Sexual Stigma and its relation with Psychological Well-Being

Sexual Stigma and its relation with Psychological Well-Being

sexual stigma

A type of social stigma known as “sexual stigma” is directed at those who are thought to be non-heterosexual due to their identities, behaviors, or beliefs. People engage in the same sexual activity, they are viewed differently, with women bearing the stigma. This phenomenon is known as sexual stigmatization. The notion is derived from traditional heterosexual conceptions, in which gender roles are perceived differently for people. In this case, desiring male sexuality is accepted and glorified whereas open and expressive female sexuality is denigrated.

Also Read: Sexual Desires and Its Impact on Mental Health

Sexual Stigma as Double Standard

The sexual double standard continues to have a significant influence on heterosexuality across a range of contexts, despite changing Western heterosexuality standards. Privileged persons or members of the majority group. In a community, individuals with more status decide which groups are deserving of a greater status by designating their particular behaviors or ideologies primarily perpetuate sexual stigmas against individuals and their minority group. Then, stereotypes are created that exacerbate the damaging impact of the label or labels applied to members of the group who do not identify as heterosexual in thought or behavior.

Also Read: The Depathologization of Homosexuality

Sexual Stigma and Historical Perspectives

Men who have multiple sexual partners are perceived positively as “studs” or “players,” while women who have multiple partners are negatively labeled as “sluts,” “skanks,” or “whores” (Farvid, Braun, & Rowney). One explanation for this phenomenon that is frequently offered is that men are brought up to value sexual experience, while women are taught to focus on the emotional aspects of sex and committed relationships. Additionally, men are granted greater sexual freedom while women are socially stigmatized for participating in the same behavior and, as a result, have their ability to express themselves sexually restricted. This is why the sexual double standard is viewed as a sexual injustice (Lyons, Giordano, Manning, & Longmore, 2011).

Sexual and reproductive health stigma has a long history in both society and the human psyche. In many civilizations, women who were menstruating were seen as dirty. The Puritans held that it was virtue to abstain from pleasures like sex. Shame surrounding sex has gradually permeated our legal system, educational system, religious institutions, and popular media.

Impact of Stigma on Sexuality and Gender Roles

According to social psychologist and stigma researcher Valerie Earnshaw, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Delaware, “humans create stigma to enforce social norms.” Furthermore, it poses a risk to public health, particularly when ingrained in social systems. Male sexuality is further constrained by the sexual double standard, which demands that males exhibit overt sexual prowess and interest (Kettrey, 2016). These ideals are derived from conventional notions of male and female sexuality, as identified by Wendy Hollway and Michelle Fine’s groundbreaking research.

While Fine’s (1988) work clarified how sexual desire and Pleasure are lacking when it comes to female sexuality, Hollway’s (1984, 1989) work was able to demonstrate a broad cultural consensus that male libido is physiologically needy and uncontrollable. Men are positioned as active sexual agents and women as passive and receptive by these sex-role stereotypes, prevalent cultural tropes that foster a social and cultural environment conducive to the existence of anything akin to the sexual double standard (Milnes, 2010).

Also Read: Asexuality as a Sexual Orientation

Types of Sexual Stigma

Sexual stigma can take many different forms. These have been classified as internalized, felt, and enacted forms of sexual stigma.

1) Enacted sexual stigma

Enacted sexual stigma involves an act of discrimination or violence towards members of a sexual minority group. This type of sexual stigma is not reserved for only members of the group but can be directed to the heterosexual family and friends of the individual or even towards those who allied themselves with the minority group. This is referred to as a courtesy stigma.

2) Felt sexual stigma

The fear that someone may feel of being associated with a sexual stigma because of the assumptions and preconceptions that society has about people who identify as sexual minorities is known as felt sexual stigma. The broad spectrum of people who may be impacted by this kind of stigma increases the likelihood that it will have an impact on behavior. A person might start avoiding circumstances in which a stigma might be applied or by staying away from the majority group in general. A person may choose to affirm a non-stigmatized status out of fear of having their sexuality questioned.

Also Read: Trauma Due to Childhood Sexual Abuse

3) Internalized sexual stigma

When someone starts to adopt a sexual stigma that they believe embodies their worldview, internalized sexual stigma becomes a part of that person’s identity. Their self-perception reinforces the notion of a certain stigma that the public has constructed through hurtful or derogatory words or deeds, which in turn fosters unfavorable perceptions about their own identities and sexual orientation. Put another way, the stigmatized person starts to accept the unfavorable opinions held about them and starts to act like the stereotypes that are widely accepted.

Sexual Stigma on psychological well-being

Studies on how sexual stigma affects a person’s psychosocial functioning have frequently referenced the minority stress model (Meyer 1995; Meyer 2003), which holds that social support and coping strategies mitigate the long-term stress that sexual stigma causes to sexual minorities, leading to mental health issues.

  • Impact of Stigma: Psychological health is negatively impacted by sexual stigma.
  • Stress and Anxiety: People who are stigmatized frequently have elevated stress and anxiety levels.
  • Depression: Racial discrimination linked to sexual stigma may be a factor in the rise in depression prevalence.
  • Shame Feelings: Stigmatization can result in shame and a poor opinion of oneself.
  • Social Isolation: People who experience sexual stigma may become socially isolated, which can worsen mental health.
  • Inclusive Environments: Promoting healthy psychological well-being among varied sexual orientations and identities requires the creation of inclusive and supportive environments.

In terms of sexual behavior, the sexual double standard is a gender-specific problem that has a far more detrimental impact on women and girls. The sexual double standard has taken on several forms and manifestations throughout history, as attitudes around sexuality have become more permissive and the softer presentation of female sexuality. However, as the entry has shown, even though the parameters of the sexual double standard have changed, it still has a significant influence on how people understand and interpret their sexual activity, as well as how male and female sexuality are perceived. It appears that in order for the sexual double standard to ever become less prevalent, a profound reconstruction of heterosexuality is still required.

Also Read: Freud’s Stages of Psychosexual Development

Steps to reduce Sexual Stigmatization

Without a doubt, the following actions will help to confront and lessen sexual stigma:
  • Promote tolerance by including thorough instruction on a range of sexual identities and orientations.
  • Protect people on the basis of their sexual orientation by advocating for and upholding anti-discrimination legislation.
  • Fight prejudice by supporting accurate and positive media portrayals of diverse sexual orientations.
  • Create a welcoming group that offer compassion and support in order to combat loneliness.
  • Make sure educators, medical professionals, and service providers receive cultural competency training so they may effectively address sexual diversity.
  • Encourage candid conversations to break misconceptions and make society more tolerant of sexual diversity.
  • Make mental health resources more easily accessible to people who are discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.
  • Allyship: Promote allyship to provide a secure environment where individuals can openly express their sexual identities without fear of social censure.
  • Law Reform: Advocate for legislation that protects people’s welfare and rights regardless of their sexual orientation.
  • Inclusive Language: To reduce the risk of stigmatization, promote the use of inclusive language that respects and acknowledges a variety of sexual identities.

We, as a society, can apply these (mentioned above) tactics to overcome the impact of sexual stigmatization and can build a healthy atmosphere for the individuals.


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