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Sexual Desire

Body Image and How it Impacts our Sexual Functioning

by Emma Schmidt, MA, LPCC

Raise your hand if you have done any of the following :

  • Kept the lights off during sex because you don’t like the way you look?

  • Put make up on for sex because you feel embarrassed without it?

  • Kept a shirt on during sex because it feels better to hide your body?

  • Made sure you are doing all the things to look and act like what you think you’re supposed to look and act like because you believe that being yourself during sex isn’t good enough.

  • Avoided your partner because you fear they’ll want to have sex with you but you haven’t shaved your legs in a while…

Yeah. Me too.

Body image can have a major impact on the way we view ourselves sexually and can also impact our sexual desire. When we think about ourselves in a negative way it robs us of the joy that we could have. According to a large study: over 60% of the women said aspects of their body affected them sexually. So out of every three women, two of them were impacted sexually due to their body image. That’s a lot! We know that many women have unrealistic ideas of how their bodies should look. This unrealistic expectation directly impacts our ability to enjoy ourselves and relax, especially in the bedroom … or where ever you like to have sex :).

Having a negative body image has links to increased sexual dysfunctions and lower levels of sexual satisfactions. Researchers have been able to find that people who have a more negative view of their body are more likely to have lower sexual arousal states. In fact, it was a main indicator for the lack of sexual arousal. But of course - who would feel sexy when they see themselves as less than?

In her book Better Sex Through Mindfulness, Lori Brotto talks about how important mindfulness is during a sexual encounter. When we are self critical about our bodies we get pulled away from being present and mindful and ultimately begin to experience the lack of sexual desire or arousal. When we are in our heads criticizing ourselves, we can no longer feel the sensations of what is happening sexually and therefore our body begins to shut down that sensual experience.

We as women have to heal from the generational messages that have been put on us about our bodies.

Become Mindful

Take a minute and close your eyes. I want you to notice what happens in your body when you think about sex. What messages come up? Where do you feel that in your body? Maybe you don’t know how to feel it in your body. I want you to bring up an image, message or even the word sex and notice where you start to feel that in your body. Stomach, chest? Is your heart beating faster?

Are the messages negative? If so, I want you to replace those negative messages with messages you want to believe about yourself. (i.e. I am good enough. My body is okay the way it is. I’m not defective. I am whole. My body does a lot for me). Bring in messages that are of self love, that are of compassion and gratitude. It might feel challenging at first but this is how any change really begins. Try to get to a place of body neutrality. Not having strong positive or negative feelings towards it. Kind of like your elbow.

Change Your Idea of How to Have Sex

Get out of the performance (A+B=C) sex and shift your focus into experiential sex. Put some music on, light a candle and SLOW DOWN. Really experience the moment and do something different than what you’re used to doing. Get into your body. Allow those negative messages to float away. Invite gratitude and compassion in like a friend.

Stop thinking and start feeling. Engage your senses. What do I feel, see, taste, touch, smell, hear? What does it feel like as my partner touches my body? What do their fingers feel like on me? What does it feel like to kiss? When we engage in our sensations it takes us out of our heads (where we might get caught up in thinking about our body image) and allows us to be present in the moment. If any negative, critical thoughts come up, notice them, even say hello to them and let them float away. Bring back in the compassion and gratitude and then get back into your sensations.

If this feels like you’re diving into the deep end doing these exercises, notice what’s coming up for you. Is there anything positive or insightful that came up as you are thinking through this, while reading this blog?

Backing up Before Moving Forward

Sometimes these types of exercises can bring up some heavy memories or sensations. Maybe you notice yourself really resisting what you’re reading. Seek out someone to talk to about the things that are coming up for you. Ultimately, a trained therapist in sex therapy will be able to help you navigate through the feelings, emotions and body sensations that are coming up for you. For more help you can go to AASECT.org to find a sex therapist near you.

BONUS!

You’re in luck! Rosy has a couple videos on Mindfulness! Go check them out in the app for a deeper dive on being mindful.

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NEW CLASS: Rosy created a class to help you transform the way you see yourself and love your body, in and out of the bedroom! Start this new class today: Body Love & Acceptance

Emma Schmidt is a certified sex therapist who works to restore relationships for individuals and couples who are struggling with their sex life. Her mission is to promote healthy sexuality and great intimate relationships.