Repression Shutting Down Sexuality

Sexual repression 2Repressive forces can shut down sexuality.

But how?

I’ll start with my own experience. 

As I was just entering sexual consciousness — and this was before puberty and before I had learned that sex was bad, dirty, nasty and that it just might send me to hell — I thought sexuality seemed pretty cool. Pretty pleasurable. I mean, I didn’t even know what intercourse was, but as much as a kid could appreciate it, I did.

But as I grew older I learned this: sex is bad, dirty, nasty (for unmarried women, in particular) and it might just send me to hell. Or get me named-called and shamed.

As a little girl, my mom complained that my “wild” cat, Frisky, constantly got pregnant. Back then it didn’t occur to mom to spay her. The aptly named Frisky just needed to gain better morals, I guess.

TV shows like Three’s Company were banned at my house. Anything suggestive made mom squirm. Her sister once told me that, “I watch movies and never notice the sex in it unless I watch with your mom — and then I see everything I’d missed before.” Been there, done that.

When I turned 16 dad asked if I’d started dating yet. He was relieved when I said, “No.” Because that would help keep me “pure.”

My church youth leader warned,

It’s better to die than to “let yourself” get raped.


Who’d want a chewed up piece of gum? That’s disgusting!

Sexual repressionAnd,

See this beautiful rose? But what if a bunch of cars ran over it? Not beautiful anymore, is it?

I should have asked how that rose would have fared if just one car had run over it.

My teenaged church friends, who were the kids I usually hung out with, ranked sex outside of marriage the greatest sin ever, next to murder.

Through middle school and high school I saw the punishments that female sexuality drew: name calling and ostracism and guilt and shame. Eventually, I was slut-shamed, myself. Even though I’d never had sex.

So I did everything I could to push “dirty” thoughts from my head. Every temptation got squished down until, eventually, they pretty much disappeared. Along with pretty much any sexual interest.

I was much more interested in sexuality at age 10 than at age 20.

And then it took A LOT to get me AT ALL interested. In fact, I came to feel asexual. Something I’ve worked through the years to overcome. I’m better now, but still damaged.

I’m not alone. I will be writing about other women’s experiences with this from time to time, in a series of posts on this topic.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on December 14, 2015, in feminism, psychology, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. This problem I encountered in my christian family. I come from Romania. In my community it is the same thing. You have to act decently and with propriety. Clothing have to be decent. No mini skirts. Short shorts are a no no. You have to be acting like a lady whatever that is. I am not even with someone and my parents hammer these things in my head about how I have to behave and dress.

  2. I might have mentioned it previously to you, I grew up with the idea that sex between two people was something beautiful, something to be cherished.

    My Catholic friends told me about going to confession and asking for forgiveness just because they had masturbated, because that was sinful. I found that to be very strange, not just because it was contrary to what I had been led to believe, but from a logical point of view, I could not understand why something that was natural and instinctive could be considered wrong or bad.

  3. The phrasing of “it’s better to die than ‘let yourself’ be raped” is disturbing to me now, but I realize at one time I wouldn’t have thought anything of it. At least I wouldn’t have thought about how it unfairly places blame on the victim, and that lack of thought makes such attitudes seem acceptable.
    It also reminds me of some advice I overheard the girls being given in a church youth group. They were told that if they were being raped they should yell “fire” because people wouldn’t come to help if they heard someone crying “rape”.
    That was a long time ago but in far too many cases that’s probably still true.

    • It’s pretty sad that people might not– At least in the past–come to help if a woman yelled out that she was being raped. Hopefully things have changed now. And some of the stigma is leaving Women who have been sexually assaulted. But a woman who lives a few miles for me killed herself when she was slut-shamed after she was raped. And that is in the liberal San Francisco Bay Area. We still have a long way to go.

  4. The tragedy of sexual repression and guilt. As I learn more about western/European history for my job, I’ve encountered Saint Augustine, the utter imbecile, who gifted us much of that guilt, and the corrupt Vatican of the Middle Ages that encouraged and spread it for utterly political reasons. Amazing it took us so long to start getting rid of that crap, and maddening that we’re still working at it.

    But kudos for overcoming it in your personal life, awareness as an antidote!

    • I am getting better. I’ll have to research more about St. Augustine, et al. Maybe you can share more specifics about what you have learned some day. Thanks for your thoughts on this.

    • I am getting better. I’ll have to research more about St. Augustine, et al. Maybe you can share more specifics about what you have learned some day. Thanks for your thoughts on this.

  5. This seems contradicting. Of course previous generations were sexually repressed but now days there is an oversexualization of women. Just look at music videos and movies: hot half naked women everywhere promoting casual sex as the most important thing in people’s lives. Women’s magazines having articles about how to be more sexually free. The media talking about how hot FFM threesomes are and that every girl should try it. If a young student is virgin nowdays then he or she is mocked. Young girls dancing and grinding and kissing with each other in clubs and being taught they have to be sexually free.
    This generation has changed a lot, it’s all about being a sexual being more than anything else

    • Be sexy for men. But don’t be sexual for yourself — or risk being slut-shamed.

