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Sex, Shame, and Shamelessness

Rosemary Balsam, MD
Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry
Yale Medical School

Shame and sex have been partnered since Freud birthed his psychoanalytic theories, and although the details and caveats of this partnership have been discussed, re-evaluated, and changed over the years, its relevance in psychoanalysis and culture across the world is still important. Dr. Rosemary Balsam explores the early definitions of shame and the evolution of the concept of shame in a gendered context, the role of sexuality in shame, and the basic concept of shame as the gap between one’s present self and one’s ideal self. She engages in the archaic nature of shame in comparison to other ideals of guilt and disgust by presenting many different perspectives on the concept of shame itself by various authors and psychoanalysts. She contrasts the ideas of shame to how shamelessness presents itself in women. Balsam continues on to discuss the evolution of the women’s perspective of shame with their bodies and sexuality, at many points expressing how even though Freud may have been correct with his psychosexual ideals about males, his analysis of female sexuality and shame is inherently flawed. The shame that many women were subjected to in the eyes of psychoanalysis failed to take into account the varying roles of female body parts aside from intercourse, says Balsam. She discusses two conflicting cases of sexuality and shame in practice. Balsam concludes her discussion with quotes from women about their bodies after giving birth. Throughout her discussion, Balsam outlines the intriguing dialogues between women and shame, the origins of shame and the changing definition of shamelessness, and psychoanalysts and their female subjects.


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