Sexual Reflection of Body Image

August 13th, 2010

“Lovely female shapes are terrible complicators of the difficulties and dangers of this earthly life, especially for their owners.”  ~George du Maurier

I was caught by a news headline that showed, in a recent Nutrisystem poll of one thousand people, approximately 50%  of  female participants say they would rather go without sex for the summer than gain 10 pounds. One quarter of the male respondents agreed. The poll was supported by recent European research with 12,000 participants.  This study found that obese women were 30% less likely to have a sexual partner than normal weight women. Interestingly, this did not hold up for obese men.

How we imagine other people see our bodies and how we perceive ourselves when we look in the mirror, or touch and smell ourselves, has a significant yet complex impact on how we think about ourselves sexually. Body image doesn’t just include our estimation or our shape and weight compared with the ideal cultural body type, it also often includes our feelings about specific body parts. Our feelings about our bodies are a learned response based on the messages and images of ideal beauty that our society and families value. Growing up comparing ourselves and being compared to a specific type of beauty is how our feelings about our bodies grow in us. Think about how different these beautiful body ideals have been across culture and time.

While weight issues are often the leaders in poor body images, equally detrimental to our body image is feelings of inadequacy about the size and appearance of genitals, breasts and other sexual body parts. Culturally it is easier than ever to compare ourselves to the increasingly prevalent pornographic images of sexualized body parts. Actors do not reflect the norm; they got those jobs due to their unnaturally large endowments.  Somehow our ideas of average and acceptable have also been usurped by the onslaught of sexual imaging that surrounds us.

Most of us believe that there is a direct and simple relationship between having a positive sense of physical self and a positive relationship with sexuality. While this is true on a certain level, that feeling good about your body makes you more comfortable with it and your sexuality, it is surprisingly a more complex algorithm to the decision-making process, which inspires healthy sexual relationships. Studies have shown that men with positive body images were more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior than men with lower body esteem. However women with positive body images were less likely to engage in risky sexual behavior. It is hard to understand these differences, except in the context of the mysterious and unique relationship we all have to our sexuality.

What’s more, is that the impact between body image and sexuality functions in the inverse as well. Satisfying sexual exploration and behavior can have a positive impact on body image. Women who don’t feel sexy because of their body image, have reported high levels of sexual satisfaction in the bedroom. The power of engaging and satisfying intimacy lifts inhibitions and self-consciousness that women experience about themselves in their minds. Satisfying sex brings you out of the mind and into the body, where our thoughts and beliefs can and are transformed through the body.

This is a paradigm shift similar to the ways we are beginning to recognize that waking up the arousal mechanism in the body can shift the mental experience of desire. The act of intimacy and the deep satisfaction that accompanies it can actually turn the body image problem on its head. This should be the headline, that rather than giving up sex in favor of weight loss or a healthier body image, committing to a regimen of deep intimacy may just be the diet we are looking for.

4 Responses to “Sexual Reflection of Body Image”

  1. Beth Morley Says:

    Thank you so much for this! I’m a cancer survivor (and a survivor of the treatments themselves) and my body has been altered repeatedly. It’s been a lifelong challenge to stay connected to my sexual self, and not a challenge that has been easily won. Thank you for this wonderful and reassuring article that is encouraging and hopeful!

  2. Donna Says:

    It’s true that sexualized advertising (and films and television and magazines and on and on) offer opportunities to know self-loathing and bedroom shame. I am mature, well-educated, perfectly nice-enough looking, and fairly sensible, and yet the part of my self-image that is based on my body (5’4″ 150 lbs)is saturated with shame. I’m embarrassed to admit it–even more shame, but it’s true. I am furious that pornography has so much to do with how I feel about my body.

  3. Theresa Says:

    It is so encouraging to see more articles and blogs about this subject. It is our very self image and self love that determines how we treat our bodies, not only sexually but emotionally and nutritionally (as I’ve come to find out in my work). Thank you for writing a powerful message. The human body is miraculous and beautiful – may it always be seen through the eyes of wonder and awe.

  4. Richele Guida Says:

    I once upon a time had a beautiful figure and shape and was quite pretty and attractive. Some might even say I was smokin. Or that is what my perception of myself was, and what others may have thought. Well a couple decades have past and I have aged, and have had children and gained weight along with some low self-esteem issues and things of that nature. I have made the mistake of comparing myself to what I once was and what I am now. Well I am changing that as we speak. I am no longer comparing myself and my body image to anyone else’s, because there is no comparison to be had. My body is beautifully uniques and distintly mine. I am 5’8 with long legs (still pretty good with no cellulite) large breasts (still hanging high) maybe a little lower then the once were due to the weight, and I am overweight, but not obese by any stretchmark ( humor here).

    It has taken some work on my part to develop a good self body image once again and I am constantly working on accenting my best assets. I have at 47 years of age finally accepted my body with all its flaws and qualities. I have become a naturalist and I attend nude beaches and clothing optional camping places and find it to be the most freeing and invigorating experiences I have ever had. I do not think I could have attended these types of places when I was a skinny 125 pounds. Go figure on that. I think the advertising agencies and media hype and all of that materialistic and fakeness does serious harm to everyone because it gives people the idea that they are just not good enough if they do not look similar. I am a big healthy woman who is finally comfortable in her own skin, and I am nearing 50 and I love who I have become. Extra pounds and all. Thought I would love to lose 25 pounds, I have wore the same size clothes for 4-5 years after dropping several sizes, and I am content with that.

    I eat healthy, excercise and drink alot of water, yet I have stayed the same weight. It is important I believe to maintain a good self body image no matter what your size as that attitude can envelope you and make your life so much easier and wonderful to live. Just my opinion.

    Richele Guida

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