So far you’ve read about the social and religious components of sexual shame, however what about the impact of sexual shame in your relationship with your partner/s, or previous partners? For this section, we discuss intimate relationships and how they can increase feelings of guilt and/or disappointment.
Relationship factors can vary so much from person to person as the sexual shame impact can start at an older age compared to family or religious impacts. You could have had a series of positive relationships and then one that is completely negative and it changes how you view sex.
Short-term relationships are known to have a larger impact than longer-term, supportive relationships. You may have had only one partner and no experience with what other people are interested in and assume that the things that are uncomfortable for you are just ‘normal’ a part of having sex.
Here are the 5 impacts while in an intimate relationship with sexual shame.
The 5 Sexual Shame Impacts While in an Intimate Relationship
Slut shaming in a relationship is any comment or attitude that indicates previous or current sexual experiences are deviant, inappropriate, or immoral in some way. Brian Sweeney states that “victims of slut shaming, who are disproportionately girls and women, may attain a poor reputation, experience social isolation and a loss of social status, as well as feel negative, painful emotions such as embarrassment, humiliation, regret, and sadness.”
This happens often a partner insists on knowing about past sexual experiences, but then has intense feelings of jealousy or discomfort. For example, one partner may have had more sexual partners than the others, leaving the one with the lower number to feel less than. This might lead to them making statements such as “wow, I can’t believe you’ve had sex with so many people”.
Your friends may have shared they did more experimental things with one partner and then determined they did not like that activity, only to have a current partner find out and shame them for trying it in the first place.
Conversations that don’t go well or feel supported can be a huge stressor on the relationship in general as well as contributing to sexual shame. There can be multiple ways this happens:
Shutting conversations down: The only solution to creating change in our sex life is to talk about it. We can’t change the type, frequency, or approach without discussing it with our sexual partners. If you read the article on social impacts, you will remember that in many households, talking about sex is taboo, inappropriate, or stressful.
If your partner never learned how to talk about it openly, they might shut you down when you bring it up by either just walking away, asking you not to talk about it, or becoming so anxious you feel guilty for approaching it anyway. When the conversation doesn’t happen at all, your brain will learn that sex is a scary topic and something to stay away from as you will be judged for having an interest in the first place.
Shaming interest: This is one of the top problems couples bring into my office–the fear of bringing up sexual interests because of shame.
Let’s say you are interested in adding something new and fun to your sex life! Maybe you want to try a new sex toy or use a different location. You are really excited, and approach your partner to see what they think!
Instead of matching your energy, they are disgusted. “How can you be into that?” or “why would you even ask me to do that?” might be what you hear. Instead of embracing that you have differences or are open to trying new things, you are shut down and shamed for interest or desire to explore. This pattern continues and shame develops, making it likely that real interests are hidden. These interests could include an affair, hiding porn habits, or seeking out other unhealthy sexual behaviors.
Porn or masturbation habits
We have talked about porn heavily in other sections of this series, so we will be brief here. For many, it can be hard to find porn reflective of what you look like. As an example, there are not as many people of color or a variety of body sizes in mainstream porn. Perhaps your partner repeatedly watches porn that doesn’t look like you or is based on a kink you aren’t interested in.
Knowing you are not able to match the media sexually consumed by your partner can trigger shame and guilt that can be difficult to overcome.
Masturbation can also contribute, although it is healthy behavior. Masturbation can fill different needs, such as stress relief, help manufacture sleep, or explore your own body.
For some, it can be difficult to understand that masturbation is about the individual and not a relationship need. I see numerous clients who do not want their partner to masturbate but instead get them “so we can just have sex!”, or because they think it is inappropriate. Knowing your partner doesn’t want you to be doing it can lead to the behavior being hidden, and typically we associate the things we hide are not things we should be proud of!
Conversely, your partner might be the one masturbating over having sex with you and that can bring up feelings as well. It is crucial to have ongoing conversations about our needs to avoid shame spirals regarding masturbation.
One of the biggest shame triggers of all is cheating. It can be similar to porn in the sense of finding out your partner is interested in things that aren’t you. This can lead to feelings of shame and questioning of whether or not you are good enough. You might wonder if your partner sought out a new sexual experience because you were not enough or somehow flawed. These are direct ties to sexual shame thoughts.
Additionally, you might find you have a hard time putting sex back on the table post-affair. It can be hard to trust again, and sex is already a very vulnerable experience. There can be shame in exposing yourself again and you may have pushback from other loved ones on continuing that relationship.
Contrarily, in a new sexual relationship, you can still feel shame from having been cheated on and might have residual shame that needs to be addressed.
Let’s face it, just because we are in an intimate relationship does not mean it is a healthy one. Sexual assault and rape can still happen within the confines of interpersonal relationships. If a partner has assaulted you, it is possible to immediately feel guilt and shame regarding the interaction. You might wonder why you are with a person who is comfortable harming you, or wonder if you are flawed in general. These thoughts can lead to negative feelings of self-worth and relationship happiness, which can come out in deeper ways. It can also impact sexual relationships with future partners as well, even if you did not have shame prior.
If you have been assaulted, by a partner or otherwise, please reach out to a support person or therapist in your area to assist you. You deserve better and are not the problem!
Ultimately, anything a partner/s says or does to you in or around the bedroom that leaves you feeling uncomfortable, disappointed, or distressed, might contribute to the development of sexual shame. It is important to always be having ongoing conversations with your partner to determine not only what you like and don’t like, but to offer check-ins and prevent negativity from growing.
Join us again next month on K&T for the final installation of our sexual shame series–body image.