Morality is the differentiation of intentions, decisions, and behaviors between those that are right or wrong, often thought of as deciding between "good" and "bad."
The inhibitions we feel toward our sexual expression are usually the result a blending of our previous sexual experiences and our sense of morality. I touched on the ingredients with my playing card analogy in the mismatched libido post from a few days ago. I didn't go into much detail about morality, though.
Note- The point of this post isn't to promote one belief system over another or argue about specific morality... you can choose to classify anything as "right" or "wrong." This post is geared toward those that have learned something is "wrong", later changed their minds, and are struggling to overcome the resulting inhibitions.
Our morality, or our sense of right and wrong, develops over the course of our lifetime. Sometimes our moral development is based on a preset system like organized religions. Other times it's based on the social rules that govern our particular society. Parents play an obvious role, as do our friends. The media even plays a role in moral development.
Over time, the process we use to decide right and wrong changes. Larry Kohlberg produced one of the most comprehensive frameworks to understand how we develop morality over time, which is an extension of Piaget's work. As small children, we have a concrete view of right and wrong based on rewards and punishments. As we age, we begin to factor in motives. Eventually we begin to see the influence of behaviors on others, then all of society. Some people continue to develop and make moral judgments based on abstract concepts like justice.
Anyway, our sense of morality greatly influences our sexual expression in the form of inhibitions. Some activity may interest us, but we feel inhibited because at some point we learned that activity was "wrong." That discrepancy between our thoughts and behaviors causes an uncomfortable psychological feeling known as cognitive dissonance. This feeling is usually expressed as anxiety and/or fear. That cognitive dissonance manifests itself as inhibitions.
The fear and anxiety usually comes from social rejection. We worry about what our partners, friends, or family will think of us. Will they still love us? The fear could also be a fear of punishment that could have been instilled in childhood or a more diffused fear like going to Hell. This fear will also likely pop up after a behavior and take the form of shame or guilt. All of these issues can be addressed using a variety of methods.
So how do we lower those inhibitions that result from morality?
The most common advice is to "just get over it." Unfortunately if it were that easy, it wouldn't' be an inhibition. Having said that, most people will lose their inhibitions in the right environment. That fact gives us hope... you can conquer inhibitions. Here are some better solutions:
Acknowledging the inhibition is the result of a moral decision can go a long way toward breaking the shackles of cognitive dissonance. Understanding the source allows us to analyze where the moral decision came from and what motives were behind it.
In some cases, we may recognize other people may have instilled that specific moral judgment because of their own insecurities. In other cases, we may come to see that the specific moral judgments were instilled to control us or repress us in some way. This is common for women that were raised in a patriarchal religion.
Once we understand the inhibition and underlying moral code, we can begin processes that will break down the inhibition. The following is a list of techniques that can be used separately or in combination to break down morality-based inhibitions.
- Alcohol: Alcohol is a great truth-revealer. On a chemical level, it slows down the part of our brain that control inhibitions. When we drink, we strip away the facade and reveal who we really are. Alcohol doesn't make people do crazy shit; alcohol allows your true crazy self to roam free. Alcohol is an excellent method to lower inhibitions... except it usually doesn't do so permanently. It does nothing to reduce the guilt and shame felt after the effects wear off. Because of that, think of alcohol as a tool, not as a solution.
- Systematic desensitization: This is an "easing into it" solution. Slowly introduce any particular behavior over a long period of time. Let's say we want to experiment with anal sex. Start by reading about it (educate ourselves on the ins and outs of the butt). Then watch some anal porn (don't replicate their behaviors, though). Then experiment with touching the anal area. Move on to inserting a finger. Then move up to a toy like a butt plug. Finally move on to a penis (if that were the goal). By breaking down the behavior in stages, we can tackle the "this is bad" feelings and anxiety a little bit at a time, which will eventually lead to a breakdown of the inhibition.
- Flooding: This approach is pretty much the opposite of systematic desensitization. Instead of easing into it, we're jumping in head-first. Let's say we want to eliminate the inhibition of public nudity. We'll overcome the anxiety by dancing naked at a party. It's going to cause an extreme bout of anxiety (manifested as terror), but that's the point. The human body can only maintain that high level of anxiety for a finite amount of time (usually 10-20 minutes) before exhaustion sets in. Once exhaustion sets in, we relax. Once we relax, our brain accepts the behavior. We'll be unlikely to experience the anxiety next time we do the behavior. The key to flooding: We can't escape the behavior while we still feel terrified. That will only increase our anxiety.
- Distraction: Our brain's ability to pay attention is limited. If we engage in a behavior that causes anxiety, we can reduce the anxiety by focusing on something else. Let's say we're afraid of having sex with the lights on. A simple solution is to distract ourselves by The novelty of not seeing will distract us from the anxiety of having the lights on. This specific example is especially effective since we can't see... it makes us feel invisible which alleviates some of the specific anxiety of this particular inhibition.
- Role-playing: Role-playing is a method of temporarily re-framing ourselves as someone else. We're becoming an actor. When we're pretending to be someone else, we free ourselves from our inhibitions. If we're pretending to be a police officer, maid, or UPS driver (heh), we can engage in behaviors we wouldn't otherwise try. The single best role-playing scenario I'd suggest- play a prostitute. Why? It sets up sex acts as a business proposition. Let's say we want to try doggie style, but feel to inhibited. Regardless of which role we play (male or female), if we're paying or being paid for it, the inhibitions disappear. I'd suggest going as far as exchanging real cash (no checks, please).
