Break Free From Sexual Shame

DR JOHN DEMARTINI   -   Updated 1 month ago

If you are experiencing feelings of shame, or guilt associated with past sexual events considered to be or labelled as traumatic then Dr Demartini offers an alternative way of perceiving these events to help you dissolve the source of those lingering polarized feelings and beliefs.


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DR JOHN DEMARTINI - Updated 1 month ago

The topic of sexual shame and how to dissolve sexual shame are some of the many topics that often emerges during seminars or webinars. It’s a fairly common dynamic across all sectors of society and there are many individuals carry around unresolved shame and guilt for years.

In many cases, this shame stems from indoctrination, typically from religious institutions or sometimes from parental teachings, though it's often intertwined with previous religious doctrine. Yet, at its core, sexual desire and expression are fundamental aspects of our biology. After all, without it, our species wouldn't exactly survive, let alone thrive. However, over time, people have layered many kinds of moral frameworks around sexuality, creating a complex web of associations.

In my travels around the world and conversations with different individuals from different cultures, I've encountered various moral perspectives on sexuality.

These perspectives can result in people either taking pride in their sexual expression or harboring deep shame over what is essentially a biological survival and fitness system.

Let me share an anecdote from one of my workshops many years ago. Among the attendees, there was a woman who felt immense shame about engaging in self-exploration and masturbation. For her, it was a source of internal turmoil. In fact, she couldn't bring herself to discuss it openly. So, I decided to pose a question to the group: how many of you have explored your own bodies sexually? Every hand went up, except for hers.

I asked her, "Did you somehow internalize or become indoctrinated into the belief that though shalt not do it?" She nodded, admitting that she was raised with the notion that it was sinful. I pointed out that in that case, the entire roomful of people who had put their hands up were sinful.

I then went on to talk about how she had indoctrinated herself into an idealism that was probably not obtainable or sustainable. And, as the Buddha said the desire for that which is unobtainable and the desire to avoid that which is unavoidable is the source of human suffering.

In other words, here she was, with self-imposed suffering and feeling guilty over an act that is common to people all over the world. Estimates that at least 40% of women and 60% of men participate in masturbation within each month. And that’s based upon only the individuals admitting it. Some actual estimates are even higher.

I often ask people in my seminars about their experiences with self-exploration, and consistently, nearly everyone has engaged in it at some point. Much higher that estimated.

While many people don’t express feelings of shame around masturbation, there are still a significant number of people who talk about their internalized moral teachings that label such behavior as sinful, evil, or depraved, despite its biological basis.

When I delve into discussions about the first instances of self-exploration with various groups, the ages vary widely, from as young as 3 to 6 years old. It’s not uncommon for young children to engage in such behaviors, driven by pure curiosity rather than any understanding of morality or necessarily sexual urge. Often, this exploration occurs in innocuous settings, like during bath time with siblings, or in moments of privacy. 

What I’ve noticed is that penalizing someone for a biological act can lead to significant repercussions later in life, more so than if we simply acknowledge these behaviors as a natural part of human development. My approach is one of understanding, not judgment.

Interestingly, in my work with individuals who have previously been involved in offenses related to pedophilia, I’ve discovered a common thread: many were chastised or physically punished for exploring their bodies when they were younger. There’s a notable pattern where the age at which they were punished often aligns with the age of individuals they later fixate on, which is a profound insight. While in no way condoning pedophilia, it’s wise to examine the underlying factors, such as the impact of shaming natural sexual behaviors, both in children and adults.

The wisdom of understanding and appreciating one’s own sexuality cannot be overstated.

I've discovered that individuals who engage in self-exploration and understand what fulfills them sexually can bring this knowledge into their relationships, enhancing intimacy with their partners. This self-awareness often translates into mutual benefits, enriching their shared experiences. As such, individuals who are comfortable with their desires are more likely to form fulfilling sexual relationships with their partners.

For instance, I recall a couple who attended one of my seminars, married for 19 years, yet had never shared their mutual fantasy with each other out of fear of judgment. When they finally opened up during the session, they discovered they shared the same desire, leading to a night of newfound intimacy and connection that had been suppressed for years. This experience was not only liberating for them but also served as a powerful reminder to the rest of the attendees: societal norms often paint a distorted picture of what’s sexually “acceptable” or “normal”.

