You Need Help: How Can I Deal With My Own Sexual Shame?


So, my partner and I have been together coming up three years now, but we’ve not had sex in over two years. I love her, and this isn’t a deal breaker for me, but I am trying to figure out how to deal with my own sexual shame.

I grew up in an intensely Christian family where sex was not a thing to be discussed and being gay didn’t exist as far as I knew. I didn’t figure out I was queer until I was near 21, despite the fact that apparently it could be ‘seen from space’. Unfortunately for me though, I have a fairly high libido, so I spent my teen years furiously masturbating and then drowning myself in shame about it — I literally (as in really, truly) thought I’d been possessed by some kind of lust demon.

The furious masturbation part is still a thing, but I’m doing my best to undo the shame bit — not always very successful, but Autostraddle helps <3 One side effect of the shame (I think) is that I’ve never been able to orgasm with a partner, even when I’m enjoying myself. I know orgasms aren’t ‘the goal’ but it would be nice. I know it’s not a mechanical problem, so to speak, because all that masturbation has given me plenty of evidence that my body at least is capable. So, my conclusion is that it’s psychological — all that shame weighing me down still.

Now, enter my partner — my first serious girlfriend (we’re in our thirties, I was late to the party), and honestly the person I want to spend my life with. She gets that orgasms aren’t the goal of sex and she easily dealt with my inability there better than anyone I’ve ever been with before, back in the first 9 months or so of our relationship when we were having sex.

The tricky bit comes in because she has her own trauma, namely involving exes demanding sex regardless of what she wanted, meaning that sometimes the whole sex thing is not something she wants to even think about and with good reason.

Timeline-wise, as you can possibly guess, our relationship started more or less at the beginning of the pandemic, arguably one of the most stressful time periods. We’ve moved in together and moved house twice, gotten new jobs, all those stressful things in this time and I *think* the stress of that combined with her trauma is part of why sex just isn’t happening any more.

It gets tricky because that kind of feeds my stupid sex-is-shameful brain. I feel shame because I want sex but I don’t want to ask my girlfriend for it. I also dont really want to tell her that the lack of sex is contributing to my sex-is-shameful issues because I *never* ever want to go anywhere near any kind of place where she feels pressured — sex should never be anything less than absolutely consensual, and I feel strongly about that.

I’m also not convinced I have the mental or emotional fortitude to look at something poly or open, etc, which I realise could be one way to deal with this. Plus, when my partner and I first got together, one of the first things we clarified was that while poly or open relationships are fine and dandy, it’s not what either of us were looking for.

But I don’t know what to do. I mean, get therapy would be ideal, but money makes that tricky.

My current plan is just carry on as we are and hope the shame spiral doesn’t get too much, but that doesn’t exactly feel like a strong plan.

If you want I can also throw in the fact that my body-image issues aren’t exactly helped by this situation either — I’ve never exactly been ‘traditionally attractive’, and while I know that’s all trash, it doesn’t stop the voice in my head that says maybe we’d be having sex if she found me sexier.

It’s all a bit fucked up and I don’t know who to ask for help. If you have anything, any kind of advice, I’d really appreciate it. Thanks.


Hi reader,

As someone who also grew up intensely Christian, I want you to know that your shame is not uncommon and you’re not alone in feeling it. While it does take a long time to undo, you’re on the right track by acknowledging it verbally.

When you talk about your concern for your partner’s trauma, your body issues, and your sexual shame, it sounds to me like these things are working together to stop any sexual conversation.

If she’s as considerate toward you as you are toward her, then she’s also taking your issues into account. That is to say, if she’s concerned that sex is shameful for you, she may never initiate it — just like you won’t initiate it because you’re worried about pressuring her.

I can’t say for certain how she feels, but when couples stop having sex it’s usually less about sex itself and more about their communication. Sex can impact self-esteem both ways, so it’s also possible that she feels like you don’t want to have sex with her.

Secrecy also has an effect on shame and sex. If she knows you masturbate or watch porn but never initiate sex, then she knows you’re sexual — just not toward her. Likewise, if you’re still hiding it, it’s going to make you feel worse about the act even though you aren’t doing anything wrong.

I know this sounds like I’m just giving you more things to worry about, but my point is that your shame might be giving you an inaccurate picture of both of your sexualities. You’re talking about it as if sex with you is a chore but sex with her is a gift. I hope I’m not misreading your words, and I don’t believe you consciously think that, but it’s common for shame to make us feel that way.

This feeling can make partnered orgasms and sexual communication difficult. I hate that therapy is so expensive because I believe it would help. For now, though, I want you to focus on affirming trust in your partner over your insecurities and shame.

This means that if your partner thinks you’re attractive, you trust them enough to choose to believe it — even if you don’t feel attractive. It does not mean that you depend on your partner’s opinion to value yourself.

Few of us have the time or money to spend hours in the gym, but just a walk around the block or a small set of daily callisthenics (like air squats) can do wonders for self-confidence. This not only releases the feel-good chemicals in your brain, but it also helps boost your self-image.

I would recommend laying all your cards on the table at once. Ask her plainly, “hey, can we talk about sex later?” and pick a time when neither of you will be tired or feel rushed. Plan what you want to say and be ready to hear things you might not expect.

“I want to communicate about sex better, but I feel like I would be pressuring you into something you don’t want to do,” is a good way to start. This lets her know that you want to have a conversation and identifies your concerns about her. From there, we get back into trust — you need to trust that she is as strong and mature of an adult as you are and that if she consents to sex it’s because she wants to.

It’s okay if you need affirmation, and it’s not uncommon to ask, “do you feel pressured into this?” or something similar. Being concerned for her mental health is a good thing, but if you can’t trust her words, then you aren’t truly seeing her as another human being.

There’s so much more that could be contributing to your problems, and I want you to be able to find that information when you need it, so I’m linking to some places where you can learn more. Our bodies change as we go through life, and sometimes our sex drive stops being spontaneous and becomes responsive. Sometimes sex loses its luster and we need to add new fantasies or toys in the bedroom. Even if you start having sex again, it’s possible that you’ll have very different levels of libido. Don’t treat anything like an answer for everything — just build your perspective as best you can and use that perspective to communicate.

If there’s one thing to take away from this, it’s that you need to tell her how you feel and you need to talk to her about what she feels rather than assuming. I know it sounds like the most basic advice in the world, but opening up is the only way to work through these things in a relationship. Shame tends to smother us in a blanket of insecurity that makes us feel wrong when we try to get better. Sometimes the only way out is to push through.

You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.

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Aliyah Moore

Aliyah Moore (she/her) is a certified sex therapist with a Ph.D. in Gender & Sexuality Studies. She loves to educate and empower women to embrace their sexuality and identity. She's also the resident sexpert at SexualAlpha, where she shares sex and relationship advice so everyone can have the best sex of their lives.

Aliyah has written 2 articles for us.


  1. It sounds like you’ve been carrying a lot of shame and guilt around your sexuality for a long time, and it’s understandable that this is impacting your ability to connect sexually with your partner. The first step in addressing this issue is to be kind and compassionate with yourself. It’s not uncommon for people who have grown up in repressive or conservative environments to struggle with sexual shame and guilt.

  2. I would strongly recommend checking out the work of Emily Nagoski (Come as You Are) and Staci Haines (Healing Sex, The Politics of Trauma) for some really compassionate, trauma informed support around working with sexual shame and trauma.

  3. thank you Aliyah for writing for AS!! and thank you Vanessa & team for facilitating that – i honestly probably can’t imagine how much work it is. ty for your care & dedication with it, you are magicalllll!!!

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