Silencing shame: Empowering conversations about sex and mental health

Kate Moyle

Kate Moyle

Kate is an accredited psychosexual and relationship therapist, certified psycho-sexologist, and host of The Sexual Wellness Sessions podcast and author of The Science of Sex. (Images © Matt Writtle)

One of the biggest tools to improving our sex lives is communication, but ironically it can feel like the hardest thing to do.

As a psychosexual therapist one of the most common themes of my conversations inside and outside of the therapy room is how people feel both isolated and ashamed of struggles that they have with sex. These feelings co-exist and influence each other due to the pervasive stigma that we continue to have about sex as a topic.

Whilst psychosexual therapy is an integrative and solution focused approach; as in all branches of therapy, the experience of talking, sharing and feeling heard are critical for breaking down barriers in our sex lives. Whilst it’s the answer that nobody wants to hear - communication and learning how to talk about sex is key to us having the sex lives that we want, even though it often feels like the hardest thing for us to do.

Talking about sex can feel like trying to have a conversation in a language we haven’t been taught - it’s clunky, we feel awkward, get things wrong, worry about what the other person might think about us and misunderstandings and mistranslations are common. Much of this is normal and to be expected - it can be intimate, vulnerable and revealing and most often it’s something that we haven’t seen modelled to us other than in the media in a non-representative and dramatised way.

Often our struggles with expressing ourselves sexually have a ripple effect into other areas of our health - people typically delay seeking medical advice and appointments for sexual problems or symptoms that impact their genitals, because of a sense of shame or embarrassment. Anxiety can manifest itself as sexual dysfunction, avoidance of sex and intimacy, or distraction and the experience of not being present when it comes to sex. On top of all of this we see a bi-directional relationship between our sex lives and our mental health, with worries about what it means for us to not be having, desiring or enjoying sex occupying our headspace. This can lead to questioning parts of our identity and self-confidence and further impacts dating and relationships. The flipside of this is that stresses from outside sex, such as work can often leak into our sex lives offering distraction - which is one of the biggest interrupters of arousal and desire, which can potentially lead back into a cycle of sexual difficulties.

Breaking these vicious cycles often consists of layers of psychoeducation, body knowledge and exploring sensuality, cognitive restructuring and communication but often we don’t know where to start. This is because we don’t approach sex as we do almost everything else in life - with questions and trial and error. Ironically these are so many of the parts of sex which make it the experience that it is - the humanness, the mess, the meaning it holds, and the reason that most people are having it – fun and connection.

The 2007 research ‘Why Humans Have Sex’ by Buss and Meston identified 237 reasons for why people said they had sex. Sex is not static, it’s an ever-changing part of our lives which is always in the context of what else is going on. So, instead of approaching it as a fixed entity it should be one we consider to be flexible and adaptable. The shame that so many of us experience is because our feelings about sex often exist in the gap between our expectations and reality; when in fact the sex that we ‘should’ be having is the sex that is most satisfying for us. Shame thrives in silence, and we can challenge this taboo by starting a conversation.

If you’re interested in breaking down barriers, exploring sensuality, and rediscovering joy and connection then you may want to consider seeking help from a therapist. You can find an accredited psychotherapist or psychotherapeutic counsellor on the UKCP website


Instagram: @KateMoyleTherapy

Podcast: The Sexual Wellness Sessions Podcast

Book: The Science of Sex: Every Question About Your Sex Life Answered 

Kate Moyle's book cover, The Science of Sex: Every question about your sex life answered.

Kate Moyle's book cover, The Science of Sex: Every question about your sex life answered.

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