Can Sex Shaming Lead to Infidelity?

How difficult is it for you to talk to your partner about your desires? Is talking about sex something you feel completely comfortable doing with them? If it isn’t comfortable, why is that? Have you been shamed by them for sharing a desire in the past or has someone else? Do you get the sense they will not be open to what you want to try?

Many of us have been shamed for something around sex. Shaming can be about the way our bodies look or what they do. Shaming can also be related to stigma around STI’s (sexually transmitted infections). Another way that people experience shame is around a particular desire, fetish or kink. No matter the type, sex shaming is generally accepted in our society. We made jokes about herpes and fetishes without the thought that we might be hurting someone. When it comes to STI’s, people often say that they are “clean.” Imagine hearing that if you are someone with an HIV diagnosis. And why do we think it’s okay to recoil when someone tells us about something outside of the mainstream that turns them on?

There is a lack of knowledge in the larger culture about fetishes and kinks. Although for some it may be a choice, for others it is not. Take, for instance, a foot fetish. A foot fetish is being aroused by feet. It might be something that grows over time through exploration but often it is something that goes back into childhood. What turns us on isn’t always a choice yet we are often judged as though it is. Regardless of whether it’s a choice or not, no one deserves to be shamed for their fetish or kink.

Let’s take a person who has a specific fetish and is afraid to share it with an intimate partner. Instead, they might explore their fetish through porn, phone sex or other sex workers. I don’t view this as a problem. In fact, I benefit from that as a phone sex operator. But I wonder if the partners of my clients know about this fetish. Does the partner provide a safe space for sharing desires? Perhaps my client did open the conversation and were made to feel like something is bad or wrong with them. Sometimes the fetish is key to their arousal. Key to their authentic expression of sexuality. How does not being able to express that in an intimate relationship play out?

Dr. Chris Donaghue talks about sex shaming as abuse. I tend to agree with his take. It doesn’t mean you are obligated to engage with someone’s fetish, but it does mean that you should stay open and accepting of what someone shares with you. Also, our culture puts a lot of value on monogamy. But if you are going to expect monogamy, being very restrictive about sexual expression isn’t the best way to preserve it. I would argue that you might have to expand your idea of your partnership. If you cannot imagine yourself exploring your partners desires with them, are you willing to allow them to explore elsewhere? Do you accept that porn or sex workers might be the place where they can explore safely? Or are you willing to open up your relationship to others?

Your reaction when someone shares a vulnerable thing with you is key to what happens next or soon after. Sex shaming and shutting down the person could lead to them going outside of your relationship and seeking to get their needs met. Without you knowing. Assuming you don’t want to be cheated on, can you imagine yourself being present for your partner and hearing them? It doesn’t mean you have answers right away. You can take time to consider what they’ve shared. You can come back to it in time and negotiate what you are willing to explore. But, in the moment, can you hear them without making them feel like they are disgusting and bad?

What if the shaming has already occurred? Maybe you were taken by surprise or it wasn’t a great moment when they shared it with you. Have you attempted repair? Have you brought it up again and been more open to hearing them? Perhaps it’s time. And perhaps it will lead to some shared explorations or you sharing a secret too. I hope you make that effort.