Religion, friends, family, school — everywhere we turn, we are getting messages that shame us for wanting sex for pleasure, for enjoying our bodies if we aren’t physically perfect, or for exploring sex in unconventional ways.
Despite how close or far we are from society’s rigid standards of beauty, we all experience some level of body shame. While unpacking body shame is difficult, there are few ways to combat it.
Matatas suggests first curating your content. This means choosing to surround yourself with media that highlights people who represent you. Find images of people with your body type being sexy to help you redefine what sexy even is. You can also try locating where your shame is: “maybe it’s in your butt, maybe it’s your skin,” etc. Then locate the parts of your body “where there are seeds of potential self-adoration” and focus on those body parts instead. All these exercises are easier said than done, but they can be useful tools to start breaking free from body shame.
Performance anxiety may come from internal or external messages, like from porn that gives us ideas on how we’re supposed to look and act during sex. We may also experience performance anxiety when we feel pressure to stay hard or pressure to orgasm, or to make a partner orgasm.
To work through this, Matatas suggests trying sexual acts that aren’t orgasm-focused, like a sensual massage. Communicate to find out what you’re both actually into and look for signs of arousal, like if they’re wet, hard, etc. Making your goal to give your partner pleasure, not an orgasm, can lift some of the pressure that results in performance anxiety.
Shame Around ‘Weird’ Sexual Interests
We often feel shame for our kinks and fetishes because society deems them as deviant. Of course, society’s definition of “deviant” changes all the time — After all, same-sex relationships were considered “deviant” not so long ago. But as long as your desires are not emotionally or physically hurting anyone, and are not violating consent, who’s to say what is “normal” anyway?
“We don't understand a lot around sexuality, and we want to create a pathology where there was potential harm or sort of a problem with someone's development that created this desire. Sometimes that's true, but most of the time, people just like what they like,” says Matatas. “And so, if you think about things you like that other people don't like, creating that empathy for people who have desires you don't understand is a really important way for all of us to sort of collectively reduce shame.“
If you have a partner who has a sexual interest you’re not into, Matatas suggests approaching it sensitively by simply saying “Oh, well, thanks for sharing that with me, it's not really my thing.” Or if you’re willing to experiment a bit, you can say something like, “Oh, interesting. Tell me more.” It’s important to keep communication open and honest and to check-in throughout any sexual experience.
No matter how you dice it, it’s extremely difficult to get over body shame, performance anxiety, and shame around wanting sex society deems abnormal. This feeling is so ingrained, it can often be hard to even pinpoint it. But taking Matatas suggestions to heart is a good first step toward breaking free from shame.