In a recent video interview, advice columnist, author, political and sexual advocate Dan Savage questioned whether getting rid of sexual shaming is even possible. Further, he went on to question whether sexual shaming might sometimes be useful?
I’ve recently begun a new project, #NoMoreSexShame on Youtube, exploring how sexual shame has impacted people, and more so, how they overcame it. Dan Savage shared how he started his advice column Savage Love with the intent to “treat heterosexual readers with the same contempt that gay people were treated by advice columnists in the past.”
But, surprisingly, Dan found that heterosexual people came to him, filled with sexual shame and paralyzed by sexual secrets, “in the grip” of unresolved problems. Dan used his own experiences of overcoming sexual shame, over being gay and kinky, to help people learn to understand and accept themselves.
Shaming wasn’t over for Dan though, as he experienced shaming from his fellow gay men, and was even called “Sister Dan” because he wasn’t interested in the levels of sexual promiscuity common in the gay male community when he first came out in Chicago in the 1980s. “People embrace the new norm, and then want to enforce it, sometimes using the same tools that the old norm they rejected was enforced with.”
“You always have to be careful not to become the thing that effed your life up to begin with.” It is remarkably easy, when we adopt a new group, to unconsciously use the same social conformity strategies we experienced, especially as children. Those experiences taught us about “how” to force others to conform to our expectations.
The cycle of shame thus continues, where people experience shame in many different ways, and sometimes then go on to create more shame for others. The goal then is to overcome sexual shame, and then to be better aware of the harm caused by sexual shame, and consciously choose not to pass that harm on to others.
Dan asked a valuable question in the interview about whether sexual shame perhaps has its benefits. He recognizes that sexual shame is sometimes a taproot of erotic power, once someone has overcome, or at least accepted, their socially shamed sexual desires. When people overcome the power of other peoples’ ability to control them sexually, those “buttons” still exist. Sometimes, being called those names that were once used to shame and harm, or engaging in those behaviors that were shamed and suppressed, can be used intentionally to tap into the charged power and feelings connected to them, hijacking that energy for positive erotic purposes.
Sexual shame remains a complex, understudied concept, which lies at the root of many psychological and social challenges. We often don’t talk about sexual shame, because we are in many cases ashamed of having been sexually shamed. Thus, sexual shame becomes its own deep dark secret. Only be discussing it, and sharing ways in which we overcame it, and took control of these feelings, can we start to heal the wounds caused by these tools of social conformity.