Hey — thanks for this reply. Also thanks for your description of how you would justify things to yourself. Since I was raised without religion, I haven’t actually had the experience of needing to justify things my religion forbid, so I was guessing it worked like other forms of denial. Which from your description sounds like it sort of does, but the “God will forgive” me part was something I hadn’t thought about before.

I’ve been interested in how many people have commented to me about their religion after reading this. Truth be told, religion was actually pretty far from my mind when writing it. I was thinking about, effectively, the non-secular sexual shaming of men; how if you’re not into women, or not into the right kind of women, society declares you “less of a man” or a “beta male” or something. It’s about how men use conventionally physically attractive women to gain social status, rather than just going for the women they like the most. When men find themselves into a less attractive woman, this fills them with shame because it implies they have low social status.

However, all these people commenting on the role of religion have made me think there’s another aspect to sexual shame that I didn’t think about.

As to why I missed out women: it’s not that women don’t have sexual shame, but I think it manifests differently. I was initially thinking about secular forms of shame. In that case, women are shamed for finding men without high social status attractive (completing the terrible cycle of heteronormativity.) Women tend to be less aware than men are of when they are turned on; this allows women to operate with far more denial of their attractions. If they’re turned on by someone they’re “not supposed” to be, they’re able to ignore it more completely than men seem to be. So, they don’t need to justify to themselves their aberrant tastes. Men are mean to “undesirable” people who turn them on, women just ignore them.

I would also guess religious shame functions differently in women too. It seems to me, that most religious prescriptions around sexuality imply women are “broken” by sex. Consequently, if a religious woman is sexual with a man, she tends to feel violated or disgusting, but if a religious man is sexual with a woman, he feels like a monster. He’s just broken some woman because he couldn’t control his impure desires. In a weird way, a woman may go through a more intense mourning (aka feel more sad in the moment), but the pain of acknowledging how you have hurt another person is more deeply damaging, I think. Phrased another way, a woman only hurts herself, a man hurts someone else. And, I think you need to be in deeper denial to
“hurt someone else” than you do to hurt yourself.

So, male sexual shame leads to objectification and I think female sexual shame leads to a woman’s unawareness of her own desire. We have an epidemic of low female desire with large numbers of women seeking treatment for hypoactive sexual desire disorder. Far more women report low desire than men, which we think of as “normal” but I’m not sure it is. I think low sexual desire is basically the manifestation of female sexual shame.

Anyway — perhaps this goes without saying, but I don’t agree with the idea that a woman is “hurt” or “damaged” when a man (or anyone else) is sexual with her. These rules came from a time before good healthcare and contraception. Back in the day, women would frequently die from sex because of how risky childbirth was; this is rarely the case now — even with STDs. A woman’s probably more likely to die in a car crash than from sex. But, understanding the logic of the rules — that they did have a useful purpose, and you can still obey the spirit of that purpose — maybe helps. You don’t want to hurt anyone by being sexual. How do you do that? Well, you use consent. You use protection. You take care of your health, etc.

As for these deeply ingrained types of shame, I agree that they’re very difficult, but I don’t think there’s ever just one way of working with a problem. Having problematic emotions arise during sexual encounters isn’t limited to religious people. Sexual assault survivors, for instance, often have flashbacks during sex. For me personally, I found one of the best ways of dealing with flashbacks is just to be honest. I’d always worried that not being turned on would disappoint my partner or make them feel undesirable, but I now realize that people generally aren’t offended if they know my sexual history and I have to stop being sexual. They know it’s not them, or their fault, and that tends to be what people care about most.

I wouldn’t shame yourself for “objectifying” anyone. Truthfully, whatever gets you turned on is probably fine; it’s more that you have to deal effectively with negative emotions when they come up. Probably your average woman won’t be upset if you think her boobs are hot; however, she will upset if you blame her for not being hot enough if you don’t get turned don. And, I don’t mean to imply you specifically do this, but many men do. Many men get embarrassed if they can’t perform sexually, and will blame their partners to save face. Even if they don’t do this overtly, they will withdraw when feeling sexual shame rather than explaining what’s going on and this is when their partners start feeling bad. I’d say, like for me, explaining your sexual past and explaining that difficult emotions come up during sex sometimes and it’s not the fault of the person you’re with is probably a pretty good first step. But, we encourage men to hide all this from the world cuz… I don’t know. Cuz culture. But, I think it sucks.

Anyway, thanks again for your response!

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