What Is Sexual Repression and What Causes It?

Sexuality is part of human nature. Therefore, when it is repressed, negative consequences can occur. But what causes sexual repression? Find out.
What Is Sexual Repression and What Causes It?
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 28 October, 2023

Does thinking about sex, naming it, or hearing about it make you feel uncomfortable or embarrassed? Humans are sexual beings, but some people experience unpleasant feelings regarding this part of their identity. When this happens, sexual repression may be at work.

Certain social and cultural determinants can surround sexuality with myths until it becomes a taboo subject. Sexual experience and expression are then perceived as unacceptable or undesirable, and the person decides to hide these natural impulses. What are the consequences? How to intervene?

What causes sexual repression?

Sexual repression is the containment of sexual expression. This means that sexual thoughts, sensations, and desires are covered up, hidden, or ignored because they’re considered inappropriate and shameful.

So what can lead a person to repress these natural impulses? Well, there are many factors that can combine to give rise to this phenomenon. Some of the most common are the following:

  • Traditional gender roles (Spanish link) that establish, culturally, that women must be demure and that sexual impulse and desire are a man thing.
  • Certain religious movements consider sexuality as a sinful, shameful, and punishable area of life.
  • The education received from the family. In some homes, sex is considered a taboo subject and minors are taught limited information.
  • Previous experiences also play a determining role. Having experienced abusive or unsatisfactory sexual relationships can lead to sexual repression.

Possible consequences

Sexual repression.
Sexuality is a fundamental aspect of anyone’s life. The associated problems can have many consequences.

Sexual repression can have serious consequences in a person’s life, as they are denying a fundamental part of themselves. Guilt and shame often accompany this problem, which produces emotional discomfort.

The sufferer may feel quite uncomfortable with any sexual thoughts or desires (even though these are natural), and tends to punish themselves mentally or tries to modify this tendency.

For the same reason, low self-esteem, depressive states and anxiety symptoms may arise. In addition, social relationships (especially with a partner) are greatly affected, as the sexual sphere isn’t adequately addressed or enjoyed.

It’s also possible to experience symptoms such as muscle tension, insomnia, and different sexual disorders such as dyspaurenia or anorgasmia. The annoying factor is that it affects not only the sufferer, but also third parties.

For example, in some cases, these repressed impulses end up manifesting themselves in the form of abuse or sexual aggression towards other people. In addition, there may be a tendency to judge and condemn those who live a freer and more pleasurable sexuality.

When to seek help?

Treatment for sexual repression.
Seeking therapy, either individually or as a couple, is essential to address the problems of sexual repression.

It isn’t always easy to recognize and identify that one is suffering from sexual repression. It’s important to differentiate this term from asexuality, a lack of interest in having sex, or sexual dissatisfaction.

That is, if a person freely decides not to get involved with anyone sexually until having a committed relationship, that’s fine. Similarly, having less sex than desired or having no interest in trying certain sexual practices don’t constitute repression.

When you need to seek help is when beliefs related to sexuality produce significant discomfort or limit the person’s life. For example, when guilt and shame, a rejection of one’s own body, or the inability to enjoy sexuality – alone or in company – appear.

How can sexual repression be dealt with?

To deal with sexual repression, professional support is usually necessary. A psychologist specializing in sex and couples therapy can help you discover the factors that are influencing the origin and maintenance of repression.

By changing beliefs and working on self-esteem and the relationship with the body, the development of a freer and more satisfying sexuality can be achieved.

Tips and recommendations

Despite the fact that psychological intervention is the most recommended step, there are certain steps you can take to reduce the impact of the negative consequences of sexual repression. For example:

  • Get informed about sexuality. It’s best to seek guidance from a professional, but you can also turn to books or articles as long as the source is reliable. This will help you detect and eliminate taboos and irrational beliefs.
  • Work on your self-esteem. Start to get to know yourself, listen to yourself, and value yourself unconditionally. Explore your desires, needs, and limits to increase your self-confidence.
  • Improve your relationship with your body. Get to know the different parts of your anatomy, observe yourself naked in front of the mirror and begin to look at and talk to yourself with love and respect. Strip nudity of its shameful connotations and learn to recognize it as something natural.
  • Explore your sexuality for yourself. This will help you feel more confident about engaging in intimacy with another person.

A real problem that must be detected early

Sexual repression usually originates very early in life. Therefore, it’s essential for there to be adequate sexual psychoeducation for minors, showing them that sexuality is a part of human identity, and that it is natural and worthy of being enjoyed in freedom.

If, as an adult, you feel that sexual repression is conditioning and limiting your well-being, seek help to address it.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Morokoff, P. J. (1985). Effects of sex guilt, repression, sexual” arousability,” and sexual experience on female sexual arousal during erotica and fantasy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology49(1), 177.
  • Limpus, Laurel, “Liberation of women: Sexual repression and the family” (1960). PRISM: Political & Rights Issues & Social Movements. 37. Disponible en: https://stars.library.ucf.edu/prism/37.
  • Climent, G. I. (2009). Entre la represión y los derechos sexuales y reproductivos: socialización de género y enfoques de educación sexual de adolescentes que se embarazaron. La ventana. Revista de estudios de género3(29), 236-275.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.