Maybe you’ve agonized about showing a partner certain parts of your body, or revealing your true desires. Maybe you’ve felt guilty about sexual pleasure. Maybe you’ve worried that what you feel, enjoy or fantasize about just isn’t OK. Maybe you’ve wondered whether you want sex too much ... or not enough. Not just maybe. If you’re like many people, you’ve probably suffered through some degree of sexual shame. If you never have, you are a rare person - and a lucky one.

Although sexual shame originates from outside of us – from our parents, our friends, our schools, our culture – it feels like something that’s innate within us. In other words, when we feel ashamed about masturbating or having sex or watching porn or being attracted to a particular type of person, we assume that that shame means something about those actions or feelings; we assume that we feel that shame innately because those things are innately bad. Which - when you really take the time to think about the things you are ashamed about and where they come from - is actually complete bullshit. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always make those bad feelings any easier to shake.

So how can you overcome sexual shame?

Well, there are a few key ways, including therapy, being more open about sex and your sexuality, and even simply analyzing those feelings of shame as they arise, rather than accepting them at face value.

Oh, and there are sex toys. Now, you may not have thought of sex toys as a way of helping overcome sexual shame. After all, these handy devices carry plenty of their own social and cultural baggage. But for those who are willing to take the leap and give them a try, sex toys can completely change how you feel about your body, your sexuality, yourself and sex in general. Here’s why.

Play Is a Powerful Thing

There’s a good reason why we don’t refer to sex toys as “sex tools” or “sex implements.” And the term “adult products,” while not uncommon, is so vague and euphemistic it barely bears mentioning. The word “toy,” however, implies fun, free-spiritedness and exploration. Which is exactly what sex toys are for. Simply shifting your view of your body and sexuality as something to be explored is a potent antidote to a culture that often teaches us that our bodies and their functions should be hidden and suppressed.

The Better You Know Your Body, the More Respect You’ll Have for It

Research suggests that female vibrator users are significantly more likely to have gynecological exams and to perform regular breast exams. Because shame can be an intensely painful emotion, we often strive to avoid it. When that shame involves our bodies, it often causes us to neglect them. That may manifest as feeling too embarrassed to ask your doctor about contraception, or having too much contempt for your body to show it to a gynecologist. Using a sex toy can help you get to know your body on a very intimate level. When we are allowed to think about and appreciate our bodies, caring for them properly becomes a lot easier.

Sex Toys Are Empowering

When vibrators first hit mainstream America as sexual products in the 1960s and ‘70s, they were seen as part of the movement toward female empowerment. Up to that time, it was assumed that female pleasure was something that came with a male partner. Vibrators and other sex toys helped liberate female orgasm from the confines of a relationship, and made it clear that women could have their own orgasms any time they wanted to. Partnered sex is a beautiful part of life, and sex toys can’t and won't replace our biological need for human contact. When you own your own sexuality and pleasure, you can still choose to share it with other people - you just won’t have to rely on them to give it to you. (Learn more in Going Solo: The Top 5 Sex Toys for the Single Woman.)

They Can Create Enough Arousal to Override Inhibition

Sex toys are purpose-built tools and the good ones are really good at what they’re designed to do. For people whose sexual shame may be blocking their access to pleasure, sex toys can create sensations strong enough to break through and override those inhibitions. Plus, because many sex toys do most of the work for you, you can just lay back, relax and focus on putting yourself in the right frame of mind to embrace those pleasurable sensations.

Sex Toys Encourage Fantasy

Sex toys don’t come with an agenda. They are yours to use as you wish, which, for many people, involves a little imagination. And that’s a good thing. Our unique sexual fantasies and desires are part of what make us – and sexuality – so interesting. Your imagination is a great place to begin exploring who you are as a sexual person, what you’re into, and what you might like to try with a real, live partner. If you are never given the opportunity to imagine what you’d like your sex life to look like when you aren’t having sex, you probably won’t have too many ideas when it comes time to have sex. And that can make for a pretty dull sex life.

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They Build Communication – and Closeness - Within Couples

Sex toys can help widen your sexual repertoire, which can be a really important thing to maintaining a healthy sex life in a long-term relationship. But in the interest of respect for your partner and ensuring their comfort, it’s best to avoid suddenly emerging from under the sheets waving a dildo. Many people – particularly those who don’t have experience with sex toys – don’t respond well to that. That means you’ll probably have to talk about trying a sex toy beforehand, and explain what sorts of toys you might be interested in, and what you’d like to do with them. That’s called sexual communication, and it is as important for your sex life as it is for your relationship as a whole. (Learn more in How Taking Control of Your Sex Life Can Lead to Better Sex.)

Sex Toys Help You Explore All that Your Body Is Capable Of

Body shame isn’t necessarily the same as sexual shame, but they’re all wrapped up together. After all, if you’re worried about your body and how your partner might perceive it, it’s really hard to have a great time. We live in a culture that’s very focused on looks, but by exploring your body with sex toys, you can shift your focus away from how your body looks to something more important: how it feels. By making your body feel good, sex toys can also help you feel good about your body. Neat, huh?

Play Gives You the Knowledge (and Confidence) to Ask for What You Want

Perhaps you’ve read the advice that in order to have the sex you want, you have to be able to ask for it. The problem with this for many people, however, is that they just don’t know what they want. And if you don’t know what makes you feel great, how can you expect your partner to guess? Cluelessness isn’t recipe for a satisfying sex life. By encouraging experimentation, sex toys can help you discover what turns you on. Once you understand that, you’ll be able to guide your partners and help them learn how to please you. (Learn more about what sex toys can do in a relationship over at Betty's Toy Box in Why Every Couple With Young Kids Should Own a Sex Toy.)

Sex Toys Improve Sexual Function

There’s an old myth about sex toys, particularly vibrators, that suggests that using them will decrease your ability to enjoy partnered sex. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Regular masturbation and use of sex toys has been shown to increase sexual function, lubrication, arousal and orgasm during sex. As it turns out, sexual function is a lot like a muscle – the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets.

They’re the Ultimate Act of Self Love

When you love yourself, you look after your physical and emotional well-being. Sex with yourself is the ultimate act of self love. You deserve pleasure and connection. By helping you discover the first, sex toys can also lead you to the second.

This content was brought to you by our partner, Betty's Toy Box, an online sex toy retailer founded on the idea that women should enjoy sex without reservation, judgment or guilt.

10 Ways Sex Toys Can Help You Drop Guilt and Sexual Shame