Don’t Let Your Body Image Collide With Your Sex Life

[ 0 ] January 1, 2015 |

If you are like most women and many men, you’ve got body image issues. You think your belly is too large, your breasts too saggy, or your arms not muscular enough. I tell my patients that it strikes me as normal to have body image concerns in Western cultures. These days, it’s the people without them that stand out as different from the rest. But just because it’s normal to have body image issues, it doesn’t mean that it’s healthy, or that you should just give in to them and let them wreak havoc in your life.

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A low body image can interfere with so many aspects of life, including sex. It might keep you from heading to the beach, meeting with a blind date, going to the gym, or simply feeling confident about yourself in general. A poor body image can also make you reluctant to have sex, or do the sexual stuff you really want to do because you are too self-conscious. It can keep you from letting go sexually, and really enjoying the experience. It can distract you, so that every time you move you wonder what part of your body your partner is seeing now, and how he or she feels about that. It can keep you from wearing clothing that makes you feel sexy. It can prevent you from looking in the mirror and seeing your sexual self staring back at you. The impact of a poor body image can be anything from an annoyance to a profound detriment to a person’s quality of life.

“Obviously true,” you are thinking, “but what can I do about it?”

Well, the first step is to be realistic about your concerns. Honestly assess whether they are rational or unfounded. I don’t need to remind you that we are constantly bombarded with images of women with unattainably perfect bodies. And regardless of whether your conscious mind is registering these images, your unconscious mind certainly is. So you have to base your judgments about yourself on real bodies, not those that are air-brushed, not on people who are starving themselves. (Incidentally, it might be interesting for you to know that when given the choice, most men will choose porn depicting women with clearly rounded figures as opposed to those with bodies like super models). So anyway, if you feel you cannot give yourself an accurate assessment, then ask your doctor about it. Doctors are in the business of health, and as it turns out, health is exactly what I suggest you focus on.

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I highly recommend you focus not on how you look, but on how well you are taking care of yourself. Taking care of yourself means you are eating healthy, exercising, getting enough sleep, and all that jazz that you already know about, but may or may not be so successful at doing. Being healthy is a critical aspect of enjoying life in general – it impacts so much more than sex. Healthy bodies just feel better to inhabit. They get sick less, move with less discomfort, and feel more vital. Healthy bodies live longer, have more energy, and less depression.

But for most of us, healthy bodies don’t just happen. This usually means we eat not what we want to, or how much we want to, but instead we eat what is good for our bodies. (To me, one of the great tragedies of being human is how little our bodies really need to eat to be healthy). It means eating whole foods instead of the complex chemical concoctions on the shelves of your local grocery store. Having a healthy body means working out when we’d rather sleep or watch TV. And it means maintaining determination to take good care of yourself over time. I tell my patients that they are either going to feel the pain of being unhealthy or the pain of not eating what they want to eat. So either way, some pain is unavoidable. But only one path offers long-term advantages.

Dr. Marianne Brandon

So how can you best go about your quest for health? Well I’m not going to go through all the stuff you already know about living a healthy lifestyle. But I do want to offer a few comments that may make the process less painful for you:

  • If you have a negative body image, expect that the negative thoughts will probably continue. They may continue even if you are living a healthy lifestyle. So, don’t let those thoughts surprise you, or take you off guard. When you have them, be prepared with a come-back, like, “Okay, well I’m eating healthy and taking great care of my body right now. And I am proud of that.” If you become focused on the fact that you are having negative thoughts, you’ll just have more negative thoughts.
  • Expect to have bad days. Days that you aren’t meeting your health goals. That is unavoidable. So don’t be thrown off by those, either. This is just a reminder that you are human, like the rest of us, and you will sometimes slip up. If you get all hung up and focused on your bad days (easy to do, I know), you’ll just have more bad days.
  • Keep in mind that Western cultures are teaching unhealthy eating habits. You are going to have to actively resist what you see everywhere – super-sized this or that, high-carb food that has no nutritional value, and sitting in front of our computers and TVs for hours on end. To be healthy, you have to fight the tide of what has become habitual in Western cultures.
  • You MUST find an exercise you like. It’s really not that hard anymore, if you are willing to look around and experiment. Exercise is HUGE business, so gyms are working hard to find fun and exhilarating ways to accomplish your goals. It’s not like high school gym class anymore. Find something you like to do, or you can at least tolerate with a minimum of dread – it IS possible.

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And finally, here are things you can do in the bedroom to counteract a poor body image.

  • Wear something sexy to make love in – something that covers you just enough so that you are less self-conscious.
  • Candles are a fabulous way to offer mood lighting that is flattering to bodies.
  • Focus on physical sensations, loving feelings, or your breath while making love rather than listening to the negative propaganda your mind is more than happy to generate in moments of intimacy.

Finally, remember that is it likely that you are your worst critic. That means you are probably much more aware of what you consider body flaws than your partner is. Keep in mind that what men find most appealing is a partner enjoying him or herself in bed. The majority of men would say that they are much more turned on by honest passion than they are by perfect bodies. And finally, what women find most appealing is the feeling of being cherished by her lover. Women are more focused on the quality of their romantic relationship that they are on a lover’s appearance.

Follow Dr. Marianne Brandon on Twitter @DrBrandon and Facebook to learn more, or comment, and she will continue this very important conversation. Until then, happy reading!

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Category: Intimacy, Relationships

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About Dr. Marianne Brandon: Dr. Marianne Brandon is a clinical psychologist and Diplomat in sex therapy through AASECT. Dr. Brandon is Director of Wellminds Wellbodies LLC in Annapolis, Maryland. She is author of Monogamy: The Untold Story and co-author [...]
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