Mental Health A-Z What Is Sexual Repression? By Elizabeth Plumptre Elizabeth Plumptre LinkedIn Elizabeth is a freelance health and wellness writer. She helps brands craft factual, yet relatable content that resonates with diverse audiences. Learn about our editorial process Updated on February 23, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Ivy Kwong, LMFT Medically reviewed by Ivy Kwong, LMFT LinkedIn Twitter Ivy Kwong, LMFT, is a psychotherapist specializing in relationships, love and intimacy, trauma and codependency, and AAPI mental health. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Credit:Boy_Anupong / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents What Is Sexual Repression? Causes Signs Effects Management & Coping What Is Sexual Repression? Sexual Repression Sexual repression occurs when a person prevents themselves from feeling/experiencing natural sexual urges and desires. A sexually repressed person will usually hold negative ideas towards sex. This person may consider the act and everything associated with it, wrong. Sexual repression is an age-long cycle in human beings. However, very little research has been made to better understand this behavior. This guide will take a look into sexual repression, causes of this behavior, as well as symptoms that can suggest a person is sexually repressed. It will also examine systems in society that worsen the chances of developing this trait, and possible methods to overcome sexual repression. Causes of Sexual Repression In society, sex has long been tainted as a taboo and immoral subject. This form of reasoning has shaped intercourse into a shameful act, one that should be avoided or spoken about sparingly. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was one of the earliest thought leaders of sexual repression. He was instrumental in recognizing how sex and attitudes towards the act affect human behavior. By drawing links between suppression and mental illness, plus poor sexual satisfaction—the dangers of repression has received some attention. Sexual repression may be caused by the following discussed below. Society’s Treatment of Sex In societies and communities where sex is a taboo topic, it may only be spoken of in condemnation. This is sometimes the case in strict religious environments. When a young person reaches puberty, their body will go through many changes that will trigger curiosity about sex. Ideally, adolescents and teens may begin to ask questions about these new changes and feelings. However, where their environment treats sex as a taboo subject, they may begin to view sex and sexuality in a negative light. A persistent negative view of sex may lead to sexual repression. Past Traumatic Encounters People who have experienced sexual trauma may view the act of sex or any form of intimacy in a negative light. Therefore, sex or thoughts of sex may be trigger past traumatic experiences. Any healthy feelings towards sex are, in turn, shut off. To cope, a person may repress their thoughts and desires towards sex. If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you can contact the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to receive confidential support from a trained staff member at a local RAINN affiliate. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. Signs of Sexual Repression In human beings, sexual interest may develop from a very young age. Similarly, repulsion to intimate encounters can also begin during adolescence or around the teenage years. Freud supposed that children as young as six and seven to 10- and 11-year-olds may develop a mental model that causes them to classify sex as disgusting, shameful, and immoral. These feelings may then be concretized in adulthood, causing poor adjustment to sexual feelings and situations. A person may be sexually repressed without even knowing it. This state of mind is easily covered up under devotion to religion, or moral uprightness. A sexually suppressed person may exhibit the following behaviors: Discomfort Around Sex or Discussions of the Subject One of the easiest markers of repression is unease around sexual matters. A person may find that they are embarrassed and unable to maintain their composure during talks around sex. It isn’t uncommon for a repressed person to feel anxious before or even during the act of sex for no identifiable reason. Guilt or Shame Following Sex Repression can take away the joy and pleasure commonly associated with sex. Instead, overwhelming grief may occur when a repressed person gives in to sex or thoughts of being intimate with other people. Tears, shame at submitting to desires, and repulsion with oneself are all traits exhibited when sexually repressed. Difficulty Finding Pleasure in Sex When a person is hardwired to consider sex as inappropriate, it can be difficult to appreciate the act. Sexually repressed people will often endure, rather than enjoy intercourse with partners. This can lead to dissatisfaction and unhappiness between sexual partners. It can also form an unhealthy relationship with sex. Discomfort With Nudity While people may experience discomfort at looking at naked images for a number of reasons, this distress may be observed in sexually repressed individuals. This is due to their avoidance of supposed sexual behavior. Suppressed sexuality can cause a person to view the nude form as immoral or displeasing, and can spike self-consciousness, and general unhappiness with appearance. Consequences of Sexual Repression When feelings of shame and despair are attached to a normal, everyday bodily function—this can produce negative sexual, emotional, and even physical effects. The individual or combined efforts of religious doctrine, family