body image and sex

Is Body Image Affecting Your Sex Life?

The way in which we see our bodies can hugely affect a number of areas in our lives—especially our sex lives. In fact, having a negative body image is one of the biggest disrupters of sexual enjoyment, and can be detrimental to feelings of sexual desire and arousal

Quite honestly however, it is more so women that have the issue of their body image affecting their sex life. And while we don’t negate the fact that men too can suffer from a disruption in their sex life because of how they see their body, today we’ll be focusing more on women.

And to get us started, let’s take a look at what Ann Kearney-Cooke, PhD, has to say:

“Women with a poor body image don’t initiate sex as often, and they’re more self-conscious”. She continued to note that if a woman is preoccupied with how her body looks, with an internal monologue of “How does my stomach look?” or “Have they noticed my cellulite?”, the focus won’t be on desire, and it’ll be like having a third unwelcome person in the room.

Body Image and Your Sex Life

Getting more into the topic, there are two types of negative body image that may affect a woman: the way that she sees herself, and how she believes others see her.

Body Image: How She Sees Herself

When a woman believes that her body is unattractive, it often results in a lower sexual self-esteem which could lead to avoiding sexual activity altogether. And with that, other areas of the sexual cycle can too be distrupted, such as how she experiences desire, arousal, and orgasm.

Not just that, but when a woman has a negative body image, especially about her size, it becomes a source of anxiety when it comes to being touched or seen. This can directly impact how she enjoys sexual experiences, rarely being able to truly let go, gain arousal, and enjoy the moment for what it is. 

This sad truth is often the case for many women, leading to a lack of orgasming and an overall negative experience.

Body Image: How She Believes Others See Her

For many women, believing that others, such as a partner or prospective partners, find her attractive usually results in a higher sexual functioning. Unfortunately, if the opposite is true, there can be a disruption in her ability to get aroused, to be physically intimate, or to climax. 

When a woman doesn’t feel desired because of her body, it can lead to a lower libido. And as researcher Marta Meana says, for many women, “being desired is the orgasm”. 

But alas, in this scenario it is merely a belief, and not a fact. The following however, is a fact… 

A Poor Body Image Can Start at a Very Young Age

For many women, a poor body image is rooted in childhood. For example, if a young girl found that others responded to her body in a negative way, this experience can become internalised. 

For example, if you weren’t embraced as a child, or if you were criticised about your body. Then there’s also something called projection, which is when a parent or someone else in your life didn’t like what they saw in the mirror and thus began projecting their insecurities onto you.

Then, of course, there are the beauty standards of society that continue to throw propaganda in our faces about the “ideal” body type. Which, in actuality, is warped and inaccurate, according to research

In fact, in 1979, fashion models weighed eight percent less than the average female, and in 1999, models weighed 23 percent less than the average female. 

Things like this play a huge role in how women see themselves and it’s a fertile place for self-doubt and shame to grow. “We’re bombarded with messages suggesting that our bodies and looks not only represent our self-worth but also are fundamentally flawed. Of course that affects our self-esteem,” says Liz Dittrich, pHd.

To look at another study focusing on middle-aged women, it was shown that those who had a negative body image had a significant negative relationship with sexual satisfaction, sexual function, and sexual desire. 

This study proved that body image is an important aspect of sexual health, and that women with a positive body image have higher sexual functioning than those with a negative body image.

Then, let’s look at a different study that looked at the relationship between body image and domains of sexual functioning among heterosexual, emerging adult women. It showed that a poor body image was linked to detrimental sexual functioning, and a decrease in desire and arousal.

This study suggests that interventions to improve body image could have incredible benefits related to the sexual experience.

How to Address Your Negative Body Image and Have Better Sex

While each person is different, there are some things you could do to address your negative body image, hopefully resulting in better sex. Sex aside however, knowing your worth and your beauty is important.

  • Decrease negative self-talk: the way in which you talk to yourself matters. The brain is the most powerful organ, and by decreasing negative self-talk and practising positive affirmations, you have the ability to change the way you think about yourself.
  • Believe your partner: a lot of women tend not to believe positive things their partner has to say about them, which may cause them to reject their partner, leading to frustration.
  • Mindfulness & meditation: take the time to sit peacefully and allow any thoughts to come into your head without accepting them as true. Instead, take a look at and examine those thoughts, and realise that they may just be that: thoughts.
  • Kegel exercises: if you practice kegel exercises during sex, you could place your focus on the action rather than your body and your wandering thoughts. 
  • Focus on your partner: it can be quite arousing to see a partner who is visibly turned on. Take note of your partner’s body language and verbal cues, which may help you to know that they’re having a great time. 
  • Identify where your body image issues come from: this may take some practice, but allow it to be a learning and growing experience. Try to think back to why you may have this negative body image in the first place. Take note of why it’s stayed with you, and where it’s coming from—is it your inner critic, a parent, a partner?
  • Remind yourself that all bodies are beautiful: luckily, society is embracing different body types more than ever. Try to focus on these kinds of messages.
  • Follow people who look like you: if you use social media, follow and interact with people who you can identify with and possibly learn from.
  • Engage with body positive individuals: there are a number of body positive influencers, brands, and celebrities out there whose voice could help you to realise just how beautiful you are, as is.

We hope that you’ve learned a bit more about how the way you see your body can affect your sex life. The negative connection is very evident and detrimental, and working on these issues, alone or with a professional, could be an amazing thing to do for yourself and your sex life.