Individuals who experience shame find within themselves a sense of internal deficiency. Such a strong feeling of devaluation comes from within and is not based on an act of wrongdoing or external consequences. It is believed that shame forms when individuals are stifled in their expression of autonomous wants and needs during early development by parental figures. Being unable to establish their own sense of identity, they either assimilate to their caregiver’s wants and needs or conversely, disavow certain aspects of themselves as an adaptive response.

Shame becomes intertwined with interpersonal difficulties when the other is unable to understand or fulfill the independent needs and wishes of the person. This frequently occurs in abusive situations, which are almost inherently shame-based, but also in relational encounters where someone’s reaction or response insidiously conveys a sense of inadequacy. Emotional and sexual intimacy becomes impacted because of distortions to the foundational characteristics of relational closeness such as trust, acceptance and love. Consequently, feelings and impulses may be restricted or difficult to express when they are cushioned with shame. Inability to manage impulses can lead to a rejection of sexual expression or manifest in destructive or incontrollable sexual behavior.

Understanding the role of shame within sexual development necessitates an exploration of someone’s family dynamics, maturational experiences and sociocultural influences that have directly or indirectly impacted awareness, communication and knowledge of sexuality.  A reworking must take place around the inner conflicts of natural and appropriate sexual experiences, and leave room to uncover opportunities where sexual expression has been limited and undermined.  Efforts must focus on helping individuals reclaim their sexual selves, which may be masked in sexual concerns and dysfunctions. Healing shame requires building a sense of internal security through self-nurturance and compassion, to recognize the abandoned aspects of the self and give them the previously denied permission to exist.   

Source: Brown, J. A. (1987). Shame, Intimacy and Sexuality. In Coleman, E. Chemical Dependency and Intimacy Dysfunction (pp.61-73). New York: Haworth Press.