sex, shame and communication

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To state the obvious, sex is deeply woven into the fabric of human consciousness and human life at every level. Sexual energy is like nuclear energy in that its enormous power can be harnessed and utilized for good – or – it can get out of control and be very destructive. Or it can be so scary that we decide to stay away from it altogether.

When we are struggling with problems regarding sex, it is absolutely critical for us to have at the forefront of our minds that others are struggling as well. I’ll explain why in a moment; first let me clarify that in saying “problems regarding sex,” I am referring to such things as insecurity, frustrated desire, secrecy, lack of interest, excessive interest, conflictedness, confusion, compulsive behavior, obsessive thoughts, lack of communication, negative self-image, envy, unrequited attraction, disappointment, etc. You know – the human condition stuff.

aloneness is not only unnecessary, it is dangerous

Shame prevents us from looking with clear-sightedness and compassion at our own pain and difficulties – and it intensifies how badly we feel about ourselves. When there is a preponderance of shame, it’s as if a cloud of self-criticism is following us and essentially making us go into hiding.

Once this happens, we have a situation where the original problems are still there, but now in addition to that we find ourselves caught up in secondary problems of fear and obsessive criticism of self or others. The problem itself, which was probably solvable, has now mushroomed into a much bigger ‘monster.’

Aloneness is the breeding ground for more shame, more pain, more obsessive thinking and more self-destructive behaviors. It is astounding the level of damage that we human beings can do to ourselves when we are alone, inside our own heads.

diagnosis: your problems with sex are normal

No matter the degree or the nature of your current problems with sex, there are thousands (or more likely, tens of thousands) of people around the world experiencing something very similar in this very moment. In therapy jargon, this recognition is called normalizing. While you may be feeling very alone and unique in your situation, it’s actually the case that, as the saying goes, what is most personal is most general.

Knowing this intellectually, however, is not enough – you must repeat this to yourself over and over until you get it, deep in your bones. Human beings need to be and feel connected to the tribe – plain and simple. When we operate on the assumption that we are unique and different in shameful ways, we set in motion all kinds of thinking and behavior that deeply intensify our struggles.

owning your problems with sex

In addition to seeing ourselves as part of the (imperfect and flawed) human family, we need to take responsibility for our problems and own them. If we don’t own them, they will own us. Our problems with sex can be minor or major, or anywhere in between. They can serve as petty annoyances, minor dissatisfactions, chronic frustrations or devastating catastrophes – to our psychological equilibrium and our relationships.


What level of intensity are your current problems with sex?
  • Non-existent
    at the moment
  • Minor, some
  • Fairly intense
    & frustrating
  • Very intense &
    very frustrating
  • Devastating &


the first step is to address the shame

We take an important step in life when we simply acknowledge the shame we feel about a given personal issue. We take a further step when – instead of minimizing it or neurotically ruminating about it – we decide to talk to someone about it. This could be your partner, a friend, a therapist, a trusted adviser, a spiritual mentor, or even an anonymous person in a supportive online forum. The key is to break the silence and admit that you need help.

Talking to someone about our concerns regarding our sex lives is the antidote to the shame that keeps us bound up in fear, guardedness and repression. Once we do this, the awkwardness and embarrassment we feel begins to decrease, and we begin to feel freer and less imprisoned by our own thoughts and feelings.

you’re not so special

It is paradoxically helpful sometimes to say to yourself, “I’m not so special – in fact I am pretty ordinary.”

The truth is that our struggles and concerns about our sex lives are pretty run-of-the-mill. Neighbors, co-workers, family, and celebrities – they are all facing (or have faced) similar challenges in their sex lives. In fact, feel free to take a look around any social environment that you’re in and remind yourself that: I am not alone. Each and every person here, like me, has some level of insecurities, doubts, disappointments, fears and frustrations around sex. They are like me and I am like them. All of us are doing our best to live life in the face of overwhelming complexity – and there is no one doing it perfectly.

taking responsibility for your sex life

Ask yourself:

What thoughts and feelings – fears and desires – do I have about my sex life?

What do I want my sex life to look like going forward?

Who can I talk to about my sex life, to help me get a better handle on this area of my life?

Our sex lives are like every other area of life: We construct and shape them over time by how we think, feel, communicate and act – one day at a time. And just as with other areas of our lives (i.e. physical health, financial, spiritual), we can move our sex lives towards the top of our agendas and give them increased thought and attention – if that is something we need to do.

This entails realizing that ‘sexual issues’ are essentially communication issues. In other words, to have healthier and more satisfying sex lives, we need to communicate more regularly and more honestly with our partner(s) and/or others who are working on this area of their lives as well. And sometimes we need to talk to a professional first, to prepare for the next steps.

To take responsibility in the ways described above is to begin healing the shame that binds you.

For further reading about sex related issues, see my writings on sex addiction and pornography addiction.

one response

  1. jodi says:

    I found you on twitter, great reading some of your posts! Glad to make a connection with another therapist!

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