I recall a time when there was a popular TV show in New York that delved deep into the myriad expressions of human sexuality, interviewing individuals about their diverse experiences. My wife and I occasionally tuned in, finding it alternately amusing, surprising, and enlightening. This experience broadened my understanding of human behavior, prompting me to ponder the drivers behind these varied sexual needs and behaviors. Is it driven by psychological needs, an unmet emotional wound, or is it simply a facet of normal human behavior? This exploration proved invaluable in my work with clients, many of whom have grappled with feelings of shame around their sexuality.


Recently, I had a conversation with a man who sought a male perspective on his personal struggles, as he was grappling with feelings of shame. He confided in me about his habitual viewing of pornography while masturbating, actions he perceived as being shameful. I assured him that such behaviors are not uncommon and are part of a wide spectrum of human sexual expression. To address his guilt, I explored the roots of these feelings with him, suggesting that guilt often arises from the perception that an individual has caused someone pain without pleasure by their action. I inquired as to who he believed he was hurting - his wife, his parents, or perhaps it was a matter of religious guilt?

Indeed, he replied that his sense of guilt was tied to his religious beliefs, specifically the notion that God was observing his actions. This led to a lighthearted yet profound discussion where I posed, "If you believe God is watching you, does that mean God is watching porn too?" This question prompted him to see the situation from a different angle, lightening the mood and allowing him to question the logic behind his guilt. This exchange helped him realize that many of the moral judgments we impose on ourselves are based on interpretations and beliefs that may not hold up under scrutiny. It was a moment of clarity for him, recognizing that his actions, while private and personal, were part of a broader, natural human behavior - a realization that often brings relief and understanding to those who carry unnecessary burdens of shame or guilt.

There’s also a broader perspective to consider - the diverse experiences and needs within intimate relationships. Varying libido levels, communication breakdowns, and unmet sexual needs can lead individuals to seek satisfaction through different means. Masturbation can be a practical solution for many, offering a straightforward way to fulfill sexual needs efficiently and return to daily life without the complexities and potential harm of affairs or soliciting sex workers, or incest.

Life's sexual journey presents both opportunities and challenges.

Masturbation can sometimes distract from a relationship but can also enhance intimacy between partners, especially when both are open to exploring their sexuality together. The key is recognizing the fluidity of sexual expression and avoiding rigid judgments of right and wrong. In understanding and embracing our sexual behaviors, we can navigate our needs and desires more thoughtfully, enriching our relationships and individual growth.

In my approach to this topic, I aim to offer a comprehensive understanding by examining the context and presenting both sides – the upsides and downsides, positives and negatives, so people can make an informed decision. In the process, I have met many people who find themselves entrapped by religious doctrines who have labelled a biological system as being unnatural, immoral or sinful. 

There's an interesting video available online titled "Priest Says No Hell," featuring a Catholic scholar or priest questioning the control dynamics within religion. He observes that religion often operates as a control mechanism, particularly through the cultivation of guilt. By moralizing common human behaviors and labeling them as good or bad, religious institutions tend to exert influence over individuals, inducing feelings of shame and a quest for salvation. This tactic perpetuates a cycle of guilt and control, fostering dependence on that religious authority.

Often, we may find ourselves ensnared in this cycle instead of recognizing the inherent normalcy and biological needs of human beings. As such, I refrain from labeling such behaviors as inherently good or bad, or promoting or demoting them. Instead, I acknowledge their biological nature and their presence as a natural part of life.

The consequences of harshly penalizing natural explorations, especially in children, can be significant.

A case that remains vivid in my memory involves a family from Perth, Australia. Participating in a workshop I led, a mother spoke about how her libido was lower than that of her husband. He had taken to watching porn and masturbating as a means to compensate, something that she later found her son do too. Her reaction when she found out was not only punitive but physically aggressive. This not only strained the familial relationships but also led to a compensatory sexual behavioral patterns being passed down, manifesting in ways that deeply affected the other siblings.

I find this to be a worthwhile reminder that it’s unwise to berate or punish someone for a biological act that you have likely engaged in yourself. It’s wiser to take a moment to reflect.

Often, the actions that trigger feelings of shame in us are mirrored back to us by others, leading to resentment towards them for embodying what we're ashamed of. This shame often stems from societal or moral standards that we've internalized without questioning, becoming trapped in a cycle of self-judgment and judgment of others.

Rather than getting caught up in this cycle, it's more often wiser to delve deeper and understand how whatever actions we've taken have SERVED us. By exploring the underlying motivations and consequences of our behavior, we can gain insight into ourselves and move towards a place of self-appreciation and understanding.


