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How Body Image Affects Your Sex Life

How Body Image Affects Your Sex Life

Picture this: you’re kissing a new crush and you’re totally swept up in how good it feels. As things move along though, panic sets in. You can’t stop thinking about what your body looks like. 

If you struggle with body image, this situation might be all too familiar. Body image has a major impact on people’s sex lives, and when you’re not feeling good about yourself, it can be hard to enjoy sex. You might only feel comfortable having sex with the lights off or rush to put your clothes on immediately after sex is over. You’re not alone though, feeling insecure about your body during sex is common and there are things you can do. Here are four ways body image affects sex and exactly how to feel less insecure during sex. 

What even is body image?

Body image is basically how a person feels about their body— it’s the beliefs, thoughts, and emotions you have toward your own body. 

If you struggle with body image, you’re probably aware that poor body image comes from feeling dissatisfied with your body and like you don’t measure up to societal expectations of how you should look, says Katie McCrindle, Registered Social Worker, Body Liberation Counselor, and Fat Activist. 

How does body image affect sex?

If you struggle with body image, and it feels like it’s affecting nearly every aspect of your sex life, you’re right, it often does. Research shows that poor body image affects these four major parts of your sex life: 

  • Feeling distracted during sex. Struggling with body image can be a huge distraction during sex. Many people find that they’re overwhelmed with negative, judgemental thoughts about their body, and sometimes even feel like they’re an additional person in the room, critiquing what they’re doing and how they look.

  • Difficulty orgasming. A review published in 2012 in the Journal of Sex Research found that people who were worried about how their body looked during sex were less likely to have consistent orgasms. The reason they struggled to orgasm had nothing to do with their physiological function though, it was because they were distracted by negative thoughts about their body. 

  • Having trouble getting aroused. People who struggle with body image may find that they aren’t getting as wet as they’d like to (or at all), or are struggling to have or maintain an erection. Emily Nagoski, sex researcher and scientists, describes in her book Come As You Are that negative, critical thoughts about your body during sex actually send a signal to your brain that it’s no longer safe to get turned on. 

  • Libido. Do you feel like you’re losing your libido? Poor body image has been linked to less interest in sex, lower libido, and initiating sex less often, according to the review pusblished in 2012.  

  • How to feel less insecure during sex

    Here are six ways to nip poor body image in the butt and improve your sex life. 

    1. Recognize where these negative thoughts are coming from

    The first thing you can do to improve your sex life is recognize where the negative thoughts about your body are coming from. McCrindle says that “often, poor body image is rooted in anti-fatness, so working towards unlearning what society has taught us about fat can also really help.”

    McCrindle explains that “educating yourself about the history of fatphobia, Health At Every Size, and fat activism can really help in destigmatizing the word fat and recognizing it as a neutral descriptor,” as opposed to seeing fat as something unhealthy or bad. 

    2. Work on body image outside the bedroom

    One of the best things you can do to improve your sex life is work on your relationship with your body outside of sex. McCrindle suggests “starting with trying to normalize normal bodies— following a variety of different shapes, sizes, ethnicities, abilities, skin conditions, etc on social media helps to normalize the fact that bodies exist in so many different ways, and that's okay.” 

    If you watch porn, consider watching performers with different body types— ethical or feminist porn sites usually have videos staring performers of many body sizes and abilities. 

    3. Get in touch with how your body feels

    Being distracted during sex is the number one way poor body image affects sex, so you need to get in touch with how your body feels to get out of your head. McCringle suggests taking time to explore and notice things like the texture of different parts of your skin, your softness, and how it feels when you touch different places on your body. Before you try this with a partner, make a routine practice of this by yourself— Zumio, is the perfect toy to explore your erogenous zones and discover what sensations work for you.

    4. Focus on how you feel instead of what your partner thinks

    If you find yourself focused on what your partner thinks of you, try to notice this is happening and come back to the sensations in your body. Being concerned with what your partner thinks gets in the way of arousal, feeling desire, or having an orgasm, so paying attention to how your body feels, instead of what your partner thinks, is key. The practice you’ve been doing to get in touch with how your body feels will help. 

    5. Do what makes you feel comfortable 

    If you only feel comfortable having sex with the lights off or with a shirt on, that’s okay. In fact, doing these things—or anything that makes sex more comfortable—without being hard on yourself about it can make sex more enjoyable. Even if you want to enjoy sex with the lights on one day, it’s okay to be easy on yourself and do what you need to enjoy sex right now. 

    6. Work with a professional

    Struggling with body image can be really difficult and impact much more than just your sex life. If you’re struggling with body image, consider seeing a therapist who specializes in body image or Health At Every Size. 



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