Self-Esteem and Sexuality

How we feel about Self has an enormous determining effect on how we view our sexuality and how we go about sexual exploration. The Self refers to your unique, sacred presence; it is your essence, it is the source of your ‘I-ness’, your difference from everybody else; it is your unique Being, it is the being part of your existence and it always remains the same. The Self is vibrant, alive, real, authentic. Your sense of Self will largely determine your physical and emotional readiness for sexual activity. The person who protectively hates Self is not even remotely ready for sexual intimacy. Neither is the person who feel superior to others ready for sexual closeness. Over the years, many individuals have come to me for help possessing no sense of Self – they feel invisible and their expectation is that nobody could ever find them attractive. They have no sense of a belonging to Self and unless this absence of belonging is resolved these individuals are likely to remain isolated from others for their lifetimes.

There are some of us who emerge from homes and communities possessing a level of self-esteem that arose from either an over-belonging or an under-belonging from the significant adults in our lives – parents, teachers, relatives, neighbours. For example, the young man whose mother lives her life through him and the father who failed to intervene, is likely to emerge into adulthood believing that his acceptance by a woman is contingent on his feeling emotionally helpless. The sexual intimacy that he creates will be hugely influenced by the lean-to nature of the relationship and will, inevitably, run into conflict. Men who emotionally depend on women need to reclaim their inborn capacity to be self-reliant and in-dependent. Similarly, the daughter whose mother dominated her whilst her father stood passively by, will have learnt that her worth in her mother’s and father’s eyes was in her conforming to the unrealistic demands, particularly the over-riding command that her purpose was to be there for her parents, but not for Self. As a young woman – unless she has examined her story and resolved the co-dependent relationship – her sexual intimacy will be deeply shadowed by her self-esteem difficulty of confusing her sense of Self with having to look after others.

Other powerful self-esteem issues are where women confuse their sense of Self with their bodies and men associate their sense of Self with work or power or success. These confusions have profound effects on sexuality and sexual intimacy. It is critical that parents, teachers and all adults who interact with children that the child’s Self is unconditionally loved and there is no confusion of the Self with behaviour. Behaviour is the Self’s way of experiencing the world, but the Self is not its behaviour – no matter what the behaviour – physical, emotional, sexual, behavioural, social, intellectual, creative and spiritual. Adults cannot provide the unconditional holding that children require in order to express the fullness of their individual and unique nature, unless they themselves possess an unconditional holding of their own Self. I have said it time and time again – this unconditionality is not an option; it is a sacred responsibility. When the Self is rejected then all the expressions of Self will be affected by the person’s poor sense of Self. This, as seen, is true of all the categories of behaviour, but powerfully true for sexual expression. It is important to realise that sexual expression is the only social drive that is biologically based and all the more powerful because of that. It is also an arena wherein the unresolved concept of Self frequently gets played out, sadly, with very painful consequences.

In educating children and young people about their bodies, their sexuality and sexual activity, parents and teachers and others need to first focus on their young person’s sense of Self and begin the process of creating a relationship that will strongly mirror the extraordinary presence of the young person – no matter how difficult or obnoxious is their behaviour. Remember that what we call difficult or problematic behaviours are the young person’s attempts to manifest how difficult life is for him or her. Challenging behaviours always point to self-esteem issues, the inner turmoil of not feeling wanted or loved for Self.

Dr. Tony Humphreys practices as a clinical psychologist and is author of several books on practical psychology, including All About Children.