How Does Body Image Affect Sexual Enjoyment?
Did you know that body confidence is one of the most common attitudes among women who orgasm regularly? Similarly, negative body image is a major disruptor of satisfying sex, sexual desire, and orgasm.
Signs of Negative Body Image:
- Mean thoughts about your body or certain parts of your body (disgust, shame, embarrassment, anger)
- Believing your partner thinks you’re ugly, disgusting, or doesn’t like certain parts of your body
- Insisting on having quick, partially clothed sex to avoid being touched for too long or on certain areas of your body
- Insisting on sex in the dark, under the covers, or with eyes closed out of shame or anxiety of being seen naked or seeing yourself naked
- You self-deprecate during sex
These beliefs and behaviors can be invasive during sex. Distracting thoughts about your body leads to distracted sex. This disconnects you from your partner and takes the emotion out of your sexual experience. Distracted thoughts can also keep you from really enjoying the moment and reaching orgasm.
Negative body image can also keep you from having a sex life with your partner at all. The more uncomfortable you are with your body, the less likely you are to be interested in having sex.
What is Negative Sexual Conditioning and How Does It Affect Your Sex Life?
Negative sexual conditioning refers to the shaping of unhealthy attitudes about sex by your culture, peers, religion, family, past experiences, and/or trauma. Unhealthy attitudes can be feeling anxiety and shame around sexual feelings and behaviors.
Signs of Negative Sexual Conditioning:
- Feeling shame about having or enjoying sex
- Believing you are “impure” or “undesirable” if you have sex
- Believing there is only one “right” or “appropriate” way to have sex (e.g. you can only do missionary position, or you can only have sex if you are trying for a baby)
- Heightened anxiety before, during, or after sex
- Feeling embarrassed or ashamed of having sexual desires
- Feeling uncomfortable with your own sexual response (feeling turned on, orgasm)
- Worrying more about your performance than your connection with your partner
Again, these beliefs can distract you in the bedroom. They keep you from being present and enjoying the moment. They can also keep you from agreeing to sex in the first place. Although it’s perfectly fine to say “no” to sex with your spouse, that decision should not be based in shame or anxiety.
These beliefs can also cloud your judgement when making sexual decisions and preferences. For example, as a woman, you might not tell your spouse when something hurts because you were taught “men enjoy sex and women tolerate it”.
Read my post “Talking About Sex in Marriage” to learn more about understanding your sexual preferences and making sexual decisions with your partner!
How to Improve Your Body Confidence
The most important attitude for healthy sexual functioning is self-acceptance and body confidence. You can cultivate a high-sexual self esteem by getting rid of shame about your body.
First, consider going to therapy!
Negative body image can have deep roots. For women, negative body image can start as early as 4 years old. A therapist can help you explore your body image and identify and confront the roots of your shame.
- Practice falling in love with you body. Admire your body’s abilities. Admire the way you can use it to connect with and bond to your partner. Say kind things about it. If that’s too difficult for now, avoid saying unkind things about it, or say neutral things like “I have a body”, or “My body helps me get from place to place”.
- Practice showing love to your body. Treat it with kindness. Give it nutritious foods, exercise, and rest.
- Give your body positive meaning. Try to think of moments in your life where you felt peaceful about or grateful for your body. Try to use those feelings as the new narrative for your relationship with your body.
- Let your partner love your body. Believe them when they say they’re attracted to you. Acknowledge when they’re enjoying sex with you. Acknowledge when they express desire for you. Don’t push it away!
- Use your body for your passions. Think about something you do with your body that makes you feel amazing and alive. Whether it’s a favorite sport, hobby, or even just singing and dancing to music, do more of it! Allow your body to create and enjoy what it’s capable of!
- Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is giving non-judgmental attention to the present moment. For a few minutes every day, practicing being in the moment. Observe your thoughts and feelings neutrally and explore them with curiosity, not judgement. This can help you reframe the negative thoughts about your body from a reality, to just a passing thought.
How to Cultivate Healthy Attitudes About Your Sexuality
The most important sexual organ in the body is the brain. For a healthy sex life, train your brain to have the proper attitudes towards sexuality.
Again, my #1 advice is to see a therapist!
Negative sexual conditioning can also start young and is easier said than done to overcome.
- When making sexual decisions with your partner, ask yourself what feelings are behind your decisions. Are they are based in anxiety and shame, or a desire to foster positive attitudes about sex?
- Focus on the present during sex. Bring more awareness to the sensations you experience. Have sex with your eyes open. Really just show up and be there.
- Admire and accept the physical connection, feelings, and sensations you experience. Taking it slow can help with this. Breathe, relax, and enjoy the moment.
- Give sex and your sexuality positive meaning. Think about times you’ve felt truly connected with your partner. What were you doing? What emotions were there? Think about what you can do create those emotions in your sex life.
- Practice sexual mindfulness. Sexual mindfulness is giving non-judgmental attention to the present during your sexual experience. When ashamed or anxious thoughts arise, observe them neutrally, and let them pass.