A lot of people feel uncomfortable talking about sex and intimacy. Even just thinking about sex can bring up feelings of shame and anxiety.
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Unfortunately, getting married doesn’t automatically change that. While some sexual shyness is normal, it can become an issue if it keeps you from connecting with your husband.
There are many reasons why you might not feel fully confident in bed with your husband. Finding out why can help you to feel less afraid to relax and enjoy yourself.
First of all, what is shyness?
Shyness is a level of anxiety or worry in social situations. Everyone feels shy or self-conscious to some degree at some point in their lives. It’s an important survival mechanism. Small children are often shy around strangers. Adults can be shy around someone they admire.
I’m a big believer that everyone is influenced by their biology and their environment. Some people are biologically more prone to shyness than others. Some people have shyness reinforced by the environment around them.
When self-consciousness becomes disruptive, we call that social anxiety. A person dealing with social anxiety often finds themselves trying to avoid certain social situations. General social anxiety is associated with sexual shyness1.
Social anxiety is, ultimately, a fear of being judged, which can lead to difficulty with intimacy2.
Are you shy in other areas of your life? Do you hesitate to share your opinions at work? Do you wait for others to make plans instead of suggesting things yourself? Do you often feel worried about what others will think of you? If so, you’re probably going to see the same patterns when it comes to sex in your marriage.
A lot of people come from a conservative upbringing. For some, that was a religious commitment to abstinence. For others, there was a push to focus on school and career before boys. There is also the experience of compulsory heterosexuality3. This presents heterosexual desire as the only “acceptable option” for relationships.
All of these factors unite to form a secrecy culture around sex. Experiences of desire are discouraged or dismissed.
The most well-meaning parents and community can accidentally frame sex and desire as shameful. These views about sex can make people anxious about their sexuality4. At the same time, our society holds romantic and sexual relationships as the ultimate goal.
Being surrounded by people who speak of sex as something to be hidden makes asking questions almost impossible. People have to guess what they might be interested in based on a lack of information. They have to make assumptions about the people around them.
If you’ve come from a sexually conservative background, sex with your husband might make you feel uneasy. You, of course, love your partner, but that doesn’t erase years of social pressure to hide and hide from sex.
Self-confidence is a person’s understanding of their abilities and qualities. Confident people are able to trust themselves when it comes to their positive attributes. When a person has lower levels of confidence, their view of their body’s attractiveness goes down.
As an aside: I am not going to rant about how retail culture has a negative impact on self-confidence and overall health. But that’s only because I don’t have enough room for it in this article.
Women who don’t feel confident in their bodies have a harder time enjoying sex5. A negative self-image can make it hard for many women to relax during sex. They can’t stop thinking about the flaws they see long enough to focus on the pleasure of being intimate with the person they love.
…Okay, maybe I’ll give a little bit of a rant. Have you noticed that your clothes aren’t one consistent size? This inconsistency can make it hard to trust that you know your own body size and shape. That can make it hard to trust the mirror when we think we look good.
If looking at yourself in the mirror can make you feel shy, you’re going to feel shy having sex with your husband. A part of you probably imagines yourself from unflattering angles. Those thoughts do not lead to pleasant feelings.
If you knew how to perfectly express how you feel about sex, chances are you wouldn’t be reading this article.
Talking about sex can be complicated. You and your husband may have different words that you use for your bodies and activities. You might not know exactly what you want to talk about. Maybe you have a vague idea of the topic, but you have no idea how to start the conversation.
Not being able to figure out what to say can leave you anxious. This can make it hard for you to be upfront about what you need. That can lead to more discomfort, leading to more anxiety, leading to more shyness.
Culturally, there is a lot of emphasis placed on the male orgasm. Women’s sexuality is rarely a direct subject of discussion, and when it is, it’s often not positive. (Did you know that a film can get an NC-17 rating for depicting a woman having an orgasm? Or if there is a reference to her vaginal fluids at all?)
In addition to that, there are so many negative narratives about how “difficult” it is for women to orgasm during intercourse. I put “difficult” in quotes because many women can achieve orgasm on their own. The issue is that up to 50% have difficulty reaching orgasm with their partner. And it’s often framed as “her problem.”
Is it any wonder, then, that you might feel shame about what you like in bed? Even if you never speak about it, the discomfort can make you want to hide away.
No one builds confidence without making some changes. Here are some of the things you can do to change how you see yourself, your body, and sex overall.
Improving your overall sexual experience often begins with no sex at all.
While sex can be an important factor in a marriage, it is possible to have a happy marriage without sex. This is because intimacy is about feeling safe with someone, not just about having a sexual relationship.
