Sometimes I feel shy or let’s say ashamed of getting intimate with my girlfriend. What could be the problem?
Thank you for your question. It is unfortunately not that uncommon for people to associate sex with feelings of shame or shyness. If we were to apply the ‘nature vs nurture’ lens, it would be interesting for you to explore within yourself to discover whether what you are experiencing is more about nature, i.e. how you were born vs. nurture i.e. how you were raised.
Since you have not provided more information about yourself or your girlfriend, let us look at how both nature and nurture can affect our sex lives, for better or for worse but first, let us separate shyness from shame, because they are not the same.
One definition of being “shy” is that you are “nervous or timid in the company of other people.” One definition of shame is that it is “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour”.
In simpler terms, I would say shyness is a part of your nature while shame is part of your nurture. As you read through this article, you will hopefully be able to answer the question, ‘am I shy or am I ashamed?’
What is your nature?
How we are born is something out of our control. You may find, for example, two people from the same parents and the same home but one is remembered as a loud, happy, rambunctious child while the other is remembered as a quietly happy child who rarely cried.
As children, our nature is not something that we think of in terms of being good or bad; it just is. However, as we get older we begin to get cues on who is good or bad. If you were the talkative one, you may get messages that imply that you are ‘too much’ and that silence is preferred. If you were the quiet shy one, you may get messages that imply that you are unfriendly with your silence and so you should try harder.
My first question to you is, “when you consider who you’ve always been since childhood, would you consider yourself shy?” If, in fact, you are by nature a shy person, then it would make sense that the shyness would show up during sex. This would be especially true if this is your first sexual relationship or if you feel that sex makes you feel too vulnerable as a human being.
A good way for a shy person to feel less shy is to understand their context; the who/what/where/how/when and if of it all. The more comfortable you get with your girlfriend, your relationship, the sort of sex you’re having, the understanding of what it means to be in a sexual relationship at all i.e. the rights and responsibilities of a sexual relationship, the more comfortable you are likely to feel and therefore the less shy you are likely to feel.
How were you nurtured?
How we are raised is probably what is most responsible for our sexual functions and dysfunction. If you were raised in a home where sex was considered wrong, dirty, never to be done, never to be discussed, a sign of being loose/cheap/easy, immoral or many of the well-intentioned, ill-advised messages that are present in many homes, it would make sense that you would feel a sense of shame for having sex.
If your church, mosque, temple or other spiritual foundation has taught you that sex is a sin, impure, will send you to hell, must only be had in a specific context e.g. only after marriage, heterosexual, monogamous, polygamous or a myriad of other specifications, it would make sense that you would experience shame during sex if your falls outside of the confines that you were raised with or the messages that you were raised to believe.
As you consider your feelings during sex with your girlfriend, and keeping in mind these definitions and explorations, which one do you think more closely describes your feelings? If shame and not shyness is your challenge, then it would behoove you to consider what messages you have been sending yourself about sex e.g. do you feel like you are doing something bad when you have sex? If so, according to whom? In whose eyes do you imagine you are doing something wrong? Under what circumstances would sex feel right or good to you? How did you reach the decision to have sex?
It is important to explore these questions because they may illuminate a belief or attitude about sex that you never even knew you had. I also encourage you to abstain from having sex until you have made peace with yourself and your body. Sex is not supposed to induce feelings of guilt, shame or fear. It is a gift to be shared with another person and you – being a consenting adult of sound mind – have the right and the responsibility of making decisions for yourself, your body, your sexuality and your life.
Whatever the case, I hope this internal journey leads you to a life devoid of shame or shyness. Have a great week!
Maggie Gitu is a Marriage, Family and Sex Therapist. She can be reached at [email protected] and via her Facebook page: Maggie Gitu
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