Body Positivity and Sex

Body Positivity and Sex
By Elizabeth Ashford

Finding Your Body Confidence 

Have you ever felt uncomfortable in your body? The fidgeting of the clothes, or the excessive dieting, or the fear of getting on the scale? Experiences like these may hit close to home for so many of us. In those moments, it is typical that removing all armor, and standing in front of someone naked can become less than ideal.

This is one of the many consequences that is often overlooked when body dysmorphia wreaks havoc on our lives. Other common sexual side effects can include less satisfying and riskier sex, reduced pleasure, and increased pain.

Many factors contribute to these issues, such as the link between self-criticism and stress (as we know, stress is the number one pleasure killer!). Furthermore, unsatisfying or painful sex is usually correlated with discomfort, or even disgust, towards oneself and one’s body. These feelings hit the brakes during sex and can impair sexual functioning to the point that the body tenses up, often making the experience painful.

Intensive Messaging 

What’s even more problematic is just how many women are being affected. Messaging about our bodies is everywhere. By the time we are 60, we will have viewed approximately 6 million messages on the female body and what it “should” look like. These ideas perpetuate unrealistic standers, that are based on archaic ideology:

A lot of our subconscious ideas about weight stems from the desire to show wealth or status. For example, in the Victorian era, after mass spread of diseases, fertility was desirable and therefore a curvier body was the pinnacle of beauty. A larger figure also displayed the ability to afford food, an indication of financial abundance. A great example of this in today’s age is the practice of “gavaging” (or fattening up) which is found in some parts of Africa. Women are sent to camps to eat as much as they possibly can, putting on a maximum amount of weight in order to gain male attention (check the episode here).

In contrast, when a society is more developed and ‘better fed’, thinness becomes an ideal physical characteristic. One expert explains that it exemplifies “self-control or an ethereal abstinence that appears saintly”. To me, this is helpful information because when we come to see just how fabricated and constructed these ideas are, we can work to tease them apart from ourselves and our own self-worth.

Better Messaging

As we know, steps are being taken in order to see more diverse body representation in the media. Take Victoria's Secret and their campaign, “The Perfect Body,” which you can see here. These types of ads are now seeing a lot of pushback, with classic lingerie brands being forced to pivot their advertising campaigns. Therefore, there's no question that positive changes are being made - but there is a long way to go. 

Trying Out Lingerie

If you are one of the many struggling to love your body, the process of showing yourself off in a new, barely-there garment can magnify the discomfort. And while discomfort is never fun... that might be exactly what you need to try. Pushing your boundaries can have major benefits. So how do we get there? One tip that has helped me is to ask yourself: How you are choosing your lingerie?

  1. The Lingerie is for You

Lingerie is too commonly chosen for your partner. I remember the first time I went into a store and spent ample time sifting through options, making sure I invested in something I loved. The women helping me were asking when I was seeing ‘my boyfriend’ (the boyfriend I did not have). I was excited to tell them that it really was for just me - for the time being. When I would slip it on underneath clothing, it got me used to feeling confident in my skin.

Making sure you are comfortable and you like what you pick goes back to the idea of virginity that I discussed on BTBz before: “When you see your virginity as a ‘gift’ for someone else, you are at will to how they respond to that gift - rather than taking that experience as your own.”

So when you make that lingerie purchase, make sure you love it and are wearing it for you. It takes the power away from someone else’s response and allows you to walk into a room with more confidence – knowing that you love how you look no matter what! 

  1. Be Patient

Next, patience is key. Like I said before, I know personally from years of struggle that hearing activities and tips on ways to ‘feel better’ about your body or disordered eating can feel trivializing. The sad truth is that it can take anywhere from months to many years to fully recover and develop a healthy relationship with food, exercise, and your body. But there are plenty of lessons to learn along the way that you’ll decipher for yourself. To save you time, I can give you one hint off the bat –never diet!! I promise it doesn’t work. Mindful eating is the way to go!

  1. Invest in Your Sexual Wellness

Owning our bodies will always be a work in progress, but if you are on the fence about trying lingerie (or any sexual additive for that matter), give it a go! Taking the time to invest in ourselves and learning to feel better in our own skin will only improve our sex lives. As proven by the experiment in the Love Lab (by John and Julia Gottman): “The more a woman likes her body - the more she initiates sex, the more sex she has, and the more orgasms she enjoys”. 

  1. What if it's My Partner Who is Struggling?

And finally, if you are with someone who has body positivity struggles – remember that you won't be able to fix them. What you can do is keep the commentary very positive and not treat the insecurities as trivial or vain. Take the time to listen and understand. Undermining the experience can be harmful. Ultimately, while you won’t be able to provide too many solutions, lending an ear and acknowledging the difficulty will do more than you know.