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Shame vs Embarrassment

Jay Dee

Shame vs Embarrassment

Jan 23, 2015

This week a very good friend of mine, sent me an email with the subject “Found a great blog”, and the body of the email was just a link to this blog and the words “What do you think?” In case you didn’t catch that…my friend

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ShameVSEmbarrassment

This week a very good friend of mine, sent me an email with the subject “Found a great blog”, and the body of the email was just a link to this blog and the words “What do you think?”

In case you didn’t catch that…my friend found my blog…my anonymous blog…my anonymous blog about sex.  I’m pretty sure he knows it’s me too, because he knows I have an anonymous blog, and the subject matter…I’ve just never shared the address with him, and, frankly, he’s too smart not to figure it out. 

Of course, as we are mature adults, and upstanding members of our community, and leaders in our church, we have absolutely ignored the fact that he found it, and that I know he has, and have completely avoided talking about it, preferring to bury our heads in the sand, even though I’ve seen him twice since he sent that email.  Granted, we haven’t had good opportunities, either too many people around or a shortage of time to really discuss it, but still…  So, this is, in a sense, my coming out to him, scary as that is, and admitting that yes, it’s me.  The rest of you can watch from the sidelines as my life implodes.

Just kidding, if I had to pick one person to know, it would be him, so it’s not that bad.

So, this week I’ve been thinking about the difference between shame and embarrassment, largely because of this, but also because of a book I’m reading (I can’t share the book yet, it’s not been released, but I’ll write a review as soon as it is), and also partially due to some of the things raised by some of the couples I’ve talked to through Anonymous Marriage Coaching.

What if everyone in our “real world” found out about this blog, what would happen? Am I ashamed of it, or embarrassed, what’s the difference?  And I think this discussion might help others, because I think a lot of people (mostly wives, but some men) confuse shame and embarrassment when dealing with married sexuality.   So, let’s start with a couple definitions, because often they are used interchangeably.

Embarrassment – A feeling of self-consciousness, shame, or awkwardness.

Shame – A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.

Note: Embarrassment can include shame, but it doesn’t necessarily.  For the purposes of this discussion, let’s leave out that part of the definition so it’s easier to follow.

Shame

See, shame has this requirement of having done something wrong or foolish (or feeling you did).  It requires a conviction that you should not have done what you did.  It is based on a moral standing, and a judgement of your activities.

I think many people incorrectly feel ashamed about sex in their marriage.  They don’t want people finding out they have sex, or, God forbid, that they actually enjoy it!  But, this implies that having sex in marriage, or enjoying sex with your spouse is a shameful thing, that something is wrong with it.  But, and I hope I don’t need to defend this, sex is a God-given activity between you and your spouse.  It is good, it is blessed and even commanded.  I know, everyone expects me to pull the Corinthians verse, but I’m going to reach for Exodus 21:10 as a twist.

If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, and her marriage rights. – Exodus 21:10

Let’s not get bogged down on the whole “another wife” today (I’m talking to you LatterDayMarriage), but I want to focus on the Bible stating that it is the duty of the husband to provide “marriage rights” (read: sex) to his wife.  We could go back further, in fact, the very first commandment was “Be fruitful and increase in number” (Genesis 1:28), which you cannot do without sex (at least you couldn’t then).

So, anything we do sexually, with our spouse, we should not be ashamed of (with the obvious exceptions of bringing someone else into your marriage bed, and degrading activities).

Side note: Anything you do sexually with someone other than your spouse…yeah, you should feel shame about that, until you repent and accept forgiveness, then it’s wiped away.  Stop feeling guilt about these, otherwise it’s like your telling God He doesn’t have the power to forgive you.  But, that’s a topic for another day.

Embarrassment

Embarrassment is something else entirely, and it seems to be based, not on morality, but on societal norms.  We feel embarrassed when we go against the trend, when we wear socks and sandals (guilty), when we mismatch our clothing, when we walk into a screen door (making us look silly), say the wrong thing, or burp accidentally.

Because the church, and our society, have been so sex-negative historically (the church still largely is), this causes us some undue embarrassment when talking about sex, a God-given, blessed, even commanded activity for spouses.

Last year my wife and I led a small group based on a the book Intimacy Ignited, which is a study of Song of Solomon.  Yep, a whole book about sex…from the Bible…with four Christian couples (including my friend I mentioned in this post).  It was awkward at first while we figured out what words we were comfortable saying out loud, what we were okay sharing, and that it was okay to talk about sex.  After that, well, the floodgates opened, and we had an amazing 10 weeks discussing married sexuality.  Turns out, many people really want to talk about sex, they just don’t know if they’re allowed to.  Give them permission, and their off to the races.

And that’s sort of how embarrassment works.  It’s embarrassing…until you figure out it’s not that big of a deal.  People have sex, it’s good, get over it.  Then help other people get over it.

As Christians, we need to be more open about sex, because the rest of the world is already open about it.  If we don’t start talking about sex, if we don’t start sharing good, biblical advice for marriage, including the marriage bed, then the only place people will be able to go for advice will be what the world is telling them.  God forbid that the only place a new couple can learn about sex is from TV, movies, erotica and porn.

So, I’m deciding not to be embarrassed about this.  I’m proud of my marriage, including our sex life.  It’s awesome, and I thank God for that.  I hope I can continue to help other couples find that out as well.

Your Turn

Do you find it uncomfortable talking to others about sex?  Are you embarrassed, or ashamed?  Are you willing to admit, to others, that your God made sex an awesome and amazing thing for spouses to enjoy?