influence, and other factors can contribute to the suppression of sexual freewill. These can produce very damaging results such as: Negative Feelings Towards Sex Looking at a partner, or someone attractive can produce familiar stirrings. Common reactions to these feelings can be sexual fantasies or even masturbation. Either response is healthy and expected. However, when these reactions are experienced by a person who is repressed, it can cause very confusing feelings. Repression can cause shame at the body’s acknowledgment of sexual stimulation. Thoughts of masturbation or engaging in the act can lead to considerable distress. This may spark conflicting feelings towards intimate sessions. Moral Confusion May Spring Up When repression is stimulated by the teachings of a religion, having positive responses to sexual scenarios can cause uncomfortable questions to crop up. Sexual suppression can cause internal debates as to whether or not a person is holy/pure enough when sexual thoughts and desires worm their way through. Because these feelings are categorized as sin, a person may worry about their moral standing. Pain During Sex Repression usually causes a lot of fear and tension during sex. This may be irrespective of the level of comfort felt with a sexual partner or the amount of ease during intercourse. For women, this tension can manifest as vaginismus—a condition where the vaginal walls tighten in fear of penetration of any kind. Difficulty During Sexual Performance Ideally, sex should be a no-pressure exercise between willing partners. However, when the guilt and shame of the repressed rear its head, this can cause some strain during intimate moments. Performance anxiety, embarrassment, and unhappiness at doing something that they consider "wrong" can affect performance and delight during sex. Suppressed Sexual Orientation Within certain religions or even communities, the only acceptable form of intercourse is between two opposite sexes. Because of this, a person might learn to hate themselves, and the feelings they hold for a person of the same gender. Being unable to express a natural attraction to others can lead to questions about sexuality. It can also cause disappointment during sexual encounters. How to Manage Sexual Repression Sexual repression can be born from physical, emotional, and mental encounters. These effects must be carefully tended to and undone. Ultimately, the aim is to promote the odds of having enjoyable encounters around sex. A person dealing with sexual repression may eventually find pleasure in sex. However, they will usually first adopt appropriate treatment methods such as: Recognizing the Possibility of Repressed Traits When a repressed person is willing to accept a different way of life—it can be hard to follow through. This new attitude will require accepting previous ideas around sex as unhealthy and unrealistic. It will call for an understanding of how the environment can negatively shape the beliefs held. By accepting the different ways repression can come up, a person will avoid denying its effects. This can be an important first step for healthier sexual beliefs. Receive Expert Directions to Handle Repression Therapy is trusted when it comes to managing many matters of well-being. An expert can help with identifying the triggers of repression, and factors that encourage its continued effects. In addition to targeting repressed feelings, therapists can share how to get comfortable and enjoy intimate moments. Sex therapy can assist individuals and couples navigate sexual difficulties. Through expert help, individuals or partners can learn to enjoy intimate moments. Communicating Changes with a Partner Because repression compels strong discomfort around sex, ease is required to undo these feelings. By keeping a partner updated about repression and daily treatment steps can encourage comfort around the subject of sex. A Word From Verywell Sex in all forms—solo or partnered should be enjoyed as a pleasurable activity. Being raised in a repressed environment, or holding repressive beliefs about this act can cause mixed feelings towards sexual behavior. For anyone that views sex through a repressed lens, this might seem like the only possible way to approach intimate encounters. However, self-reflection, expert sex therapy, and free communication about previously taboo subjects can promote healthier attitudes towards sex. What to Know About Sex Therapy 6 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Merriam Webster. Sexual repression Stoléru S. Reading the Freudian theory of sexual drives from a functional neuroimaging perspective. Front Hum Neurosci. 2014;8:157. Published 2014 Mar 18. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2014.00157 Montejo AL. Sexuality and Mental Health: The Need for Mutual Development and Research. J Clin Med. 2019;8(11):1794. Published 2019 Oct 26. doi:10.3390/jcm8111794 Baumeister R, Twenge J. Cultural Suppression of Female Sexuality. Review of General Psychology. 2002;6(2):166-203. doi:10.1037/1089-2622.214.171.124 Melnik T, Hawton K, McGuire H. Interventions for vaginismus. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;12(12):CD001760. Published 2012 Dec 12. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD001760.pub2 Potki R, Ziaei T, Faramarzi M, Moosazadeh M, Shahhosseini Z. Bio-psycho-social factors affecting sexual self-concept: A systematic review. Electron Physician. 2017;9(9):5172-5178. Published 2017 Sep 25. doi:10.19082/5172 By Elizabeth Plumptre Elizabeth is a freelance health and wellness writer. She helps brands craft factual, yet relatable content that resonates with diverse audiences. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.