Sexual Guilt and Shame

Effects of Sexual Guilt and Shame

A Higher Level of Guilt

Consequently, individuals who have a high level of sexual guilt may be at a heightened health risk because they are emotionally unable to employ safer sex behaviors that involve taking conscious responsibility for sexual acts.

Additionally, guilt-laden individuals who are victims of rape may blame themselves, and as a result be unable to report the crime to the police or to seek medical attention or emotional support.

Moreover, confusion about one's sexuality and the appropriateness of sexual contact may lead some guilt-laden individuals to communicate mixed signals to potential partners. These individuals unconsciously engage in a conflicting type of sexual seduction.

Failure, Revulsion, Hatred

Giving vent to underlying sexual drives, they may seek to attract others, only to act cold and unresponsive once the other person begins to express interest. If sexual contact takes place, the event may be viewed as a major moral failure and the individual may feel revulsion or hatred toward the seduced partner. The end result of such episodes, which for some individuals becomes a regularly repeated life pattern, is enhanced sexual guilt.

If a behavior is condemned by adults, there is the potential for individuals who have engaged in that behavior, or have had similar experiences, to feel guilty. For example, if sexual play with peers, a widespread activity among preadolescent children, is believed to be wrong by adults, children who participate in such play may experience guilt.

Penile erection and the onset of vaginal lubrication, normal biological processes that have several causes other than sexual stimulation, may present additional occasions of sexual guilt in children if parents blame the child or define such experiences as wrong.

Masturbation, an almost universal practice among males and a very common one among females, is another potential occasion of guilt among the young.

Guilt Over Masturbation

Recent studies have noted considerable levels of sexual guilt associated with masturbation among the elderly as well. In both instances, masturbation produces guilt because it is defined as an inappropriate behavior by adults or by society in general.

Some anthropologists, like Ruth Benedict, have argued that guilt is not a prominent personality characteristic in all societies. While guilt may be an important means of social control in some societies, others emphasize shame.

Although these two emotional states are similar, there is one notable difference: shame involves embarrassment in the eyes of others, while guilt arises from the violation of internalized values, even if no one else knows about the transgression.

Benedict argued that there are "guilt cultures" and "shame cultures." It has been suggested that certain types of child-rearing practices produce a predominance of guilt, while others lead to feelings of shame in response to the violation of social expectations.

Copyright 2002 Sinclair Intimacy Institute

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