Mental and emotional intimacy can be built by spending time getting closer to one another. By spending time together outside of the bedroom, you build up your shared sense of respect and communication. This can help both of you feel safe having sensitive discussions.
You can also engage in physical intimacy without taking off your clothes. Cuddling and hugging can make you feel more comfortable with physical contact. Over time, you might find that you can cuddle with fewer clothes as you build trust and confidence with one another.
If you’ve been holding back sexually due to issues with body image, you’re not very likely to feel sexually attractive. That’s really unfortunate because your husband is probably very attracted to you. But until you find your own body sexy, you’re not likely to believe him when he says so6.
The first step is to assess your relationship with your body in a non-sexual context. Do you feel awkward or uncomfortable doing certain movements? Do you feel comfortable when you dance? Building your confidence in these areas can help you feel more in control and excited about what your body can do.
When you’re ready to explore your body in a sexual way, don’t bring your husband in. On your own, find ways to help your body to relax. Get comfortable. Touch your body slowly, focusing on the sensations on your skin. See if any of your other senses heighten the experience.
By doing this on your own, you can reduce the pressure to “perform,” letting you naturally feel and react. The goal of this is not to orgasm (it’s great if you do!) but to get you familiar with what feels good and how your body responds.
If you want to be a bit more adventurous, there are a lot of adult toys that are for solo use. They don’t have to be elaborate or intimidating. Just focus on something you think you’ll like based on previous explorations.
If you are comfortable doing so, consider exploring erotic media. This can take the form of sexual videos, erotica, comics, you name it. There are many ways to dip your toes into the world of human sexuality, at your pace.
When it comes to porn, I recommend exploring feminist spaces and producers. Those studios tend to be safer for their actresses and focus on the pleasure of all participants. With sexual videos, you might find that there are positions or scenarios that you find interesting.
Some people find that erotica and other non-visual media are more sexually compelling. Being able to align with a character’s thoughts, not just observe their actions, might help you identify the mental and emotional aspects of your desire.
And if you are interested in more than just the vanilla, don’t worry. Studies show that interest in “deviant” sexual behaviors is very common7. Women are not any less interested in the “spicier” side of the bedroom than men are8.
Remember: You don’t have to engage in any sexual behaviors that you enjoy as a fantasy. This is simply for you to explore at your own pace. You are never obligated to go outside of your comfort zone when it comes to your body.
A common reason that people feel shy about sex is that they don’t have a space to talk about what they like freely. Connecting with women who you trust, can be a great way to learn about sex and connection.
Speaking with people who have a body similar to yours, who engage in sexual acts like you do, can create a space to forget to be shy. You can ask about and share desires and experiences. This may help you feel less isolated when it comes to intercourse. (Or oral sex, or anal sex, or kinky sex, or…)
If you feel very awkward about approaching the marriage bed, you might benefit from speaking to a relationship coach, mental health professional, or sex therapist. A lot of people think that seeking professional support is reserved for those who are “broken.” But that’s not the case at all.
Speaking with a professional can give you a private, neutral space to identify what you feel and why. You might examine why you associate sex with a lack of confidence or the presence of shame. Just like physical exploration, this can help you to feel less afraid of your body.
There are a lot of resources out there to help you and your husband talk more confidently about sex. Take the Scarletteen Yes, No, Maybe Checklist and the more visual Autostraddle Sexual Inventory for Visual People, for example. Both of these lists invite you and your partner to develop clear language and understanding.
When discussing sensitive subjects with partners, I advise using I-statements. This allows you to express your thoughts without blame or criticism. Instead, the conversation becomes about approaching the subject as a team.
By taking the time to learn, you’re promoting your growth as a couple.
Shyness tends to come from a place of anxiety or worry that we’ll be seen as lacking. There are many reasons you might be shy about sex. How you were raised, your natural levels of shyness or a lack of confidence in your skills may be to blame.
There are a lot of ways to gain confidence in bed. It’s good to start within your comfort zone. Kiss and cuddle with your husband. Build that intimacy so you feel safe and comfortable. Consider trying resources and tools to improve your communication.
A lot of us are afraid of being judged or seen as lacking in bed. Engaging in these discussions, therefore, should be handled with care. Use I-statements to talk about what makes you anxious, and what would make you more comfortable.
Absolutely. A fulfilling sex life is about feeling confident in yourself and your marriage. The more you feel comfortable in your skin, the more satisfying your sex life will be.
Being shy in bed isn’t uncommon, and there are a lot of reasons someone might not feel the most confident. But by improving your relationship with yourself and your body, you can learn to let go of some of that shyness.