Sexual Guilt and Shame

Latent Guilt

"Latent Guilt"

The second type is "latent guilt", stemming from a pervasive belief that sex in general is inherently wrong or dirty. Individuals with latent guilt commonly believe that sex is personally degrading and associate it with base, animal instincts. Individuals with these values tend to view sex as an expression of lack of self-control.

In such instances, a person may feel guilty even without actual involvement in sexual activities. Such a person is sometimes described as having a guilt-laden personality. This personality configuration often is associated with an inability to enjoy or consciously desire sex, lack of awareness of sexual feelings, inability to admit sexual arousal, and inability to experience orgasm, which have, in turn, been found to be common sources of problems in marriages and in other relationships.

Further, latent guilt has been found to be highly associated with a diagnosis of sexual dysfunction, depression, or diverse psychosomatic illnesses.

Other negative outcomes have also been found to be associated with sexual guilt. "Guilt and shame may further impair people's ability to prepare for the sexual behaviors, particularly in young people," says sex and relationship expert Dr. Drew Pinsky. "If they feel guilty or ashamed that they are sexually active, they might not be prepared to prevent the potential of sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy."

Although guilt related to sex still exists, times are certainly changing, says Dr. Drew. "In my work I rarely see guilt and shame about being sexual or having sexual thoughts," he says. "That seems to be something of a historical anachronism perhaps still present in the older population," but no longer present in most younger people, with the exception of those from extremely religious upbringings.

Dr. Drew also sees guilt tied to excessive, bizarre or addictive sexual behaviors. "Even then guilt is not the predominant feeling," he says. "There is the sense of guilt that somehow if they were to be found out by others, they would be disappointed or embarrassed. The overriding experience is that of shame, that because of these actions these people start to feel as though there is something deeply wrong with them." Ironically, this often causes them to increase the very behavior that causes them shame in the first place. "It actually accelerates their desire to lose themselves in their preoccupations. This is the so-called shame spiral that is so often experienced in sex addicts or sexual compulsives."

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