In my work, I often encounter individuals trapped in cycles of guilt and shame, prompting me to explore the reasons behind their actions and their impacts. One memorable example involved a woman who shared her challenging experience of enduring sexual actions with her stepfather over six years.

When discussing her experience, I inquired about her reactions and choices during that period, aiming to understand why she had chosen to keep quiet about the sexual actions for so long. She disclosed that her family's dire financial situation after her biological father's departure left them struggling to meet basic needs. The entry of her stepfather brought financial stability, presenting her with a challenging dilemma: endure the sexual actions to prevent another father figure from leaving and to maintain the newfound security her stepfather provided financially.

This survival strategy, as difficult as it was, highlighted the complex decisions she felt compelled to make to protect her family and herself from further hardship. Despite the challenge, she viewed her actions as a means to receive a secondary father’s affection and attention, to preserve the family unit and to ensure their basic needs were met. This decision was not made lightly but was seen as a necessity in a situation where few options seemed available.

Through our conversations, she began to recognize that despite the circumstances, she retained her intrinsic worthiness of love - a realization that brought her to tears. This acknowledgment marked a turning point, helping her to see her actions as strategic decisions made during an incredibly challenging period of her life, rather than as reasons for self-condemnation. She kept the secondary family together long enough to allow her mother to finish a secondary education for her independence and for her to be old enough to live then independently along with a new but older boyfriend.

This journey of self-reflection and understanding ultimately led her to a place of autonomy, allowing her to move forward in life with a newfound sense of self-worth and liberation from the guilt and shame that once burdened her. Her story is a testament to the resilience of the human mind and the complex, often painful strategies individuals may employ to navigate their trials of life.

Every story serves as a reminder to treat each situation with the individual understanding it deserves, resisting the urge to make broad generalized judgments. It teaches us to see beyond the surface, recognizing that behind every decision is a deeply personal strategy for coping or survival, intricately linked to the individual’s context and needs. Before leaping to conclusions, it's wise to unravel the dynamics and drivers at play, understanding that people maneuver through their challenges in ways they believe are most beneficial, even amidst what may be perceived to be adversity.

Life comprises both advantages and disadvantages equally.

What's fascinating is that even things we label as terrible or evil often persist because, in some way, they serve a purpose. It's a bit like nature's way of keeping a delicate balance. Our challenges are often essential for our resilience and independence.

So instead of getting bogged down in shame and self-criticism, why not shift your perspective? Consider how your experiences, even the ones you perceive to be challenging, might be serving you and others. It's all about finding that balance between the so called positives and negatives, and using those insights to propel yourself forward.

In my 2-day signature seminar titled The Breakthrough Experience program that I present online most every week, I've helped 1000s of individuals burdened by guilt and resentment shift their perspectives. Through a series of questions and reflections, we balance their perceptions until the emotion is dissolved, and we see the hidden order of what they may have at first thought was out of order. It's a powerful process of reclaiming control over our narratives and finding appreciation for what is as it is.

You see, carrying around shame and guilt is like dragging around unnecessary baggage. It weighs us down and holds us back from fully embracing life. But when we embrace both sides of the equation by balancing the downsides with upsides, we free ourselves from these self-imposed constraints and find a newfound sense of resilience and self-love.

If you ever find yourself struggling, remember that there's meaningful a path forward, a way to return to love and appreciation. Consider joining me at The Breakthrough Experience, where together, we can help you balance your perspective and dissolve any emotion causing you to judge yourself or others.


To Sum Up:

  • Many individuals carry the burden of sexual shame, often stemming from societal or religious indoctrination. This shame can inhibit personal growth and intimate relationships.
  • Sexual desire and expression are fundamental aspects of human biology. Attempting to suppress or shame these natural behaviors can lead to internal conflict and unnecessary guilt.
  • Questioning the moral frameworks and beliefs that contribute to feelings of shame can lead to greater self-understanding, self-appreciation and love.
  • Masturbation and sexual exploration are common and natural behaviors. Recognizing the inherent value in these actions can alleviate shame and guilt.
  • Harsh penalties for natural sexual behaviors in childhood can have long-lasting repercussions.
  • Instead of succumbing to shame and self-criticism, strive to find balance and perspective. Acknowledge both the advantages and disadvantages of your experiences, and use these insights to love and appreciate yourself and others. No matter what you’ve done or not done you are worthy of love.
  • If you're struggling with feelings of shame or guilt, consider joining me at The Breakthrough Experience where I’ll be able to help you balance your perceptions and dissolve any emotions you have around your past sexual experiences.


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