Human sexuality is a combination of cultural, psychological, and biological factors. It is a way of expressing emotions and feeling connected through physical affection and pleasure. Family, society, and culture influence our perceptions and attitudes toward sex and sexuality. Sexual repression happens when someone avoids expressing their sexual feelings, thoughts, and desires.
Everyone has different comfort levels and personal boundaries regarding sex and sexuality.
Sexual repression may stem from religious, cultural, or societal stereotypes and expectations.
Discussing sexual repression may be embarrassing, but without treatment, it can negatively impact your physical, emotional, and mental health.
Effective communication with an intimate partner can help you cope while strengthening the relationship.
In this article, you'll learn about sexual repression if it's something you might have, and how to work through it.
What is sexual repression?
Sexual repression is one way your mind copes with difficult or painful ideas about sex and sexuality. It is a defense mechanism that causes you to push undesirable feelings, thoughts or desires out of your conscious thinking.
You might be experiencing sexual repression for a variety of reasons, including:
- Family dynamics. Growing up in a household where it was unacceptable to discuss the topic of sex might have instilled a sense of shame when talking about or participating in sexual activities.
- Cultural norms and religious beliefs. Culture and religion often have significant roles in how you view sex and sexuality. Growing up with very restrictive attitudes toward sex, being told that sex outside of marriage or sex for pleasure was shameful or amoral, you might have negative associations with sex and sexuality.
- Gender stereotypes. Traditional societal beliefs about masculinity and femininity may affect your outlook on sex and sexuality. The stereotypes that men must be dominant, aggressive, and sexual while women need to be submissive, emotional, and passive can adversely affect your views of sex and sexuality.
- Sexual orientation. Individuals who struggle with their sexual identity or orientation may experience feelings of guilt, shame, and discomfort around their sexuality. Fear of judgment, stigma, and prejudice may negatively impact your feelings toward sex and sexuality.
- Prior trauma or abuse. A history of sexual abuse or trauma can significantly impact your capacity for creating intimate relationships. Sexual intimacy may trigger anxiety, fear, or flashbacks of a previous assault.
Sexual repression symptoms
Symptoms of sexual repression are similar in men and women. You may experience the following:
- Thoughts of shame and embarrassment around sex and sexuality.
- Lack of desire or lack of ability to participate in sexual activities.
- Fear and anxiety related to sex and sexuality.
Risks associated with sexual repression
If untreated, sexual repression may cause:
- Low self-esteem
- Negative self-image
- Sexual frustration
- Emotional withdrawal
- Difficulty establishing or maintaining intimate relationships
How to cope with sexual repression
Sexuality is very individualized. You may feel pressure from your partner, friends, or the media about what “normal” sexuality is. Each individual has their own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about what is pleasurable and acceptable.
- Honesty. Be open and honest with your partner about your emotions. It is easier for your partner to support you when they know what you think and feel. Communication is vital to a healthy relationship.
- Respect. Try not to pressure yourself to meet your partner’s expectations. Both partners should feel comfortable, respected, and safe in a healthy relationship.
- Rule out physical issues. It is best to consult your healthcare provider to rule out any physical issues that might be mistaken for sexual repression affecting your libido or sexual desire.
- Find a sex therapist. Some professionals specialize in treating individuals and couples with sex and sexuality. A sex therapist is a licensed mental health professional that uses psychotherapy to help work through mental and emotional issues related to sex and sexuality. Some therapists specialize in treating individuals with LBGTQ+ issues. With the increased prevalence of telemedicine, it is more convenient to connect with a qualified sex therapist who can help.
How to help your loved one
Sexual repression is a sensitive topic, and your partner may struggle with self-doubt, self-blame, and negativity. The needs and desires of both partners should be equally met. Working together, you can provide a safe space to support your loved one.
- Be patient. It may take time to work through these issues. Each individual copes and works through things at their own pace.
- Listen to your partner’s needs. Ask questions and let your partner know what you can do to help.
- Support. Offer non-judgemental support and reassurance of your love. Your loved one may be experiencing feelings of isolation and self-blame.
- Be aware of triggers. If your partner has a history of sexual trauma, respect your loved one’s boundaries and be aware of potential triggers.
- Open communication. Talk to your partner about other ways of expressing intimacy that will be comfortable for both partners.
Confronting sexual repression can be challenging, but with the support of a loving and compassionate partner, it can be easier to overcome sexual repression. Trust, respect, honesty, and open communication are essential for working through challenges and building a solid and healthy relationship.
- The Cleveland Clinic. Sex therapist.