Why is Sex So Confusing? I Have a Few Ideas.

by | Dec 27, 2020 | Anxiety, Sexuality | 13 comments

Healthy and sacred sexuality is our birthright. Just like we’re born to learn and are wired for curiosity, so we’re born to experience pleasure in our bodies and to share this pleasure with a special other. But somewhere along the way, this natural desire and creative spark grow dim. We learn to feel ashamed of our bodies. We learn that sex isn’t safe. As soon as shame and lack of safety enter the picture, all circuits shut down. And then we wonder why most couples struggle with sex! If sacred sexuality is our birthright, why isn’t the most natural thing in the world to share sexuality with a safe other?

Let’s examine a few of the reasons:

First off, we don’t receive a manual for sex. Sure, we might have a “sex ed” class in high school where we learn about anatomy, hormones, and the menstrual cycle, but we don’t learn about the tidal wave of emotions, needs, and expectations that are unleashed when we enter into a sexual relationship. Parents can talk to their kids about sex (and they should). Kids can talk to each other. But ideally all families and schools would receive a thorough manual about sex – perhaps the same manual we should all receive about how to understand thoughts and tend to feelings – that would teach young people the truth about their bodies and what to expect when they enter a sexual relationship with a partner.

Secondly, not only is there a tragic gap in our healthy education, the education we do receive comes from mainstream culture’s dysfunctional depiction of sex, which we ingest everywhere from billboards and celebrity magazines to films and pornography. It’s through these channels that we absorb the damaging myths about sex that I wrote about last week.

These are some of the message we learn:

  • We learn that sex is a game and that our entire self-worth hinges on being desired by a sexual partner.
  • We learn to equate the chase with longing, which means that we wire ourselves only to feel desire when we’re in the role of pursuer.
  • We learn that lack of desire means there’s something wrong with ourselves or our relationship.

And we fail to learn that:

  • There’s a difference between response and desire: you can respond sexually but that doesn’t mean you desire or want the thing that aroused you.
  • You can have a same-sex experience, dream, or fantasy and that doesn’t mean you’re gay.
  • Sex anxiety is a normal part of most relationships, and it can express itself in a variety of ways.

Thirdly, many people are raised in religious traditions that teach from a shame-based model of sexuality. For those of you who don’t know, I’m a big fan of healthy religious traditions, communities and rituals and deeply believe the absence of these is a root cause of anxiety, depression, and addiction. However, many religious traditions are steeped in harmful mindsets that are rooted in control, shame, and fear, and thus download a message about sex that says:

  • Sex is sinful.
  • Even thinking about sex is a sin.
  • Sex outside of marriage is a sin.
  • Sex is for procreation. Having sex for any other reason is wrong.
  • If you like sex, it means you’re a slut.
  • Your sexual orientation is shameful. Being gay is unacceptable and a sin.
  • Your body is shameful.
  • Your desire is shameful.
  • Masturbation is sinful.

Thankfully, some of these messages are shifting in a healthier direction in some religious communities, but for many of my clients and course members, the original download remains a potent template of shame and shutdown.

And lastly, we shut down because we’ve been violated sexually in some way. What the #metoo movement has illuminated is that it’s nearly impossible to be a woman in this culture and not experience violation of your physical and sexual space at some point in your life. This doesn’t necessarily mean overt sexual abuse (although it certainty can mean that), but it also includes a recognition that 4,000 years of patriarchy where women have been viewed as the property of men has taken its toll. Even if our current partner embodies the opposite of this oppressive mindset, we still, as women, carry the legacy of colonization, and this commonly shows up in our sex lives, causing us to retract, recoil, and shut down.

But… what has shut down can be reopened. The shame response that causes contraction can be gently tended to until it starts to expand again. The trauma response can be healed in ourselves and with a loving partner.

