Don’t Look Now

By Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus

Do you try to hide parts of your body when you’re getting frisky in the bedroom? Does body shame or embarrassment distract you during sex? According to a 2011 Fitness Magazine study of 2,400 women, 51% reported that they would forego sex for a year if they could be skinny. And don’t think that men are immune. Men are suffering from higher rates of anorexia, exercise addiction and body hatred than in the past, with a growing societal emphasis on men’s weight, attractiveness and “manscaping.”

Body image is how we perceive the appearance of our body, based on our self-observation as well as how others react. Mainstream media images shape what we consider beautiful, attractive and sexy. Despite ongoing research pointing to how unrealistic and altered these images are, most people compare themselves, and then end up dissatisfied.

A negative body image can wreak havoc with sexual pleasure in multiple ways. If you’re distracted by your body during sex, thinking it’s too fat, hairy or uneven, you can’t be present for the pleasurable sensations of sex, or may avoid sexual interactions altogether. You might limit your variety of sexual positions, or only have sex in the dark. Poor body image can even reduce overall self-worth, discouraging you from stating your needs and desires. This can all feed a downward spiral of negativity.

What can you do to halt this assault of the psyche? I suggest approaching this from two angles. First, consider your level of exercise, and know that exercise has a heap of connections to sex and mental health. Physical exertion increases sex hormones and reduces stress-both incredibly important for libido. Exercise also improves mood, as anyone who’s experienced a runner’s high can attest. There are some specific links to better sex as well.

Want the endurance for longer love making sessions? Then increase your cardio fitness. This also helps maintain genital blood flow necessary for sexual arousal. Want to attempt more adventurous sexual positions? Then start a regular yoga practice to develop strength and flexibility. As a bonus, if your partner is your workout buddy, this can serve as foreplay for an evening escapade.

While physical fitness is valuable, emotional fitness is imperative. The second angle is to focus on what you do well and appreciate your body’s strengths. Appreciate that you can get out of bed in the morning, have strong legs for running, pretty brown eyes, good balance in yoga class or are multi-orgasmic. Keep a “Body Gratitude Journal” and start every day by jotting down three aspects of your body that you appreciate. During the day, if you notice that downward spiral of negative body-talk, switch to thinking about one of your body qualities. Also, seek media sources that depict a variety of male and female bodies, of all shapes, sizes and colors, so you have images that validate you.

The suggestions above create a shift from body shame and distraction to self-acceptance and intimacy. This builds confidence to help you both look sexy and feel sexy. And you know what that means? No more hiding in the bedroom!

Jennifer “Dr. Jenn” Gunsaullus, Ph.D., is a sociologist with a passion for gently pushing people outside their sexual comfort zones. She has a private practice, addressing concerns from sexual “dysfunction” to intimate communication, self-esteem to fetish, and pornography to spiritual sexuality. Dr. Jenn is a sex and relationship expert on San Diego Fox 5 News and a frequent lecturer and workshop presenter on an array of topics related to sex, intimacy, healthy relationships, sexual health, holistic health and mindfulness. She is also the writer and host of In the Den with Dr. Jenn, a free online educational video series celebrating 150 episodes.