Sexual repression

Last updated

Sexual repression is a state in which a person is prevented from expressing their own sexuality. Sexual repression is often linked with feelings of guilt or shame, being associated with sexual impulses. [1] What constitutes sexual repression is subjective and can vary greatly between cultures and moral systems. The ways in which individuals and groups undertake sexual repression can also be undertaken through religious exclusion, legislation and physical mutilation. Psychologists, the like of Sigmund Freud, discuss the reasons and function of sexual repression in the individual. The process of chemical castration as a means of achieving sexual restraint is a practice intrinsically tied to sexual repression.



Sigmund Freud was the first to use the term widely, and argued that it was one of the roots of many problems in Western society. [2] Freud believed that people's naturally strong instincts toward sexuality were repressed by people in order to meet the constraints imposed on them by civilized life. Among many others, Freud believed renowned artist Leonardo da Vinci to have been a repressed homosexual, who he believed "sublimated" his sexual desires so as to achieve artistic brilliance. [3] However, Freud's ideas about sexual repression have been subject to heavy criticism. According to sex therapist Bernard Apfelbaum, Freud did not base his belief in universal innate, natural sexuality on the strength of sexual desire he saw in people, but rather on its weakness. [4]

In some periods of Indian history anaphrodisiacs were utilised in order to lower libidos. [5]

In contemporary society, medication may be prescribed to registered sex offenders in order to lower the libido and ensure that further offences are less likely. Chemical castration has been elsewhere in history for various other reasons. [6]


Most forms of Christianity strongly discourage homosexual behavior. [7]

Many forms of Islam have strict sexual codes which include banning homosexuality, demanding virginity before marriage accompanied by a ban on fornication, and can require modest dress-codes for men and women. [8]

In addition to this, there was a long tradition of chemically castrating male choristers prior to puberty to ensure that their vocal range remained unchanged. This practice of creating "Castrati" was common until the 18th century, and after a decline in popularity were only used in the Vatican up until the beginning of the twentieth century. [9]


Various countries have laws against sexual acts outside marriage. In countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, [10] Afghanistan, [11] [12] Iran, [12] Kuwait, [13] Maldives, [14] Morocco, [15] Oman, [16] Mauritania, [17] United Arab Emirates, [18] [19] Sudan, [20] Yemen, [21] any form of sexual activity outside marriage is illegal.


Marriage has been seen as a means of controlling sexuality. [22] Some forms of marriage, such as child marriage, are often practiced as a means of regulating the sexuality of girls, by ensuring they do not have multiple partners, thus preserving their virginity for the future husband. [23] According to the BBC World Service: [24]

In some cases, parents willingly marry off their young girls in order to increase the family income or protect the girl from the risk of unwanted sexual advances or even promiscuity.

Female genital mutilation

Prevalence of FGM in Africa Fgm map.svg
Prevalence of FGM in Africa

Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting or female circumcision, "comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons". [25] The practice is concentrated in 27 countries in Africa as well as Iraqi Kurdistan, Yemen and Indonesia; and more than 125 million girls and women today are estimated to have been subjected to FGM. [25]

FGM does not have any health benefits, and has serious negative effects on health; including complications during childbirth. [25]

FGM is used as a way of controlling female sexuality; the World Health Organization (WHO) states: [25]

FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered proper sexual behaviour, linking procedures to premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM is in many communities believed to reduce a woman's libido and therefore believed to help her resist "illicit" sexual acts.

FGM is condemned by international human rights instruments. The Istanbul Convention prohibits FGM (Article 38). [26] FGM is also considered a form a violence against women by the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women which was adopted by the United Nations in 1993; according to which: Article Two: Violence against women shall be understood to encompass, but not be limited to, the following: (a) Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including [...] female genital mutilation [...]. [27]

Male circumcision

Male circumcision prevalence by country according to a World Health Organization's 2007 review. Global Map of Male Circumcision Prevalence by Country.svg
Male circumcision prevalence by country according to a World Health Organization's 2007 review.

