One of the most common nightmares people have is being naked in front of a room of their peers. The fear is not only about the physical experience of showing one's body to those who may judge their appearance, but about the feeling of being vulnerable and exposed. Whether through the security of physical clothing or emotional barriers, many people experience deep-rooted fears over letting it all out, bracing for the impact of another's judgment, and losing face in their eyes.
Sex is one of the most vulnerable acts one can experience with another person. While we can keep parts of our clothes on and refrain from sharing our true feelings, many people find that the best sex asks us to open up; body and soul.
How We Build Sexual Shame
The majority of people have grown up with at least some sexual shame. Many more have experienced sexual shame on a level that qualifies as traumatic. We may have experienced sexual abuse, trauma, or societal messages that left us feeling that our bodies, desires, and identities made us shameful and sinful. This shame and guilt do not magically dissipate as we grow older.
Instead, it often festers and increases as we grow older. As a sex educator and counselor, the most common issues I see in my practice are all centered around sexual shame and fears of vulnerability. Whether it is a concern about sexual performance, the way a person's genitals look/measure up, or a sexual desire that they feel makes them dirty or perverse sex and embarrassment too often go hand-in-hand.
According to AASECT certified sex therapist, Deborah Fox:
"No matter how thick-skinned you may think you are, everyone is thin-skinned when it comes to sex. We are all sensitive to feeling rejected and fear that we may not be a good lover. Anxiety always accompanies feeling vulnerable, and we will "sell our souls" to stop feeling anxious. As a result, you'll avoid anything that threatens to make you anxious. You might not approach your partner for sex because you're afraid of being rejected. You might fear that you won't maintain an erection, so you avoid sex altogether."
If sex is so enshrouded in shame and vulnerability and openness such an essential part of the experience, what can one possibly do to bridge the dichotomy between these experiences? Here are three tips for overcoming your fears in the bedroom and being open to the best kind of experiences:
1. Remember that the higher the risk, the greater the reward.
It is easy to focus on the fears and potential fall out of being vulnerable. What if your partner rejects you? What if they make fun of how you look or feel? What if this secret gets out to a broader community?
Yes, those are real concerns, but try not to over-focus on them and forget the benefits. By being vulnerable, you can gain freedom, greater physical and emotional pleasure, and finding partners who truly love and celebrate you as you are.
2. You aren't the only person who feels afraid.
A lie we often tell ourselves is that we are the only ones who feel afraid and ashamed in life and in bed. We think our partner has no fears, has a perfect body, or harbours no secret desires. This is, of course, completely untrue. By reminding ourselves that everyone is dealing with these insecurities, we can find common ground and courage in speaking up for our needs.
3. You really have nothing to lose.
This is probably the hardest one to believe, but it is true. Going back to the fears we mentioned in tip number one, let's think about if any of those things came true. If the person you are with puts you down, mocks you or rejects you after you disclose your truth, then they weren't right for you anyway. Who wants to physically intimate with someone you can't be emotionally close to? Even if your community of friends puts you down for your sexual truth, there are so many people out there who will love and support you.
The challenge of facing our fears is the moment that we break through and achieve an entirely new reality for our lives that we never thought possible. By being vulnerable we can find new experiences that allow us to be bold, courageous, and to live more authentically.
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