Understanding Taboos: How They Restrict Society and What You Need to Know

Understanding Taboos: How They Restrict Society and What You Need to Know

What are taboos?

Taboos are cultural, social, or religious prohibitions that dictate what behaviours, actions, or words are unacceptable in a particular social setting.

Why do societies have taboos?

Societies establish taboos to reinforce cultural norms, values, and beliefs. Taboos often serve as a way to promote social cohesion, maintain order, and prevent behaviours that could be harmful or disruptive to the community.

How do taboos differ across cultures?

Taboos vary significantly between different cultures, societies and social settings. For example, in some cultures, it may be considered taboo to be naked in front of others, while in others, it may be taboo to discuss homosexuality openly. Taboos can also change over time as cultural values and beliefs evolve.

What are some common taboos?

Some common taboos in various cultures include taboo subjects such as sex, death, or nakedness, taboo behaviours like breastfeeding and being nude in public, and taboo words or phrases that may be considered offensive or out of place.

What happens if you violate a taboo?

Violating a taboo can result in social consequences such as shame or punishment. The severity of the consequences depends on the taboo, the culture, and the context in which the taboo was violated.

Are all taboos universal?

No, not all taboos are universal. While some taboos are common across many cultures, others are specific to certain communities or societies.

Can taboos change over time?

Yes, taboos can change over time as societies and cultures evolve. For example, multiple taboos connected to sex, gender, and sexuality have evolved over the past few decades as cultural perspectives towards these topics have changed. Society creates the taboos itself, so one can break taboos and make society more inclusive.

How can I avoid violating a taboo when travelling to a new culture? 

Do some research beforehand! Understand the cultural norms and customs of the location you're seeing, and try to be respectful and mindful of any taboos. If you're uncertain about particular manners or topics, it's always better to have caution than to make assumptions.


How Taboos Limit Freedom of Thought, Expression, and Creativity

Taboos are part of society and a significant obstacle to openness and transparency. Taboos limit freedom of thought, expression, and creativity. Taboos can lead to discrimination and can restrict people from being completely open. The consequences of taboos can be alarming, forcing people to bear back their beliefs and emotions or lie and deceive, resulting in a lack of understanding, distrust, and separation between individuals and groups.

Breaking Down Taboos to Build a More Accepting and Connected Culture

To crush taboos, we must promote openness, respect, and open-mindedness. Begin with straightforward guidelines, such as being honest regarding our thoughts and feelings and respecting others’ ideas. By being open to listening and understanding different perspectives, we can understand each other and better comprehend the world around us. Breaking down taboos can construct a more open-minded, accepting, and connected culture where people feel unrestrained to express themselves without fear of prejudice or judgement.

Overcoming taboos can also guide to a more significant connection between individuals and communities. When we communicate our experiences and emotions, we learn there are more similarities than differences, which can help us feel less isolated. By breaking down taboos, we can also help people feel more comfortable discussing sensitive subjects like mental health, sexuality, and genitalia. When there is an open discussion, people can better understand these issues, leading to greater empathy, compassion, and support. 

The Value of Taboos in Society

While the discussion above has largely centered on the limitations and challenges posed by taboos, it's essential to recognize that taboos also have a significant role in shaping societies. They are not merely arbitrary restrictions but often arise from deep-seated cultural, historical, and social contexts. 

Here's a deeper dive into why taboos can be valuable:

  1. Social Cohesion and Order: Taboos can act as a binding force in society. By having shared norms and values, members of a community can feel a sense of belonging and unity. Taboos can provide a framework for expected behavior, reducing conflicts and misunderstandings.

  2. Protection and Safety: Some taboos arise from the need to protect members of society. For instance, certain foods might be taboo because they are potentially harmful or have been historically linked to disease. Similarly, taboos around certain behaviors might exist because they pose physical or psychological risks.

