Monica Lewinsky and the Price of Sexual Shame

04/09/2015 11:23 am ET | Updated Jun 09, 2015
Star Shooter/MediaPunch/IPx

Monica Lewinsky has been shamed and publicly humiliated for decades now. She was blamed for the president's shameful humiliation and dragged through a media storm never before seen in this country when she admitted, or was forced to admit, that she had a sexual affair with the then-president, Bill Clinton.

Although Clinton had a checkered past with other women, Lewinsky had become the focus of all of our public outrage about his affairs, and, what we learned from her recent TED speech, the brutalized victim of a new form of bullying, online attacks directly on her character.

After a decade, Monica recently stood up on the stage in Vancouver in front of a global Internet audience and declared that it was time to change her story.

And she did. She told us several things about her story that perhaps we didn't know. Number one, she was in love with the president. She wasn't just the party girl intern who thought it was cool to fool around with the big guy in the oval office, although I am sure that was part of the intrigue. And why not? It's sexy to have an affair with a man in such a high place. But she had feelings for the man, and was hurt. She still thinks of her mistake as an "improbable romance."

Her romanticizing of the relationship with the king of America makes her the girl who thought she could be queen, and may have almost helped her to justify her behavior, and yet from her speech we see more than that. We see a transparent, vulnerable, peek into the inner life of a young woman who became the butt of cruel jokes and unprecedented negative judgment. It was slut shaming at its finest.

I will never forget the image of that blue dress with the light shining on it that proved that President Clinton's ejaculate was all over the front of that dress. What a fantasy I had of what happened in that oval office that day. Monica says,

"I was branded as a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo, and, of course, that woman. I was seen by many but actually known by few. And I get it: it was easy to forget that that woman was dimensional, had a soul, and was once unbroken."

Number two, she was young. Very, very young. Her naivete at 22 years old may not have excused her behavior but it sure explained a lot about how she got herself brutally slammed in front of the public relations nightmare that became a media circus and a very public form of humiliation. The witch burning of Monica in the town square fed the public's voracious appetite for voyeurism. But then the town square went viral, and the burning of Monica's identity and her life went visual world wide and was watched in everyone's living room and on everyone's laptops.

Number three, cyberbullying almost killed her. Monica admits she was ashamed and she hints that the public humiliation she endured led her to consider suicide. And although she is still here to tell the tale, our society's intense cyberbullying that focuses on slut shaming, abuse, and humiliation can lead other people who may not be as strong or as articulate as Monica to do just that.

And the problem is growing worse every year since this happened to her. She reports that from 2012 to 2013, there was an 87 percent increase in calls and emails related to cyberbullying in the UK. And of those recipients how many were shamed to the point of depression, fear and even suicide?

Our ever growing need to shame women, gay people and other out groups through gossip sites and news outlets has created a desensitized and often permissive online environment that tells us its alright to torture people by spreading videos and photos of them, that it is okay to create a culture of humiliation and embarrassment, as sport, and as entertainment.

In our town square of public shaming around anything that remotely resembles sexuality, women and young people have paid the price. Shame creates an online world of secrecy and hiding, which only perpetuates the problem when the secrets are revealed, which they ultimately are.

Monica says in her TED talk, "what we need is a cultural revolution... Public shaming as a blood sport has to stop, and it's time for an intervention on the Internet and in our culture."

She says, and I agree, that compassion and empathy will be the thing that saves us. Why don't we care about what happens to women we bully?

Empathy for the suffering women on the Internet who have been victimized means believing they are real people. We as consumers have to take responsibility for our online actions. "...showing empathy to others benefits us all and helps create a safer and better world. We need to communicate online with compassion, consume news with compassion, and click with compassion."

Like anyone who has shame about their past, or is facing humiliation now, Monica gives them hope. She encourages them to write a new ending to the story, to their story.

It is time, she says, to "... time to take back my narrative."

And she leaves us with the following thoughts.

"Anyone who is suffering from shame and public humiliation needs to know one thing: You can survive it. I know it's hard. It may not be painless, quick or easy, but you can insist on a different ending to your story. Have compassion for yourself. We all deserve compassion, and to live both online and off in a more compassionate world."

To find out more about how you can take back your narrative, and stop slut shaming today, or write a new ending to your own story, contact Dr Tammy Nelson, at