The term “body image” refers to the way an individual sees themselves and evaluates their appearance. A person’s body image can be influenced my external forces, such as the media, comments from friends and family, literature, etc. With the growing influence of media on the population, focus on achieving an idealized body image is at an all-time high. As the media has become increasingly sexualized, a clear relationship between body image and sexuality has emerged. Because the majority of bodies in the media are altered—women are often portrayed as being tall and thin and having large breasts, and men are shown as having broad shoulders and washboard abs—body image ideals are oftentimes unrealistic and unattainable. Regardless of how you look (or how you think you should look), your body image should not prevent you from having a healthy and satisfying sex life.
It is nearly impossible to be perfectly satisfied with one’s body image, but there are actions a person can take to improve it. Try to surround yourself with supportive friends, mentally compliment yourself, and think positively about your achievements and accomplishments.
Though some people are comfortable with their own body image, there are many who feel so self-conscious that they avoid sex altogether. In a recent study, researchers found that 52% of women have avoided or postponed sex, even when they were “in the mood,” because they were too self-conscious about the way their body looked to their partner. Being self-conscious can make sexual arousal difficult and can create problems in the bedroom. For example, a woman who is extremely distracted by her appearance might not produce an adequate amount of lubrication for intercourse. Without an added lubricant, she may experience chaffing and pain during coitus. Likewise, a self-conscious man may find it difficult to attain an erection if he feels displeased with his body.
Indicators of Self-Consciousness
Here are a few questions to ask yourself if you think your body image might be affecting your sex life:
- Do you turn off the lights during sex to hide your body from your partner?
- Are you too worried about what your body looks like to enjoy sex?
- Do you only have sex in certain positions to hide certain parts of your body?
- Do you think you would enjoy sex more if you lost weight?
- Are you distracted by thoughts about your body image during sex?
- Do you think your body is not good enough for your partner?
- Do you and your partner fight about how often and the variety of sex you are having?
- Do you think your partner would rather be having sex with someone else who has a different body type?
Even if you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, the good news is that you can learn to stop worrying about your body, and you can overcome these activities with various mental and physical exercises.
Talk to your partner about how you feel about your body. Talking about your body image anxieties openly with your partner will help you develop a more honest relationship that will lead to intimacy and better sex. Chances are your partner understands your insecurities because they have some too. In this case, you can both help each other overcome body image hang-ups.
Start a moderate exercise routine and a healthful diet. Do not exercise or diet only for the purpose of weight loss—you may just get discouraged and quit. Also, do not exercise too much. One hour of vigorous exercise daily should provide an effective workout. Avoid the use of diet or muscle-building pills, weight loss herbs/foods, and steroids that claim to yield extreme results in a short amount of time. Steroids are dangerous to the body and may lead to dependency, acne, gynecomastia (enlarged breasts), baldness, aggression (i.e., “‘roid rage”), high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and jaundice. Exercise will make you feel better about yourself and your body, leading to better sex.
3. Think About Yourself in a Positive Light
• Avoid focusing on your perceived flaws. These “flaws” may actually be attributes others find attractive or vital to your identity. Learning new sex techniques that reduce or eliminate body anxiety can create confidence and lead to better sex. Remember, although you are having sex with someone else, it is a very personal experience: if you feel good about yourself, you will enjoy sex to its fullest potential. We often get caught up in trivial matters like appearance, but we must focus on sex as a source and outlet for mutual pleasure and connectivity, accessed with trust and respect.
1. "Body Image." Body Image. Planned Parenthood, 2014. Web. 14 May 2014.
2. Woertman, Liesbeth, and Femke van den Brink. "Body Image And Female Sexual Functioning And Behavior: A Review." Journal of Sex Research 49.2/3 (2012): 184-211. Academic Search Complete. Web. 23 May 2013.
Last Updated 23 October 2014.