No matter what your body looks like, there’s always something or someone else on screen or social media telling you how it should look different. Some parts should be bigger. Some parts should be smaller. Some parts should be tighter, harder, or more shredded.
Even if you consider yourself unaffected by such ideals, they can still have a lasting impact on how you see yourself and how you let yourself move through the world. They can also impact how you move through the bedroom.
What's the Link Between Body Image and Sex?
Body image and sex have a direct relationship. People who respect, accept, and feel good about their bodies are more likely to say they have good sex, according to a review of the available research linking body image and sexual wellbeing. If you’re thinking that only conventionally attractive people can feel good about their appearance, think again! According to a study published in Psychology of Women Quarterly, positive body image — and not BMI or exercise — is linked to better sexual functioning.
“These results were interpreted as indicating that a woman's subjective body image is significantly related to her sexual functioning beyond the effects of actual body size and level of physical exercise,” the study’s authors write. Women aren't the only ones struggling with body image issues, either. People of all genders can feel similarly. In one study of gay and bisexual men (to use the researchers' language around gender), negative body image and body dissatisfaction were linked to premature ejaculation.
This means that the key to a better sex life isn’t changing your body — it’s changing how you feel about your body. Letting internalized social narratives and insecurity lead the way can make sexual desire and pleasure much harder to come by. Plus, confidence is a major aphrodisiac. It’s magnetic! When you’re feeling confident in yourself and your body, you’re less likely to experience distracting or negative self-talk during sex and the rest of the time. It can make it easier to be present.
How Can I Change My Body Image?
If you do want to change your relationship to your body in order to improve your sex life, there are a few things you can try to get started now.
Make a list of all the things you can do because of your body. Focus on how it lets you have experiences and enjoy activities you like. If you’re stuck, turn to the five senses. What does it let you feel from the senses that are available to you? Then, make a list of the positive things you feel about your body. Aim for ten, but include as many as you can name. Get specific.
You may also need to remove sources that encourage you to compare yourself to others. If you’re constantly looking at certain accounts on social media or certain actors in specific shows and feeling bad about yourself as a result, make a conscious decision to unfollow those accounts or stop watching those shows. Get rid of the things that encourage you to feel bad about yourself and give yourself permission to feel good instead.
When negative self-talk comes up for you, try to notice those thoughts you’re carrying: Where did they come from? What triggered them? Replace those negative sources of comparison with positive affirmations. For instance, “I deserve to love and be loved," “I have really great [something you love about your body].” Write three of them on different post-it notes and place them around your home for an ongoing reminder of how great you are.
Learning to love your body is a key step in achieving the sexual pleasure you deserve. For more ways to boost your body image right now, explore the mindfulness techniques and body image activities in the Lover app.