Amber Rose and the Problem with Sex Shaming

By now you’ve probably heard about Amber Rose’s tweet at her former lover, Kanye West, where she insinuated he likes anal play on himself. It got almost 300,000 retweets and has been re-published in countless news outlets. 

We’re not here to discuss people’s dating past, Twitter feuds, or sexual preferences. Instead, we’d like to talk about the root of the conversation: sexual shaming. 

Sexual shaming comes in many forms: Judging people for having “too many” or “too few” sexual partners, for liking some less common or kinky sexual acts, for having sexual desire at all (something women in particular experienced often until recently), or, like in Kanye’s case, for liking something that’s supposedly gay and therefore makes him less of a man. (For why this “anal play equals gay” assumption is ridiculous, read Dr. Zhana Vrangalova’s opinion on Kanye West and anal play for the NY Daily News here.)

For celebrities, any publicity may be good publicity. But for many other people, those who are not celebrities, this kind of public sexual shaming could be devastating. Like for the 22-year-old Monica Lewinsky, who completely disappeared from public life for almost 17 years after being severely shamed for her affair with President Bill Clinton, before reappearing as an advocate against cyberbullying with her TED Talk. Or, even more tragically, like for the 18-year-old Tyler Clementi who chose to end his own life rather than live with the humiliation caused by having his same-sex experiences secretly recorded and shared with his schoolmates. Countless other people suffer in silence for being shamed for their sexuality.

Sociologist Dr. Brené Brown studies shame and vulnerability and has written extensively on the subject. She defines shame as “The intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging.” Otherwise known as, the absolute worst feeling in the world. And sexual shame is so powerful, it can completely change or destroy people’s lives. It also doesn’t reflect too well on the person doing the shaming.

When you sex-shame you:

  • reinforce sex-negative culture, the idea that sex is a bad thing and that people who have sex are bad people;
  • suggest that you believe sex is a shameful act;
  • hurt someone else by suggesting they are a bad person just for being sexual;
  • destroy interpersonal trust by exposing intimate details;
  • objectify people and suggest that they are less worthy of respect because they like sex or a specific sex act;
  • make yourself look untrustworthy to friends and potential partners;
  • reinforce rape culture, the idea that sexual violence against women or men who don’t follow the rules is normalized and excusable;
  • set yourself up for bad sex!

About that last point: When people are ashamed of their bodies and desires, they become inhibited and can’t share what they want sexually, putting up barriers to sexual satisfaction, theirs and yours. Good sex often requires vulnerability and vulnerability is impossible when there is sexual shame.

It’s time we stop shaming each other for what we like sexually (as long as what we do is consensual). Fortunately, attitudes are changing. Back in November, we shared Amber Rose’s incredibly sex-positive video, ”Walk of No Shame,” where the actress turns her post-date morning stroll home into a stride of pride. That same month, Amber Rose sponsored a SlutWalk in Los Angeles and invited people to fight the shame associated with the word “slut” and the stigma against women who enjoy sex. We loved that this celebrity was using her fame to influence people in a fun, supportive, and sex-positive way.

Which is why we were especially disappointed to see her tweet that was meant to shame her former lover for his sexual preferences. Sure, #FingerInTheBootyAssBitch is a bizarrely funny hashtag. But using humor to ridicule a man for liking anal play as a way to strip him of his masculinity is neither funny nor cool.

Did this article remind you of a sexual encounter that made you or your partner feel shame? We encourage you to share your story. As Brené Brown says, “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” Fight shame by sharing your story.