  3. Cultural Identity: Taboos can be a significant part of a group's cultural identity. They differentiate one group from another and can be a source of pride and distinction. Respecting these taboos can be a way of honoring and preserving cultural heritage.

  4. Moral and Ethical Boundaries: Taboos often reflect the moral and ethical standards of a society. They provide guidelines on what is considered right or wrong, helping individuals navigate complex social situations.

  5. Control and Power Dynamics: While this can be seen in a negative light, the establishment of taboos can also be a way for societies to maintain a certain structure or hierarchy. This can be crucial in certain contexts where order and hierarchy are necessary for survival or prosperity.

  6. Psychological Comfort: Some taboos provide psychological comfort by keeping distressing or anxiety-inducing topics at bay. For instance, taboos around discussing death in certain cultures might arise from the inherent human fear of mortality.

While it's essential to challenge and re-evaluate taboos that no longer serve a purpose or cause harm, it's equally important to understand their origins and the functions they serve. By doing so, societies can strike a balance between preserving valuable traditions and evolving to be more inclusive and open-minded.

Why we need to break taboos in society:

  1. To reduce stigma and discrimination: Breaking taboos helps to reduce the negative attitudes and beliefs associated with specific topics, such as mental health or sexuality. Heightening the barrier for people to seek help for their issues. 
  2. To promote inclusiveness and diversity: By breaking taboos, we can create a more inclusive society that accepts and celebrates differences. 
  3. To encourage open and honest conversations: When taboos are broken, people are more likely to feel comfortable discussing sensitive topics, leading to more open and honest conversations.
  4. To foster personal growth and understanding: By breaking taboos, individuals can gain a deeper understanding of themselves and others, leading to personal growth and development.

Breaking down taboos requires courage, especially for those affected by them. For example, people with mental health issues may feel ashamed or embarrassed to talk about their experiences. However, they can find support, comfort, and understanding when encouraged to speak openly and honestly about their feelings. Helping also helps others who are going through similar experiences feel less isolated and more connected.

Action steps for individuals to join the mission of breaking taboos:

  1. Educate yourself: Start by learning more about the taboos in your community and the reasons behind them.
  2. Speak out: Share your experiences and perspectives on taboo topics to help break down stereotypes and promote understanding.
  3. Support others: Support those breaking taboos and speaking out about sensitive topics, such as genitalia, by interacting with their social media content. 
  4. Challenge norms: Challenge the social norms perpetuating taboos and encourage others to do the same. This can involve actively reducing stigma, speaking up against discrimination, and promoting inclusiveness in your community.

Moving Forward: How Can We Overcome Taboos and Build a Better Society?

In conclusion, breaking down taboos is crucial for the well-being of people and society. It demands us to be honest, respectful, and open-minded. When taboos are broken down, people can represent themselves freely, feel more interconnected, and better understand the world around them. We must continue working to smash down taboos and encourage openness and transparency in society. This will enable individuals feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings, guiding to a more accepting, supportive, and understanding of the world.

About the writer:

The Giggeli Project creates penis-shaped design objects to break taboos and provoke discussion on genitalia. The idea behind the project is to create products that playfully highlight everyday issues and make us think differently about them.


Fershtman, Chaim & Gneezy, Uri & Hoffman, Moshe. (2008). Taboos and Identity: Considering the Unthinkable. American Economic Journal: Microeconomics. 3. 139-64. 10.1257/mic.3.2.139. 

Mengxun, F. (n.d.). Sociolinguistics study on taboos - arcjournals.org. Sociolinguistics Study on Taboos. Retrieved February 7, 2023, from https://www.arcjournals.org/pdfs/ijhsse/v7-i1/10.pdf 

Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, January 17). Taboo. Wikipedia. Retrieved February 7, 2023, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taboo 

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The action steps are practical and actionable, suggesting a clear path to engage with and challenge these societal norms. Thank you. Useful!

The content has provided the detail on taboo but it has not entered deeply into giving more reasons as to why taboo is valuable in the society…

Gira Joshua

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