Sexual Guilt and Shame

Sources of Sexual Guilt and Shame

Expression of Sexual Desires

Normally, when we are awake, the mind maintains strong boundaries between the id, ego, and superego, but during sleep and in fantasy these boundaries may weaken, allowing open expression of otherwise controlled sexual or other desires. Conscious awareness of these unrestrained desires and fantasies is another source of sexual guilt.

While Freud thought of his analysis of the forces that shape personality as universal, cross-cultural studies suggest that many of his ideas are most applicable to Western societies, especially to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Western missionaries, for example, were surprised to discover that the Japanese traditionally did not evidence much guilt associated with participation in sexual activities; rather, guilt in Japanese society was generally associated with a failure to fulfill internalized values about responsibility to one's family. This realization has led to considerable discussion of the relationship between Christianity and its emphasis on moral absolutes (e.g., sins) and the emergence of sexual guilt.

The Church Ban on Intercourse

The early Christian church, for example, banned sexual intercourse even among married couples during many days of the year (e.g., for 40 days before both Easter and Christmas and from the time of conception until 40 days after the birth of a child).

Further, enjoyment of sex and sex for nonprocreative purposes have been condemned within this tradition (although certainly not by all Christians). Some observers have suggested that the strong restrictions placed on sex and the constant emphasis on sex as a moral shortcoming in Western culture may only have succeeded in fostering an underlying obsession with sexual objects and activities.

Some psychologists differentiate two forms of sexual guilt. The first is called "morning-after guilt", which involves conscious recognition of feeling sinful after the breach of a specific internalized value, such as having sex outside of marriage.

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