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14 thoughts on “Shame vs Embarrassment”

  1. James says:

    I enjoy appropriately talking about sex. My problem is that I find it hard to find others who want to talk about it. Is that strange?

    1. Jay Dee says:

      It’s not everyone who wants to talk about it, that’s true. There are a lot of people who feel such a sense of embarrassment or impropriety about it that they don’t feel they can open up. I worry about them. I wonder, if that’s their view of married sexuality, does their marriage activities reflect that same reluctance to accept and embrace it?

      However it’s those that hesitantly start to hint at it, once they realize that you are safe to talk to, often they open up and want to talk about nothing else. It’s like they have all these pent up questions about sex, and once they find a safe place to ask them…well, you may be in for an interesting question and answer period.

      1. Dan says:

        Safe is indeed the key, Jay Dee. That’s is the number 1 thing I have heard as feedback from my community: they feel safe. Safe can mean different things to each of them. They won’t be ridiculed or belittled. They won’t have their anonymity violated. They will be heard completely and compassionately. They can not take your advice and still feel welcome in the community. They will not be subjected to abuse by other readers. They will be allowed to fully express themselves on an issue. Bottom line: they can be vulnerable and not fear being wounded in the process, but led toward healing. That’s what I try to do anyway and what I see you doing here. Feel free to talk all you want here, James. Don’t be a stranger here. We all want to see better relationships in marriage, and not only the sexual aspect of it, although if the level of sex is not good, it’s often difficult for the relationship to rise much above that level. Not good sex is often an indicator or problems elsewhere in the marriage. It’s like a closed loop. One affecting the other.

  2. Belah says:

    As I also am anonymous, this article was so refreshing and insightful–thank you! I think it’s great you post anonymously. I believe it provides a level of comfort for you and your family to not have to get everyone you encounter “on board” (and some will never get there) but still you’re able to help the many people who need it. Thank you for your openness and vulnerability. I’m saddened that your friend didn’t give you positive reinforcement when it is aptly due. Maybe he didn’t because he’s not sure it’s you…? He should have nothing but great things to say to you of your work!

    I completely agree, it is truly important to talk about sex especially in a Christian context. As you said, people should not be forced to seek out knowledge in a sinful context, just because no one is talking about it!

    1. Jay Dee says:

      Sorry, I think I might have confused something there. It’s not that he didn’t give me positive reinforcement, he did that even before he found the blog. We had a good conversation tonight and he was very encouraging.

    2. Jay Dee says:

      Oh, and welcome to the comments section!

  3. FarAboveRubies says:

    There must be something wrong with me. I freely talk about intimacy irl. I guess I find so many people have been raised with baggage about sex. I think satan laughs with delight when spouses believe the lie that sex not being God’s idea first. Satan wants us to be tempted, to the max, BEFORE marriage. Then, he wants us to think, it’s no big deal, AFTER marriage. There’s such a need to set the captives free. I will never stop talking about it.

  4. LatterDay Marriage says:

    I laughed out loud at your remark to me. Fear not. If I wanted to go there I’d do it on my own blog (but don’t hold your breath waiting for it).

    I think embarrassment can also stem from a desire for privacy. Having sex with your spouse doesn’t violate a social norm, but it is something most people feel is a private matter between them and their partner. Having the details of an encounter exposed, no matter how tame the event, causes embarrassment by making what they want kept private into something public. Blogging anonymously allows people to discuss sexual matters in a clear, frank manner without losing that privacy. If anybody who knew me found my blog and read enough, they would know it was me. It hasn’t happened yet as far as I know.

  5. LatterDay Marriage says:

    Oh, and Brene Brown has some rather interesting books (and TED Talks) on the topic of shame.
    https://www.ted.com/speakers/brene_brown

  6. J. Parker (@HotHolyHumorous) says:

    Well, since I have every intention of “coming out” (there’s got to be a better way to say that) this year — that is, moving from anonymity to revelation — I’ve thought about this a lot.

    To me, shame belongs on a person who has done a heinous wrong, while embarrassment is an experience we all face, even for mild awkward moments. I expect to have a few awkward moments, but nothing I can’t recover from. Honestly, the people I have told thus far have been incredibly supportive, several more than I expected. I think you’re right: Married Christians do understand the significance of being able to deal biblically with sexual issues in their marriage.

  7. El Fury says:

    I think I’d mostly be embarrassed rather than ashamed, but embarrassment can still be pretty painful 🙂

  8. Keelie Reason says:

    I talk about sex all the time… 🙂 No, really, it does come up in appropriate ways often. I don’t think anyone who really knows me is shocked that I write a blog about sex and marriage.

    In my house growing up, we talked about sex often. My parents talked to me about sex together, one on one…my brothers talked to me about sex also. It was all appropriate. It truly helped me to not feel weird talking about sex with others. If you can openly talk to your parents about sex, I think you can talk to most anyone. I never felt weird asking my parents questions about sex when I was a teenager. It was really awesome to have an open honest conversation about this thing that was so mysterious.

    As an adult, I chat with friends in an appropriate way about sex. I don’t give the down and dirty details, but we have open conversations. We talk about if it is ok to use bondage in the bedroom. We talk about the health of our sex lives. What we wish was different or better. It surely isn’t the centerpiece of all my conversations, but I never feel weird talking about it with others.

    I hope one day you’ll come out and post a pic up here and give your name. Own it, my friend.

  9. Brian says:

    EXCELLENT post. Thank you for writing on this.

    1. Jay Dee says:

      Thank you, and you are quite welcome Brian.

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