Male circumcision has been practiced as a surgical means of sexual repression in some cultures, although it may be practiced for various reasons, with the World Health Organization recommending it as a means of reducing HIV/AIDS. [29] Circumcision is also a religious tradition in Judaism and Islam. According to medieval Jewish theologian Moses Maimonides, the "reason" for male circumcision is "the wish to bring about a decrease in sexual intercourse and a weakening of the organ in question, so that this activity be diminished and the organ be in as quiet a state as possible." [30]

In the late-nineteenth century, circumcision of the penis was prescribed by John Harvey Kellogg as a "cure" for masturbation. [31] William Acton, a leading authority on sexuality in mid-Victorian Britain, advocated male circumcision in order to prevent "undue excitement of the sexual desires … which it is our object to repress." [32]

A "biocultural analysis" of male circumcision supports the hypothesis "that a practical consequence of circumcision, complementary to any religious-symbolic function, is to make a circumcised male less sexually excitable and distractible, and, hence, more amenable to his group's authority figures." [33]

Honor killings

An honor killing is the homicide of a member of a family or social group by other members, due to the perpetrators' belief that the victim has brought shame or dishonor upon the family or community, usually for reasons such as refusing to enter an arranged marriage, being in a relationship that is disapproved by their relatives, having sex outside marriage, becoming the victim of rape, dressing in ways which are deemed inappropriate, or engaging in homosexual relations. [34] [35] [36] [37] [38] According to a UN Expert Group Meeting on good practices in legislation to address harmful practices against women: [39]

They [honor killings] stem from the deeply-rooted social belief that male family members (in some cases, mothers and other women are involved in planning or carrying out honor crimes) should control the sexuality of or protect the reputation of women in the family, and that they may contain their movements or kill them for blemishing family honor, even when rumors or false gossip are the reason for public suspicion.

Same-sex sexual activity

Various cultures attempt to repress homosexual sexual expression. As of 2014, same-sex sexual acts are punishable by prison in 70 countries, and in five other countries and in parts of two others, homosexuality is punishable with the death penalty. [40] Apart from criminal prosecution, LGBT individuals may also face social stigmatization and serious violence (see violence against LGBT people).


Some researchers[ who? ] have hypothesized a relationship between sexual repression and rape. However, they have been unable to find any support for this hypothesis - whether the tremendous difficulty of measuring sexual repression is to blame, or whether the theory is simply false, is unknown. [41]

Sexual repression is often viewed as a key issue within feminism, [42] although feminist views on sexuality vary widely. Among the factors that might trigger appearance of sexual repression are cultural and societal norms that might be perverted in specific communities compared to western society. [43]

Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault, in his History of Sexuality , neither refutes nor confirms what he calls the "repressive hypothesis." Instead, he says sexuality has become an important topic to understand and manipulate for the purpose of nation building. Through categorization of sexuality, the idea of repression was born. While he agrees sexuality has become much more controlled, he equates it to necessity. Furthermore, it is through psychiatric and medical discourse on sexuality that it has become repressed.

Foucault argues that religious confession as well as psychiatric procedure codify confession within as a means of extracting truth. Because the mechanisms of sex were obscure, it was elusive by nature and its mechanisms escaped observation. By integrating it into the beginnings of a scientific discourse, the nineteenth century altered the scope of confession. Confession tended no longer to be concerned solely with what the subject wished to hide but with what was hidden from himself. It had to be extracted by force, since it involved something that tried to stay hidden. This relationship of truth scientifically validated the view of the confessed which could assimilate, record, and verify this obscure truth. [44]

Repression in various countries

Many countries[ which? ] have developed a much more liberal attitude[ citation needed ] towards sexuality, but in some[ which? ] it has become less so.[ citation needed ]


Reproduction-based sex was urged by Mao Zedong, but later politicians instituted a one-child policy. In a country where atheism is popular, the restriction cannot be ascribed to religion but to nationalist motives. [45]


According to R.P. Bhatia, a New Delhi psychoanalyst and psychotherapist, middle-class India's "very strong repressive attitude" has made it impossible for many married couples to function well sexually, or even to function at all. [46]

See also

Related Research Articles

Female genital mutilation Ritual cutting or removal of some or all of the external female genitalia

Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting and female circumcision, is the ritual cutting or removal of some or all of the external female genitalia. The practice is found in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and within communities from countries in which FGM is common. UNICEF estimated in 2016 that 200 million women living today in 30 countries—27 African countries, Indonesia, Iraqi Kurdistan and Yemen—have undergone the procedures.

