that is inclusive & that covers a range of human sexuality (not with ignorance or fear), we can help all people decide how they want to be sexual without shame and judgement.
With Wild Love,