LGBT Hero Dan Savage Opens Up About His Thoughts On Sexual Shame

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Dan Savage's Thoughts About A World With No More Sexual Shame
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And how you can work through your own...

I’ve recently begun a new video interview series on YouTube called #NoMoreSexShame to explore the many ways that sexual shame impacts people, and more so, how they can overcome it.

My first guest was the advice columnist, podcast host, author, political and sexual advocate Dan Savage, who questioned whether getting rid of sexual shaming is even possible. Further, he went on to question whether sexual shaming might sometimes be useful?  

Over the course of our conversation, Savage shared that he originally 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.”

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 decided to use his own experiences overcoming the sexual shame he encountered for 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 is to overcome sexual shame, become better aware of the harm caused by it, and then make conscious choices not to pass that harm on to others.

Dan asked a particularly valuable and unexpected question during the interview: Does sexual shame, perhaps, have some benefits?

Dan pointed out 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 names that were once used to shame and harm you or engaging in those behaviors that you were shamed for and therefore kept suppressed, can be used intentionally to tap into the charged power and feelings connected to them, hijacking that energy for positive purposes through acts of erotic humiliation.

Sexual shame remains a complex, understudied concept, which lies at the root of many psychological and social challenges.

To add to the complexity of it all, many people hesitate to talk about their experiences of being shamed because, in many cases, we feel ashamed of having been shamed. 

Only by discussing these feelings and experiences, exploring the variety of ways people have overcome their own, and owning each of our individual, complex feelings around it, can we start to heal the wounds inflicted on us by these tools of social conformity.

Watch the complete interview below:

David J. Ley, Ph.D., is an internationally recognized expert on issues related to sexuality and mental health who has been published in the Los Angeles Times and Playboy and has appeared on television with Anderson Cooper and Dr. Phil, among others. His second book, "The Myth of Sex Addiction," challenged the concept of sexual addiction and triggered a firestorm of debate, allowing people to finally challenge the media hype behind this pseudo-disorder. His latest book, "Ethical Porn For Dicks: A Man's Guide To Responsible Viewing Pleasure," offers men a non-judgmental way to discover how to view and use pornography responsibly.

This article was originally published at Psychology Today. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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