Genital modification and mutilation Permanent or temporary changes to human sex organs

The terms genital modification and genital mutilation can refer to permanent or temporary changes to human sex organs. Some forms of genital alteration are performed on adults with their informed consent at their own behest, usually for aesthetic reasons or to enhance stimulation. However, other forms are performed on people who do not give informed consent, including infants or children. Any of these procedures may be considered modifications or mutilations in different cultural contexts and by different groups of people.

Sex and the law deals with the regulation by law of human sexual activity. Sex laws vary from one place or jurisdiction to another, and have varied over time, and unlawful sexual acts are also called sex crimes.

Castration anxiety

Castration anxiety is the fear of emasculation in both the literal and metaphorical sense. Castration anxiety is an overwhelming fear of damage to, or loss of, the penis—one of Sigmund Freud's earliest psychoanalytic theories. Although Freud regarded castration anxiety as a universal human experience, few empirical studies have been conducted on the topic. The theory is that a child has a fear of damage being done to their genitalia by the parent of the same sex as punishment for sexual feelings toward the parent of the opposite sex. It has been theorized that castration anxiety begins between the ages of 3 and 5, otherwise known as the phallic stage of development according to Freud. Although typically associated with males, castration anxiety is theorized to be experienced in differing ways for both the male and female sexes.

Equality Now is a non-governmental organization founded in 1992 to advocate for the protection and promotion of the human rights of women and girls. Through a combination of regional partnerships, community mobilization and legal advocacy the organization works to encourage governments to adopt, improve and enforce laws that protect and promote women and girls' rights around the world.

Kurdish women have traditionally played important roles in Kurdish society and politics. In general, Kurdish women's rights and equality have improved dramatically in the 21st century due to progressive movements within Kurdish society. However, despite the progress, Kurdish and international women's rights organizations still report problems related to gender inequality, forced marriages, honor killings, and, in Iraqi Kurdistan, female genital mutilation (FGM).

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to sexual ethics:

Human female sexuality encompasses a broad range of behaviors and processes, including female sexual identity and sexual behavior, the physiological, psychological, social, cultural, political, and spiritual or religious aspects of sexual activity. Various aspects and dimensions of female sexuality, as a part of human sexuality, have also been addressed by principles of ethics, morality, and theology. In almost any historical era and culture, the arts, including literary and visual arts, as well as popular culture, present a substantial portion of a given society's views on human sexuality, which include both implicit (covert) and explicit (overt) aspects and manifestations of feminine sexuality and behavior.

Religious views on female genital mutilation

There is a widespread view among practitioners of female genital mutilation (FGM) that it is a religious requirement, although prevalence rates often vary according to geography and ethnic group. There is an ongoing debate about the extent to which the practice's continuation is influenced by custom, social pressure, lack of health-care information, and the position of women in society. The procedures confer no health benefits and can lead to serious health problems.

The AHA Foundation is a nonprofit organization for the defense of women's rights. It was founded by Ayaan Hirsi Ali in 2007 and is based in New York City. Originally formed to support Muslim dissidents who had suffered for their religious or political beliefs, the organization's scope was broadened September 2008 to focus on women's rights. The goal of the AHA Foundation is to combat crimes against women and girls such as child marriage, forced marriages, female genital mutilation and honor killings. Its key activities include education, outreach and legislative advocacy.

Research Action and Information Network for the Bodily Integrity of Women is an international non-governmental organisation working to eliminate female circumcision and female genital mutilation.

Women in Malaysia receive support from the Malaysian government concerning their rights to advance, to make decisions, to health, education and social welfare, and to the removal of legal obstacles. The Malaysian government has ensured these factors through the establishment of Ministry of National Unity and Social Development in 1997. This was followed by the formation of the Women's Affairs Ministry in 2001 to recognise the roles and contributions of Malaysian women.

