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Sexual shaming impacts all women–here’s how we can eradicate it

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Charlotte Fox Weber, author and psychotherapist, tells GLAMOUR: “Sexual shaming is the denigration of people, often females, for violating the social norms of what is supposedly appropriate behaviour. It happens because of the mixed messages we have in most cultures about desire. We’re conditioned to hide our true wants and pretend to want things we may not actually desire. When it comes to sex and sexuality, there’s unbelievable pressure to conform to what’s supposedly acceptable. Women of all ages can be denigrated for revealing sexual desire, and age is weaponised in particular.”

How does sexual shaming manifest in society?

Sexual shaming happens to most women, at any age; there really is not justification or escaping it–as an attempt to be the exception, women themselves will often sexually shame other women. This, however, does not grant them the freedom they’re after and only serves the patriarchy, in the long run.

Fox Weber says: “A young woman can be labelled as inappropriate for showing too much of herself—for being too desirable—and older women can be shamed for having sexual wants, the whole ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ concept. And yet it’s nearly impossible to get it right, to be respectable and still sexually honest, in a sense. When women don’t desire their partners sexually, there can be so much shame, and guilt. There’s pressure to be satisfied and satisfying, and admitting disappointment about sex, even to oneself, can be daunting.”

It’s not getting better, either: “Slut shaming is still hugely prevalent. Sadly, the whole mother, Madonna whore complex is still rampant in our attitudes. When a woman becomes a mother, she’s not supposed to prioritise sexual pleasure, or even have a sexual identity in a certain way. Not if she wants to be a ‘good’ mother. And going the other way, when someone is maternal and nurturing and domestic, she may be loveable but less desirable, less exciting, to the person in a relationship with her. Women with young children still get in a lot of trouble if they dare step out of their role of what they’re supposed to be. And overly sacrificial mothers lose a sense of sexual visibility.”

Shallcross echoes this, telling me: “It can manifest as shaming women for the number of sexual partners she has, using the word ‘slut’ in order to shame and holding stigmatising views of sex workers. It can also manifest as ‘what were you wearing?’ type questions in response to sexual assault.  As such, it places blame on women and girls who are victims of sexual violence instead of laying blame at the door of male perpetrators.”

The dangers of sexual shaming

We spoke to Katie Salmon, the ex-Love Island contestant who later became a top 1% creator on Only Fans and now works with Red Umbrella, a charity supporting sex workers, about what she’s learned about the dangers of sexual shaming throughout her career. “The threat of sexual shaming can force girls and women to live in fear of bullying, rejection and low self-esteem,” she says. “It encourages a culture of misogyny, which can increase instances of violence and crimes to against women and girls.”

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