What To Do When Your Body Image is Affecting Your Sex Life

Hooking up is complicated enough to begin with. Add in insecurities about the way you look, and your sex life can definitely take a hit. We all get self-conscious, but if body image woes are seriously affecting your sex life, it may be time to make some changes. We talked to Dr. Ramani Durvasula, psychologist and author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist and You Are WHY You Eat: Change Your Food Attitude Change Your Life to find out how!

1. Practice self-love

It’s unlikely that you will enjoy yourself during sex if you’re preoccupied at all, let alone distracted by negative thoughts. Loving your body isn’t always easy, but it’s important to feel comfortable and confident in your own skin. Luckily, practicing self-love is as easy as it is necessary. Try writing positive affirmations on sticky notes and attaching them to your bedroom mirror. Or, every time you feel the urge to critique your reflection, give yourself a compliment instead.

“Catch yourself anytime you say, ‘this makes me look fat’—and then reshape the statement,” says Dr. Durvasula. “Being aware of these self-statements can be step one in changing them. Also, pay attention to negative self-talk when you are actually making healthy choices (e.g. when the dessert menu comes around monitor words like ‘the last thing someone like me needs is that’).” Focusing on what makes you beautiful and unique will help banish those silly insecurities!

Related: 12 Women Talk Body Image & Positivity in College

2. Talk to your partner

The more comfortable you feel with your partner, the less you’ll think about the way you look. Try having a conversation with him or her before you start hooking up to ensure that you are both ready to move forward. “Be open,” says Dr. Durvasula. “If your partner is a decent human being they will hear it. Take ownership, and be honest and direct (e.g. sometimes I have difficulty opening up sexually because I do not feel good about my body). This does two things: it may help your partner feel more connected, especially if your hesitation made your partner question themselves. It also creates a greater intimacy because you are sharing a vulnerability. If your partner mocks you or leaves you feeling worse…show [them] the door—you don't need that.”

Don’t be afraid to keep the conversation going during sex as well. Tell your partner what you like and what feels good, and don’t be afraid to suggest alternatives if he or she is making you self-conscious in any way. Having a dialogue during sex doesn’t have to feel forced—talking to your partner is sexy, and it’s the perfect way to learn what turns one another on (and off!).

Related: How To Get What You Need & Want From Sex

3. Boost your confidence

There are many easy ways to kick-start your confidence in the bedroom. If you’re insecure about your mid-section for example, you can treat yourself to some babydoll lingerie that makes you more sure of yourself. Not only will you look and feel amazing, but your partner will enjoy it too! Another tip is to put on music while you’re hooking up. The right playlist can really set the mood. In fact, listening to stimulating music is proven to do more than help ease an anxious mind. According to a study commissioned by Spotify, 40 percent of people think listening to music is actually more arousing than touch during sex. Finally, if it makes you feel more comfortable, you can dim the lights the first time (or few times) you have sex with a new partner. Again, this makes for a more romantic setting while also helping to calm any nerves and curb self-doubt.

“Use lighting that works for you,” says Dr. Durvasula. “Candlelight is sensual—everyone looks good in it and it adds a nice tone to sex and intimacy. Wear lingerie that may be sexy but also allows you to feel confident. Do the things you like to or may be willing to try that don't play as strongly on body issues (talk dirty, try interesting positions). Make it more than just about intercourse or orgasm—play up the foreplay—few people say no to a nice and sexy massage.” A relaxed body should put your mind at ease, too!

4. Get to know your body

You should know your body better than anyone. If you feel uncomfortable during sex, practicing self-pleasure may be the answer. “Get into the habit of masturbation yourself or with toys,” says Dr. Durvasula. “It puts you in better possession of your body and what works for you [and] makes you a more confident lover.” While it may be difficult to get alone time in college if you have roommates, it’s a great thing to do when you can find privacy.

Masturbation is somewhat of a taboo subject for women, but it shouldn’t be! “It is healthy,” says Dr. Durvasula. It “reminds us that our bodies are capable of pleasure and that it is often our own minds that get in the way (e.g. body image issues) of having that with someone else.” Once you get past any initial embarrassment, you’ll be one step closer to fully embracing your sexuality.

5. Consult a professional

If you’re really struggling with your body image, you may want to think about talking to someone. Your school’s health and counseling centers are great places to start. If necessary, you may then be referred to an outside therapist who can better address your specific needs. “Consider therapy with a licensed mental health practitioner,” says Dr. Durvasula. “Body image issues run wide and deep, and the guidance of a therapist can help [you] understand these issues and how they are impacting [your] sexuality.” If you’re on the fence about consulting a professional, consider whether body image issues are “impeding your relationship, making it very psychologically difficult or physically uncomfortable to have sex, leading to behaviors (e.g. extreme diets, starvation, overexercise, binge/purge) that are dangerous for your health, or [if] the thoughts about body image are preoccupying your time and your mind,” says Dr. Durvasula. If so, then it may be time to seek out help. 

Dr. Durvasula also recommends engaging in activities that are body positive, such as healthy eating, exercise, meditation and getting enough sleep. “When a woman takes care of herself, the rest often follows,” she says. If you’d like to work on your diet or exercise habits, find out if your college offers group fitness classes or one-on-one physical training sessions. There may also be a dietician on campus who you can talk to. Whether it’s about taking better care of your mental health or focusing on your physical health, making changes over time can help you feel more self-assured in all aspects of your life.

Sex is obviously an extremely intimate act, and with this intimacy comes the possibility of feeling exposed. You are your own worst critic, though, and it’s important to remember that your partner is a little too busy to judge the way you look (which is beautiful!). But building self-confidence and body positivity takes time. Luckily, there are strategies you can practice and resources you can utilize to help you on your journey toward loving the way you look and feel. With these suggestions in mind, you’re on your way to a healthier body image and a happier sex life!