Why Are People Into Shame?!

Shame is a ghost that will just keep haunting you if you don’t make a sincere effort to purge it. And wild hot deviant sex is the best kind of exorcism I know.

Early this year, I angrily posted an excerpt from a New York Times article about male strip revues. I highlighted a quote from a producer which stated that his show is, “something quality, with real showmanship. Not a traveling group of man whores.”

This kind of casual classism, whorephobia, and slut-shaming ain’t cute. It’s upsetting to me that the Times—which can be prim to the point of inaccuracy— allows comments like this. But it’s not really all that shocking when you realize how much vulgarity is permitted as long as someone is hurling shame on someone else.

Writer Antonia Crane commented on my post right away, suggesting that we talk about the normalization of slut shaming on my podcast. So during a trip to Los Angeles last Spring, I found myself seated on Antonia’s black leather couch, cradling a strong cup of coffee, surrounded by Kathy Acker and David Wojnarowicz books, talking about the Lusty Lady.


“The freaks were at the Lusty,” Antonia told me, referring to her customers at the legendary San Francisco peep show where she worked in the 1990’s.

“They wanted to be seen. They were shoving zucchinis up their asses and tying themselves into pretzels. They were wearing Santa hats and coming in as a gang of clowns and all jerking off together. Did that come from shame?”

Antonia would know. Not only did she dance at the Lusty, beginning a still-ongoing career as a stripper, but she was also involved in the ground-breaking unionization of the club. Now she’s written a semi-autobiographical screenplay about that experience with trans filmmaker Silas Howard.

They received a grant from the San Francisco Film Society/Kenneth Rainin Foundation in screenwriting, and hope to start shooting the feature very soon. In addition to this, Antonia wrote a ruthless memoir about sex work, Spentnow out in paperback—and she teaches the craft of memoir writing at UCLA. Blonde and brightly tattooed, with a bubblegum pink perma snarl and kohl-ringed eyes, Antonia is intensely enthused about what she calls “savage art.”

Part of what I wanted to explore with Antonia was the role that shame plays in erotics. For many people — including some strip club patrons — a cycle of shame seems integral to the expression of their desire. Certainly many turn-ons, from pegging to patronizing a sex worker, from ravishment fantasies to threesomes, are bound up in social taboos. Your indulgence of these taboos gets its frisson from doing what you’ve been told not to do.

Ever since reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, I see shame everywhere.

“Shame is the most powerful, master emotion,” Brown says. “It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.”

Apply this definition to sex, and it becomes clear why shame drives so many erotic lives. Our sexual desires and identities are the things we are told most constantly make us filthy, tainted—even unlovable.

Our indulgence of taboos gets its frisson from doing what we’ve been told not to do.

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding,” Brown says, “shame can’t survive.” What better way to share your story than through sex? Who better to provide understanding than strippers, doms, and escorts? We’ve seen it all, and we’re not that shocked by you. We’ll put your shame in perspective.

People judge others for their sexual choices as if they could just get rid of their shame by displacing it, as if shame were a hot potato or the curse from It Follows. Yet shame is a ghost that will just keep haunting you if you don’t make a sincere effort to purge it. And wild hot deviant sex is the best kind of exorcism I know.

I already explored the topic of erotic humiliation with Princess Kali on the podcast last year, but there’s an important distinction to be made between erotic shame and erotic humiliation. Kinky humiliation is about submitting yourself to having your status lowered, through fun activities such as objectification, animal play, financial domination, domestic service, or exposure.

Shame, I think, has a meta-context. It’s an erotic urge: we’re driven by shame in the interest of absolution. Like a consumer seeking a product to fill a void that product marketing itself has created, some people who are driven by shame can end up in a compulsive and self-replicating cycle of dissatisfaction. I have seen people struggle when given the opportunity to release the grip that shame holds over their sex life; they’ve come to identify with that feeling, to connect it to pleasure, as if they must pay a shame tax in order to feel good.

Seen another way, sex might be the perfect environment to make yourself vulnerable, to admit that you’re scared you’re not good enough. Sex gives you the chance to be seen, literally and metaphysically. What if someone sees you and lets you know you’re more than good enough? Or what if, in sex, someone can dig her claws into your shame, eviscerating it, laying it out before you where everyone can get a good look at it? Maybe, sometimes, with the right chemistry, seeing your own shame laid out before you might just cure you from being controlled by it.

People judge others for their sexual choices as if they could just get rid of their shame by displacing it.

Is a world without shame possible? Would we even like that world? With that tension released, would the filthy sex we love even be hot anymore? I don’t know, but in the meantime my project will be to concentrate on detoxing my own shame rather than tamping it down or projecting scorn onto others.

“I think we should harness shame and make it our bitch,” Antonia laughed, and I couldn’t agree more.

That’s the irony of a male strip revue producer distinguishing his “classy” show from “man whores. Being a whore is nothing to be ashamed of (and by the way, in my experience nobody displays more quality showmanship than whores). Shamers think they can avoid stigma by redirecting it, when it’s the very behavior of judging others for their sexual choices that should make shamers feel ashamed of themselves.

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