Together and slowly, in a safe space with a like-minded community, we can unpack these messages and gently tend to the shame and wounds that cause sexuality and desire to shut down. There are two primary keys that can unlock the aliveness and creativity of sacred sexuality: safety and connection. We could say that these are the two keys that unlock the chambers of anxiety in any area, but we must enter the chamber of sexuality with utmost care and tenderness.

This is what we will do together in Sacred Sexuality: A 40-day course for women to heal body shame and ignite desire: create a template and community that offers safety so that you can reclaim the connected sexuality that is rightfully yours.

If you’re longing to rewire your sexuality so that you respond to a safe and emotionally available partner – as opposed to only feeling turned on by the chase – this course is for you.

If you’ve had sexual trauma and know that an element of your healing requires being in a safe community of other trauma survivors, this course is for you.

If you’re ready to receive a blueprint for sacred sexuality to neutralize the shame-and-fear based blueprint that you received growing up, this course is for you.

If you’re longing to grow a deeper relationship with your creativity and aliveness, this course is for you.

This next live round will begin on January 9, 2021, and I look forward to seeing you there.



  1. I love my husband dearly. He’s unaware that I suffer from relationship anxiety but I believe it has impacted our sexual connection or lack there of. He told me that the issue comes down to my lack of self love and how I present myself. He told me I let myself go and gained weight plus I stopped interacting due to a demanding job.
    I believe my anxiety stems from being adopted (something I’ve worked extremely hard to clear) but his words cut me to the core. I feel constantly rejected, even though he’s loving in every other way. I dream about the issue and anxious thoughts plague me daily. I was relieved to read your posts. I’m a long time reader and your work has helped so much but I think it’s time to move beyond passive action and take the next step by enrolling in your course. Thank you.

    • I hope to see you there, Jenn. I think it would be a gentle and safe way to address this tender place.

  2. Beautifully said, Sheryl! Sacred Sexuality is my favorite course of yours, I learned so much about myself. It’s been great reading last week’s post and today’s as reminders for me to continue inner work around my sexuality. I’ve been nudging some ladies in my life to take the course and I hope they sign up!

  3. In my case it is my partner (husband) who struggles with sexuality and feeling desire. Is this course more for the person feeling confusion/shame and a lack of desire? Or would it benefit me as I support our forward progress, as I do hope in the long term to get back to a relationship with sexual expression of love?

    • The course is intended for both the high drive and low drive partner, but I’m happy to send you the course outline if that will help you assess if the course would benefit you.

  4. Sheryl,

    Do you have any advice with POCD?

    Thank you!

      • Sheryl,

        I have made a breakthrough today with my thoughts. Whenever my partner says, “I love you so much.” Im starting to genuinely believe it. Apart of me is terrified that I actually don’t care about her and have just emotionally separated myself so much that I don’t care. How do I know I care without the anxiety? Any insight?

  5. RA and lack of sexual desire makes it really feel like I’m with the wrong partner. I struggle so much with comparison to other couples who seem to have so much passion and attraction for each other. All of this is triggering depression for me and I don’t seem to see a light at the end of the tunnel. How can we know for sure it’s RA?
    I’ve had so many failed relationships in the past and wonder if the disappointments in love time and time again have triggered RA for me? Needing some hope 🙁

  6. Thanks for sharing this Sheryl. I would always question why I feel anxious and bad after getting intimate with someone I am seeing/like although its something I wanted to do. I feel it could be because of the household I grew up in with a strict parent and views. I believe it could also be a fear of becoming attached as I cannot seem to separate being intimate on a loving level to just being intimate with no strings attached. Could this be another reason why I get anxious or is it just something I am telling myself to believe?

  7. As I understand it, something that is a sin/sinful only needs to be less than ideal. With that definition, couldn’t some of the things you list be considered as such? I ask out of curiosity in case there’s something I’m missing. Thank you for your work! I’ve found it incredibly helpful, and it seems that others do too.

  8. Hello, is this course only for women? I’m a gay man looking for a similar course. Thanks,


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