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This Study Shows Feeling Shame Fuels Hypersexual Behavior While Feeling Guilt Fuels Change

The purpose of this study was to examine the prevalence of both shame and guilt in hypersexual persons, to examine the associations between the intensity of these emotions and the degree of hypersexuality.

By November 16, 2021No Comments

Decades of studies from respected academic institutions, have demonstrated significant impacts of porn consumption for individuals, relationships, and society. "What’s the Research" aims to shed light on the expanding field of academic resources that showcase porn’s harms in a variety of ways. Below are selected excerpts from published studies on this issue.

The full study can be accessed here.

The Roles of Shame and Guilt in Hypersexual Behavior

Authors: Randy Gilliland, Mikle South, Bruce N. Carpenter
Published: March 2011

Peer-Reviewed Journal: Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 18:12–29, 2011


The purpose of this study was to examine the prevalence of both shame and guilt in hypersexual persons, to examine the associations between the intensity of these emotions and the degree of hypersexuality, and to compare models of the possible separate causal roles for shame and guilt in the maintenance of hypersexuality

Although conceptualizations of shame and guilt are varied and often overlapping, most recent explications have sought to distinguish them. For this paper, we have adopted the definitions proposed by Tangney and colleagues (e.g., Tangney & Dearing, 2002a). Under this perspective, both shame and guilt are viewed as self-conscious emotions involved in negative self-evaluation. The difference between the two is that, during a shame experience, the entire self is negatively evaluated, whereas during a guilt experience the specific behavior which brought on those feelings receives the negative evaluation.

Guilt says “this behavior is bad” while shame says “I am a bad person.”

Shame has a strong positive relationship with externalization, e.g., blaming others or circumstances for your own behavior (Tangney, 1990). Thus, addictive behavior generally (O’Connor, Berry, Inaba, & Weiss, 1994) and hypersexual behavior specifically (Reid, Carpenter, Spackman, & Willes, 2008) may be driven in part by individuals who are prone to experiencing intense feelings of shame and who use maladaptive behaviors to take the blame off themselves and place it elsewhere. These individuals may be self-medicating to treat the psychological pain of shame and their externalization may be keeping them ignorant of the potential consequences of their behavior Alternatively, individuals experiencing guilt still internalize the blame but isolate it to their behavior and its effect on others, which motivates them to change the guilt-inducing behavior (Amodio, Devine, & Harmon-Jones, 2007). We, therefore, hypothesize that guilt will have a negative relationship with measures of hypersexuality because the experience of guilt tends to motivate a person to change behavior that is viewed as harmful.


Persons seeking treatment for compulsive pornography use (n = 177) reported shame, guilt, hypersexuality, and motivations to change through anonymous, online surveys.


Results from this sample of people receiving therapy for pornography show that shame and guilt have different effects on hypersexual behavior patterns.

Shame has a significant, positive predictive relationship with hypersexual behavior, while guilt has a significant, positive predictive relationship both with Motivation to Change and self-reported Change behaviors. Conversely, Guilt had a reliable negative predictive relationship with hypersexuality while shame had a reliable, negative predictive relationship with motivation to change and self-reported change behaviors.

Clearly, these exploratory findings don’t establish a causal link between shame and pornography use, but they are consistent with theories that hypersexual behavior may be engaged as a maladaptive substitute or deflection of existing shame rather than seeing shame only as the result of such behavior. This may lead to a vicious circle of behavior and consequence that feeds itself repetitively

Although this is the first time these associations appear in research specifically on hypersexuality, similar findings appear in previous research among other populations affected by compulsive and addictive behaviors more generally. These studies found positive relationships between shame and unwanted behavior and negative or negligible relationships between guilt and unwanted behavior (Dearing, Stuewig & Tangney, 2005; Sanftner, Barlow, Marschall & Tangney, 1995). These findings provide further support for a clinically important distinction between the constructs of shame and guilt, at least in addiction-related populations.

They suggest that shame, in particular, may be a critical issue for treatment with patients who struggle with hypersexuality. For example, practitioners may be able to teach their client(s) the difference between shame and guilt and assess how their client reacts when tempted by or after engaging in hypersexual behavior. Therapists can educate their clients to recognize shame reactions and offer techniques to reduce feelings of shame.

Adams and Robinson (2001) offer five main suggestions to therapists as a means of reducing shame:

First, the origin of the shame within the client and how it interacts with their behavior needs to be understood.

Second, the therapist needs to clearly identify the differences between shame and guilt with the client.

Third, the defenses used to avoid the painful feelings of shame need to be addressed.

Fourth, as treatment moves forward, make use of shame reduction strategies (develop a therapeutic relationship, educate the client on the effects of shame, help clients realize the magnitude of their behavior and previous unsuccessful strategies to change, face the feelings behind the shame [inadequacy, worthlessness], and deal with the guilt).

Finally, change the negative core beliefs that are the foundation of shame (Adams & Robinson, 2001).

Although many of the participants in this sample endorsed some type of religious affiliation, this relationship did not appear to impact the levels of hypersexuality, shame, guilt, or motivation to change. Furthermore, those endorsing religious affiliation appeared equally interested in diminishing their level of pornography consumption and frequency of masturbation compared to those who reported no current religious affiliation.

The full study can be accessed here.

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