The status of women in Iraq at the beginning of the 21st century is affected by many factors: wars, sectarian religious conflict, debates concerning Islamic law and Iraq's Constitution, cultural traditions, and modern secularism. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi women are widowed as a result of a series of wars and internal conflicts. Women's rights organizations struggle against harassment and intimidation, while they work to promote improvements to women's status in the law, in education, the workplace, and many other spheres of Iraqi life, and to curtail abusive traditional practices such as honor killings and forced marriages.

Nahid Toubia is a Sudanese surgeon and women's health rights activist, specializing in research into female genital mutilation.

Prevalence of female genital mutilation

Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting (FGC), is practiced in 30 countries in western, eastern, and north-eastern Africa, in parts of the Middle East and Asia, and within some immigrant communities in Europe, North America and Australia. The WHO defines the practice as "all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons."

Human rights in Kurdistan Region

Human rights in Iraqi Kurdistan refer to the human rights issue in the autonomous area of Kurdistan Region.

Prosecution of gender-targeted crimes is the legal proceedings to prosecute crimes such as rape and domestic violence. The earliest documented prosecution of gender-based/targeted crimes is from 1474 when Sir Peter von Hagenbach was convicted for rapes committed by his troops. However, the trial was only successful in indicting Sir von Hagenbach with the charge of rape because the war in which the rapes occurred was "undeclared" and thus the rapes were considered illegal only because of this. Gender-targeted crimes continued to be prosecuted, but it was not until after World War II when an international criminal tribunal- the International Military Tribunal for the Far East - were officers charged for being responsible of the gender-targeted crimes and other crimes against humanity. Despite the various rape charges, the Charter of the Tokyo Tribunal did not make references to rape, and rape was considered as subordinate to other war crimes. This is also the situation for other tribunals that followed, but with the establishments of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), there was more attention to the prosecution of gender-targeted crimes with each of the statutes explicitly referring to rape and other forms of gender-targeted violence.

Female genital mutilation in the United States

Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female circumcision or female genital cutting, includes any procedure involving the removal or injury of part or all of external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. While the practice is most common in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, FGM is also widespread in immigrant communities and metropolitan areas in the United States, and was performed by doctors regularly until the 1980s.

Female genital mutilation in Sierra Leone is the common practice of removing all or part of the female's genitalia for cultural and religious initiation purposes, or as a custom to prepare them for marriage. Sierra Leone is one of 28 countries in Africa where female genital mutilation (FGM) is known to be practiced.

Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as Female Genital Cutting (FGC) in Nigeria accounts for the most female genital cutting/mutilation (FGM/C) cases worldwide. The practice is customarily a family tradition that the young female of the age 0-15 would experience. It is a procedure that involves partial or completely removing the external females genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whenever for non-medical reasons.