- Talk to your partner: Our inhibitions are often based on the fear of being rejected by our partner. It keeps us from talking about (and acting upon) our deepest fantasies. As simple solution, which I've shared before, is to exchange a "desire list" once every few weeks. Both partners write three or four desires on a piece of paper. Exchange lists. Discuss each item on both lists. Partners can cross off one item they don't want to do. Over the next few weeks, do the remaining items on the list. This is a excellent non-threatening way to open lines of communication about sexuality.
- Relabel/ reframe yourself: Role-playing temporarily reframes our self-perception by suspending our inhibitions. It's possible to make these changes permanent just by reframing who we are. Let's say we were raised in a strict religious environment where sex was associated with shame and guilt. The result is severe anxiety. We continually see ourselves as the product of our upbringing. If we make a conscious decision to see ourselves differently, our inhibitions will decrease. I'd recommend adopting the exact opposite personality- be a slutty hedonist that focuses on nothing but pleasure. We don't actually become a slutty hedonist, but thinking like one will cause our inhibitions to disappear. Hypnotists make a fortune by capitalizing on this idea of reframing the self... they just use the power of suggestion to help us believe it's possible.
- Break down smaller inhibitions first, celebrate victories. Work toward stronger inhibitions: All of us have some stronger inhibitions and some weaker inhibitions. If we start with the weakest first and eliminate them (using any other method from the list), we set ourselves up to eliminate all of our inhibitions. To use this method, we can make a list of the things we wish we could do. Then we rank them based on the anxiety we feel toward the activity, lowest anxiety first. Then we just go down the list. Eliminate the first inhibition first, then we reward ourselves with something we love (shopping, food, a day at the beach... whatever).
- Imagery + rewards: This is an old sports psychology technique that works well with sex, too. Pick an inhibition you want to eliminate. Find a dimly-lit, quiet place. Relax. Close your eyes. Imagine doing the behavior, then immediately imagine something you love doing. You're imaging being rewarded for the anxiety-producing behavior. The mental association between the two eventually causes the inhibited behavior to stop producing the anxiety response.
- Learn to think less and act more: As humans, we're plagued with meta-cognition. We can think about thinking. This makes it nearly impossible to just do something without engaging in some form of analysis. Admittedly some people are better than others at thoughtless action. It can also be trained. If we just jump in and do something immediately, we don't give ourselves the chance to think about the consequences. This is the exact opposite behavior we're taught from a very early age... but has great value. Practice doing things spontaneously without thinking of what others may think. Just do it. If we start with non-sexual behaviors first, it's easier to learn this technique. Tim Ferriss gave a good example in "The 4 Hour Work Week." He'd spontaneously lie down in a public place. It's a really odd behavior and people are going to judge you. The value comes from the spontaneity of doing it without thinking. Do it enough and we build the "courage" to bring this spontaneity to the bedroom.
- Classical conditioning: This basic form of learning has all kinds of sexual uses, which I discussed in this post. Overcoming inhibitions is another use. In this case, we're going to turn a neutral stimuli into a pleasurable stimuli, then apply it to our inhibited behaviors. I like music because it's easy to use in a variety of situations. Find a good song. Listen to it (on repeat if necessary) while masturbating. Make sure you orgasm. Repeat 10-15 times over the course of a few weeks. By the end, the song itself should cause immediate arousal. Play this song while preparing for and engaging in the inhibited act. The feelings of intense arousal will overshadow the feelings of anxiety, thus letting you do the inhibited behavior. This technique can be combined with several others... think of it as an enhancement tool.
- List fears, actualize worst-case scenarios. Discuss: The fear of the unknown is scary as Hell. Most inhibitions are the result of a vague fear. We can overcome this fear of the unknown by listing our fears. Do one at a time. Brainstorm the worst-case scenario that could result from the behavior. Discuss that scenario with your partner (or consider it yourself depending on the situation). Figure out what you would do if the worst-case scenario were to come true. Once we identify that outcome and develop a plan should it occur, our anxiety decreases dramatically. Shelly and I used this technique to make the decision to quit our jobs and travel the country... and it worked like a charm. The same tactic can be invaluable when applied to our sex lives.
- Spend time around those that have fewer inhibitions: If your free time is spent in Bible study discussing why God punishes people for your sexual activities, it shouldn't be a surprise if you have a lot of inhibitions. Conversely, surrounding yourself with uninhibited people will lower your own inhibitions. Surround yourself with people that have a crazy streak.
- Embrace YOLO. Yes, the term is overused and often used as a rationale to do self-destructive behavior. It DOES make sense, however. You're going to die one of these days... maybe even tomorrow. Do you really want to go through live repressing your deepest desires? What's the point of repressing your desires? Hope someone delivers you a "world's greatest martyr" award on your death bed? We often regret the things we didn't do FAR more than we regret the things we did do. Life is too short not to embrace pleasure.
Overcoming our inhibitions requires us to assess the source of our morality, then systematically eliminate the anxiety that fuels the inhibitions. Instead of being a passive slave to our self-imposed limitations, we can make a conscious decision to take charge of our lives and actually make our deepest desires reality... but we have to be willing to act. This list of techniques gives you more than enough tools to overcome your inhibitions... you just need the willingness to make it happen.
Now get off your ass and start enjoying life!