      And being too sexy can also get you slut-shamed, even if you aren’t actually sexual. A problem my students talk about. So women have to walk a fine line figuring out how to be sexy without being too sexy.

      ** So it only seems contradicting because when we talk about women’s sexuality we often mean “Women appearing sexy for men,” Not “Women feeling sexual for themselves.” **

      It’s actually a lot of the reason why women often don’t enjoy sex. (And nearly half say they have experienced sexual dysfunction.) Because Women feel like they need to be sexy for men, they are often too focused “on how they look for the guy” to be able to enjoy sex. The problem is made worse because our standards are so narrow. Around 80% of young women have poor body image. How can you enjoy sex when you are distracted, worrying that you might not look sexy enough?

      That’s one of the reasons that men need to be careful when they wish that they were sexually objectified.

      Now add this: Women are told to look sexy for men, But to not be sexy for themselves — or risk being slut-shamed. Even young women who are raped are accused of being sluts, like a woman who lived a few miles away from me in the liberal San Francisco Bay Area, who was sexually assaulted, And then slut-shamed, And then killed herself.

      The world is very confusing for young women, since they get so many mixed messages, And are at high risk of being hurt and ostracized for being sexual, or overly sexy — despite all of the images you talk about.

      Our culture is largely nonsensical. But we don’t notice it because we are so used to it that it can seem kind of natural and normal. Are we only notice some parts of the culture, And you don’t notice the parts that contradict.

      Thanks. Maybe I will write about this sometime soon.

  6. I cannot believe the sick and twisted teachings of that church, to me, shaming people like that, for normal sexual feelings, teaching people that rape survivors “let themselves” be raped, it’s borderline abusive! There must be so many people world wide who struggle with sexual relationships because of messed up teachings of religions and so sad it is STILL happening today.

    • Yes. You may have heard of Elizabeth Smart who was kidnapped and raped. Part of the reason she didn’t try to escape was because of some of these teachings that we had both grown up with. She thought she was worthless after being raped. Fortunately, she was rescued and seems to be doing okay now.

      • That is tragic. I am not sure what the answer is I don’t know how you can stop religious teachings, other than to counter them with other education. A lot of these ideas are subtly reinforced though by wider, secular society which is another problem. Slut-shaming isn’t the domain of the religious.

      • Yes, it’s definitely widespread, beyond religion.

  7. Maybe back in the 50’s this was more of the case or earlier times. But I what I find interesting, is this repression can happen now or in the 2000s or 1990s in some very religious, conservative households. Where sex is seen as bad and the father or parents way over protective of their daughter and don’t let her do anything. Sometimes this repression does the reverse. Sometimes the girls who didn’t have sex or were virgins or isolated in highschool.

    When they are finally away from their parents when going away to college, they are the one’s sometimes who are the “wildest” whether it be the partying, hookups, dress. I think some of the girls on the “girls gone wild” videos that used to exist were actually the held back, girls that were in strict households and it made them want to let loose even more than others who go to have fun in highschool. So sometimes it causes a backlash too. I thought I remember reading that back when miley cyrus was a teenager, that hannah montana show, her dad was very protective of her, and wanted her dress conservatively. She was like that for a while. Then she became a music star, got older and on her own and then..well look at her now….She’s something else.

    • It’s a lot worse w/ conservative religious families. But when nearly half of US women experience sexual dysfunction, and when it seems that most women lose a good deal of interest in sex with their long-term partners fairly quickly (not complete disinterest but a big drop), you can see that it’s not just religious families.

      I’ve had students write about being slut-shamed in the progressive San Francisco Bay Area. Like this young woman:

      Also, a San Francisco State professor had expected to interview high school girls and reveal how sexually interested they were – since no research was looking at that. She was surprised to find out that almost all of them were sexually repressed.

      But there may also be a backlash sometimes. I just haven’t seen any studies on this. So I’m not even sure whether these girls are actually enjoying sex or just acting out so that they can stop feeling oppressed (which is a little different from repressed).

      Women in sex-positive societies are very different. They really enjoy sexuality.

      I’ll be writing more about all of this later.

  8. I din’t knew this problem is faced in US too. Great that you shared.

  9. The repression hurts both genders. I grew up in a Southern Baptist family, where we were told how bad sex was before marriage, that it was a horrible sin, etc., etc. As a result, I petrified of girls and of making any type of ‘pass’ at a girl, less she would think I was some sort of pervert.

    I’m just glad that my parents didn’t have any daughters because I can only imagine the hell that they would have given her when she started dating…

    • yes. We all learn this: sex is bad, dirty, nasty (for unmarried women, in particular) and it might just send me to hell.

      And then women get that extra dose: sex is bad, dirty, nasty (for unmarried women, in particular)getting us named-called and shamed.

      Men are also hurt by women losing sexual interest.

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