  1. Karen A. McClintock, Sexual Shame: An Urgent Call to Healing, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN. ( ISBN   0800632389) (2006).
  2. Wilf Hey. "Sigmund Freud: Psychoanalysis and Sexual Repression" Archived 2008-05-18 at the Wayback Machine ,
  3. Freud, Sigmund. Leonardo DaVinci, A Memory of his Childhood.
  4. B. Apfelbaum. "Sexual Reality and How We Dismiss It." Archived 2009-07-04 at the Wayback Machine
  5. Ferreira, Mariana Kawall Leal (1996). Sweet Tears and Bitter Pills: The Politics of Health Among the Yuroks of Northern California. University of California, Berkeley with University of California, San Francisco.
  6. Hall, Maggie (2014). "Treatment or punishment : chemical castration of child sex offenders". The Conversation.
  7. liberal media Free Lance-Star retrieved 27 January 2012
  8. Sex and Society Volume 3 - Page 722
  9. Jenkins, J. S. (2000). "The lost voice: a history of the castrato". Journal of pediatric endocrinology & metabolism: JPEM. 13 Suppl 6: 1503–1508. doi:10.1515/jpem-2000-s625. ISSN   0334-018X. PMID   11202227.
  10. "Human Rights Voices – Pakistan, August 21, 2008". Archived from the original on January 21, 2013.
  11. "Home". AIDSPortal. Archived from the original on 2008-10-26.
  12. 1 2 "Iran". Archived from the original on 2013-08-01.
  13. "United Nations Human Rights Website – Treaty Bodies Database – Document – Summary Record – Kuwait".
  14. "Culture of Maldives – history, people, clothing, women, beliefs, food, customs, family, social".
  15. Fakim, Nora (9 August 2012). "BBC News – Morocco: Should pre-marital sex be legal?". BBC.
  16. "Legislation of Interpol member states on sexual offences against children – Oman" (PDF). Interpol. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 May 2016.
  17. "2010 Human Rights Report: Mauritania". 8 April 2011.
  18. Dubai FAQs. "Education in Dubai".
  19. Judd, Terri (10 July 2008). "Briton faces jail for sex on Dubai beach – Middle East – World". The Independent. London.
  20. "Sudan must rewrite rape laws to protect victims". Reuters. 28 June 2007.
  21. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. "Refworld | Women's Rights in the Middle East and North Africa – Yemen". UNHCR.
  22. Murray, Melissa (2012-01-01). "Marriage as Punishment". Columbia Law Review: 1.
  23. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-05-31. Retrieved 2014-05-30.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  24. "Article 16: Right to marriage and family and to equal rights of men and women during and after marriage". BBC World Service . Retrieved June 8, 2016.
  25. 1 2 3 4 "Female genital mutilation". Retrieved 2019-07-29.
  26. "Full list". Treaty Office. Retrieved 2019-07-29.
  27. "A/RES/48/104 - Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women - UN Documents: Gathering a body of global agreements". Retrieved 2019-07-29.
  28. "Male circumcision: Global trends and determinants of prevalence, safety and acceptability" (PDF). World Health Organization. 2007.
  29. "WHO | Male circumcision for HIV prevention". WHO. Retrieved 2019-07-29.
  30. "Moses Maimonides: The Guide of the Perplexed: Circumcision". Retrieved 2019-07-29.
  31. "The Project Gutenberg e-Book of Plain Facts for Old and Young, by J. H. Kellogg, M.D." Retrieved 2019-07-29.
  32. Acton, William (1862). The Functions and disorders of the reproductive organs in childhood, youth, adult age, and advanced life, considered in their physiological, social, and moral relations. Churchill.
  33. Immerman, Ronald S. & Wade C. Mackey (1997) "A biocultural analysis of circumcision." Social Biology 44: 3–4, p. 265.
  34. "BBC - Ethics: Honour Crimes". Retrieved 2019-07-29.
  35. "Definition of HONOR KILLING". Retrieved 2019-07-29.
  37. Ivan Watson. "Shocking gay honor killing inspires movie". CNN. Retrieved 2019-07-29.
  38. "Iraqi immigrant convicted in Arizona 'honor killing' awaits sentence". Retrieved 2019-07-29.
  40. "Where is it illegal to be gay?". 2014-02-10. Retrieved 2019-07-29.
  41. Mary E. Odem, Jody Clay-Warner, Confronting rape and sexual assault, Rowman & Littlefield, 1998, p. 104.
  42. Shulman, Alix Kates (1980). "Sex and Power: Sexual Bases of Radical Feminism". Signs . University of Chicago Press. 5 (4): 590–604. doi:10.1086/493754. ISSN   1545-6943. JSTOR   3173832.
  43. "Feeling sexually repressed? - Times of India". The Times of India. Retrieved 2019-12-10.
  44. Michel Foucault (14 April 1990). The history of sexuality. Vintage Books. pp. 65–66. ISBN   978-0-679-72469-8 . Retrieved 5 January 2013.
  45. Yuehong Zhang, Everett (September 2005). "Rethinking Sexual Repression in Maoist China: Ideology, Structure and the Ownership of the Body". Body & Society . 11 (3): 1–25. doi:10.1177/1357034X05056188. S2CID   145745888.
  46. Stevens, William K.; Times, Special To the New York (1983-04-22). "Sexual Repression in the Land of the Kama Sutra". The New York Times. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved 2019-11-21.