Sex & Relationships

I Used To Feel Lots of Shame About Sex—Here’s How I Unlearned It

written by TIERRA HARRIS
Source: @lunya
Source: @lunya

For years, the word sex made me extremely uncomfortable. I’ve never had “the talk” with my parents, my friends and I would pass by Cirilla’s in complete silence, and even saying the word masturbate left a weird taste in my mouth. When and why did sex become such a taboo topic to discuss if it’s always been such a natural part of life? And the worst part was that most of society (except for the outspoken ones we’re all thankful for) decided to participate in this idea that sex is never supposed to actually be discussed, just something that’s done. 

I’ve pondered this for years, and finally decided it’s time to shed this shell of insecurity. At the ripe age of 22, I’ve figured tackling this head-on is the only way to really fix it (and to save myself from years of awkward conversations with future friends and flings.) So, in the words of Gwenyth Paltrow, “we’re talking about sex.”

Here are the 5 things I’ve done to unlearn sexual shame:


1. I wrote about it

So, you might be asking “how’s she writing this right now?” For me, it’s therapy. In moments where I feel major feelings like sadness, frustration, guilt, etc., I write. I accidentally stumbled into this niche because of a little something called curiosity. So many questions about if my body was normal, how to please myself, how to communicate effectively with a partner, and more were running through my head, and I figured there would be no better space to get answers than through my own personal way of healing.

Some integral prompts that made a difference for me were:

  • Am I insecure with myself or my body?
  • Do I have trouble with intimacy?
  • Has sex always represented something “bad” or “wrong?”
  • Am I uncomfortable with masturbating or touching myself?
  • How can I be more in control of my sex life?

When I attached feelings of discomfort to something that’s healing, I slowly learned to release the guilt and find a sense of comfort within it all. By asking myself these questions, I understood the origins of my values and ideals when it comes to sex, and I made steps to change for the better.


2. I found a (shame-free) community

If it’s one thing 2020 taught us, it’s that having a community (in-person or digital) is essential. #kinktok was just one of my many classrooms. It wasn’t just about getting tied up or using chains and cuffs, although there was plenty of that. There was an enormous amount of insight on understanding libido, asking for what you wanted in bed, and discovering new sex positions. 

After following a variety of sex coaches, OBGYNs, and sexual health experts, I shared my knowledge with friends of mine who were also feeling the same sexual shame. When we could sit and openly talk about everything from period perception to buying dildos, I didn’t feel so ashamed anymore. I actually learned that so many of my close friends were also feeling shame and discomfort in the realm of sex. In the moments where we feel lost, there’s nothing like a helping hand (or a few) that can really transform our mindset. 



3. I turned guilt into pleasure

Growing up, I always heard that I was “going to hell” or I would be a sinner if I masturbated—and my family wasn’t even religious. But why? If you grew up even remotely religious, you’d agree there are not many women leading anything, and this has a direct tie with the lack of autonomy women are meant to have with their bodies. 

In my trek to trace my own shame, I found a few women who grew up in establishments that preached this misogyny. Lauren Robinson, a popular body-positive influencer, mentioned that partaking in masturbation or sex felt like “something she’d never admit to just because it felt like a sin.” During her days at church, she said she’d be forced to sit in classrooms learning about avoiding lust and temptation, while boys were able to roam free. The emphasis on women being told their bodies are a sense of temptation is just another way to dehumanize ourselves. It’s trickled into every corner of our lives: a lack of sex education, rights to choose for ourselves, and even constantly feeling that we don’t deserve pleasure. 

In order to reclaim that power, I’ve stood firmly by the idea that self-pleasure is the portal to success—in more than one aspect. Just like I take myself shopping after a bad day, I allow myself the space to partake in sexual liberation with my body. I’ve learned that, as a sensual person, I absolutely adore lit candles, body massages, and enhancing my space with essential oil mists. So, I buy myself candles, give myself massages, and keep essential oils nearby when I’m in the mood. The key takeaway from all of this is to give yourself what you want. Don’t isolate yourself. Instead, invite in all of the possibilities of what could excite you. It’s truly endless. 



4. I re-educated myself

We can all agree that a short snippet in health class about sex didn’t really teach us anything, right? As an individual who just recently learned the vagina is just the canal that leads to the uterus, not your entire external genital system (that’s the vulva), I’m a firm believer that the 10-minute sex education I received was more harmful than helpful. Even though most of my learning took place in a school setting, taking the leap of sexual enlightenment was life-altering. Instead of asking my friends and family the questions I was too afraid to ask out loud, I went to the internet.

I learned different forms of eroticism, changed my perspective on sex toys, and even began to recognize the imbalance of feminine and masculine energy in myself. My hunger for answers also led me to an array of shows and documentaries like Sex, Love & goop, The goop Lab, Sex Explained, and The Principles of Pleasure. Besides the large umbrella of sexual topics these shows covered, I learned so much about anatomy (vaginas in specific), birth control, and pregnancy. Seeing people of all ages truly making themselves uncomfortable in the name of growth humbled me. If they could do it, why couldn’t I? 



5. I was softer with myself

If your journey of sexual shame is anything like mine, you’ll need lots of grace with yourself. Think about it: Your entire life’s been filled with learning right and wrong. If sexual liberation, masturbation, being feminine, or being vulnerable has always hovered in the “wrong” section, it’s not something you can make right after a few days or weeks. Like the most amazing flowers, sexual liberation will take lots of time to bloom.

During the growing pain, my best advice is to treat yourself like your best friend. I made sure to check in often and ask myself how I was really doing. In moments of self-blame, I shifted and genuinely was tender with my mistakes in and out of the bedroom. I took myself on dates and learned my love language fully, and it turns out that finding out what I liked was the first step to telling others what I needed. When times were really tough, I made sure to remind myself who I am: a sexy, capable, and absolutely amazing person.

Although there was intimidation associated with holding the reigns on my sexual journey, the most important aspect was that everything was happening at my pace. If I wasn’t ready for one big leap, I took baby steps. If you’re feeling uncomfortable, you should, too.

Not ready for a sex toy? Try using your hands first. Maybe you’re nervous about having sex with a partner for the first time? Listen to a sex-focused podcast, check out some steamy books, or communicate with some friends for genuine advice. Throughout this entire journey, I’ve learned that becoming comfortable with your sexuality isn’t a race, and you shouldn’t befriend, date, or be around anyone who makes you feel like it is. Unlearning shame is a slow healing process that takes time, and each day you should congratulate yourself for the work that’s been done and all the progress to come.