When Body Image Issues Follow You Into the Bedroom

Discomfort about your body can make you feel not only self-conscious in general, but also not confident in the bedroom. You may find yourself avoiding intimate situations with your partner or avoiding dating entirely. To overcome negative body image, it can be helpful to examine past events that influenced your body image.

Children and teens receive commentary about their body’s and appearances from parents, teachers, siblings, friends, strangers, etc. Sometimes this commentary is positive, “That dress looks great on you,” “I like your new haircut,” “I wish I had arms like yours…” Other times the commentary can be pretty mean, “Better watch what you’re eating,” “You’re legs are so hairy,” “You don’t have the right body type for that sport…” It’s the meaner comments (sometimes not even intentionally mean) that stick with us and can linger with us even as adults.

If you find yourself feeling really negative about a particular part of your body, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What parts of your body do you feel negative or self-conscious about?
  • When did you start to feel negative about your body or certain body parts?
  • What messaged did you receive about these body parts as a child/teen? Write down the specific messages—as well as who made the comments.
  • As a child/teen how did you feel when you heard these comments about your body?
  • How does it feel now to revisit these comments?
  • When were you able to ignore or brush off negative comments?
  • When were the comments most hurtful? Or had the deepest impact?
  • What were the differences between the times you could brush off the comments, versus the times when it was too much?
  • As a child/teen how did you cope with these negative comments? Did you avoid certain people, places and things? Activities? Types of clothes?

After you’ve identified where these negative influences came from, and how they influenced your body image, turn your attention to how these messages may STILL be impacting your life. As an adult you may still avoid, hide, or feel overly aware of certain parts of your body that you received negative comments about. These behaviors obviously impact behaviors in the bedroom—wanting to turn off the lights and not be seen, not wanting to remove a certain piece of clothing, being too in your head to enjoy the moment, only wanting to engage in certain sexual positions, etc. Try the following suggestions if you believe your negative body image is following you into the bedroom:

Check in with your partner: Does your partner know why you’re avoiding, hiding or not present during sex? Share with your partner how the insecurities about your body image are impact your sex life. He/she may already have known or suspected, or perhaps they will be surprised to hear your concerns. You may even learn your partner has their own insecurities.

Ask for positive feedback: Ask your partner to give you more positive feedback about your body and the parts he/she likes about your body. To your surprise they may even be the parts you are self-conscious about. Make sure to return the praise and compliment your partner…everyone has some insecurity about their body!

Get rid of the distorted images: While you can’t get rid of all the distorted images you encounter on a daily basis (for instance passing a billboard), you can choose to not purchase certain magazines or watch certain shows that feature airbrushed and digitally altered images. These images are not real. Do not compare yourself to unachievable and superhuman standards!

Look around: Once you’re turned your attention away from altered images, realistically compare your body to those you see around you. All of us have imperfect bodies! There is natural variation of any body part, and likely you will realize the aspects of your body that you are worried about aren’t radically different from those around you.

Take a risk: Avoidance fuels anxiety. The more you avoid, the more anxious you will become about the activity you are avoiding. Pick an activity you’re avoiding like wearing a certain piece of clothing or lingerie, engaging in a certain sexual position or even keeping some lights on during sex. If you are struggling with choosing an activity, make a list of the activities you are avoiding and select the easiest one. Go with that first.

Focus on the Positives: Instead of obsessing about what you don’t like about your body, focus on what you do like. When a negative thought pops into your head about your body, immediately redirect this line of thinking by saying something positive about your body. If you’re struggling with identifying what you like about your body, ask your partner or friends what they like…just be ready to accept the positive feedback. Others can shower you with positive feedback but ultimately you have to believe it.