Did you know that the beliefs and perceptions that you hold about sexuality can have an impact on your overall sexual functioning and satisfaction? This blog post is going to take a look at the presence and impact of distorted sexual beliefs and biases. Distorted sexual beliefs are beliefs about sex and intimacy that are inaccurate or irrational. Often these beliefs are negatively biased in a way that distorts one’s perception of what is realistic or reasonable. This blog post may be especially helpful for those that notice that the way they think about sex or intimacy leads to feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, shame, and self-judgement.
All of us have internalized messages about sexuality and intimacy. Messages that you receive about your sexuality are prevalent throughout your life and have a large influence on how you develop your own beliefs about sexuality. Healthy or positive message can help one to confidently develop and express their sexuality, while unhealthy or shaming messages can create a sense of confusion, discomfort, or guilt regarding sexuality.
Beliefs about sexuality can influence how, when, and if you feel that you should be engaging in sexual experiences at any given time. They can impact what you perceive is the “right” way for your body to be reacting to a situation or what your body “should” look like to be desirable. In my work I tend to see distorted thoughts pop up around ideas of what female sexuality “should” look like, what types of bodies are attractive, what types of sexual activities are “normal”, and expectations of how bodies “should” work.
Want to learn more about reclaiming your sexual narrative? Check out our blog post here!
So how do we identify distorted beliefs? Distorted thoughts can be so automatic and engrained that it’s difficult to recognize them at first. The following guidelines give some examples of distorted thinking patterns that may be helpful to you as you begin to recognize your own. In general, it can be helpful to check in with yourself anytime you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or ashamed about a sexual experience or expectation. You may also find that distorted beliefs are influencing behaviors such as avoiding sexual experiences, shutting down during sexual experiences, or engaging in rigid behaviors around sex and intimacy.
(As you read though these, please keep in mind that not all of these examples will work for everyone. In fact, some of these examples may feel invalidating or inaccurate for those who have been through traumatic experiences, are in unsafe relationships, or who are experiencing medical or mental health diagnoses that impact their sexual functioning. Feel free to take what you can from this and please reach out to a qualified therapist if anything in this blog post brings something up you need to discuss further).
Should Statements: evaluating and judging oneself based upon what one “should” be doing, or should be feeling. For example “I should be excited to have sex with my partner” or “moms should not be seen as sexual”.
All or Nothing Thinking (Black and White Thinking): Viewing things in “all or nothing” extremes, while ignoring the middle ground. This might sound like “sex is a waste of time if I didn’t have an orgasm” or “masturbation is bad”.
Overgeneralization: Viewing one negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat; if something turns out badly once, it will always turn out that way. In this distortion, one single event becomes the “rule” by which you view any future events or experiences. For example “my partner didn’t want to have sex with me last night so I’m not even going to try tonight” or “I didn’t have an orgasm last time so I definitely won’t tonight”.
Catastrophizing: Focusing on the worst possible outcome of any given situation. Oftentimes this pattern of thinking causes one to overestimate the changes of disaster, while preventing them from seeing any positive outcome. An example of this sounds like “If I can’t perform for my partner they’re going to leave me”.
Mind Reading: Assuming that you know how others are thinking and feeling, without evidence to support these assumptions. You might notice thoughts like “my partner is disappointed in me” or “my partner doesn’t find me attractive”.
Fortune Telling: Assuming that you know how a situation or event will unfold, without evidence to support these assumptions. You might notice thoughts like “I already know my body isn’t going to do what I want it to”.
Personalization: Blaming yourself for things that you are not responsible for, while ignoring all other factors that may contribute to a situation. This pattern of thinking may also cause one to take on responsibility for situations that have little or nothing to do with them. For example “The only reason my partner couldn’t achieve an erection is because he isn’t attracted to me anymore”.
Part of creating healthy, embodied sexuality involves exploring the beliefs and biases that prevent you from feeling comfortable engaging in sexual experiences. The following questions can be helpful in allowing you to identify, explore, and reframe any beliefs or biases about sexuality that do not feel helpful to you.
Where did these beliefs and perceptions come from?
How have these beliefs and perceptions been reinforced over time?
Can I trust the experience or person that helped to reinforce these beliefs?
Am I setting unrealistic or unachievable goals for myself or my body?
Was this belief formed during a time of my life that I felt safe or comfortable with my sexuality?
Have these beliefs been helpful or harmful in creating a sense of comfort, confidence, or safety?
Do these beliefs support a picture of sexuality that I feel is healthy and safe?
Are these messages that I would send to my children? A close friend?
Are these beliefs and perceptions accurate? Can I find evidence to back them up?
Is there more for me to learn about these beliefs? Where can I find this information?
As a sex therapist I recognize that there may be times when it is difficult to fully understand or address issues related to sexuality or sexual concerns. I strive to promote a non-judgmental therapeutic space where you are able to comfortably explore issues that create discomfort or distress, while also providing you with the tools and resources needed to feel comfortable and confident embracing your sexuality. Don’t hesitate to contact me today if you’re ready to get started on your journey towards sexual confidence and clarity!
This blog is provided for education and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a form of medical or therapeutic advice, nor it is intended to assess, diagnose, or treat any medical and/or mental health disease or condition. Furthermore, the information obtained from this blog should not be considered a substitute for a thorough medical and/or mental health evaluation by an appropriately credentialed and licensed professional. The use of this blog does not establish a client/therapeutic relationship. If you are in need of support please seek out a local medical or mental health professional.