Body Image and Sexuality: Tips to Help Women Be More Positive

For women, having a positive body image is linked to higher sexual desire and arousal and higher sexual satisfaction. Having a negative impression of the body can lead women to experience less sexual satisfaction and pleasure or to avoid sex altogether.

Key takeaways:
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    Negative body image refers to the negative thoughts, feelings, and perceptions a person has over their body or certain body parts.
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    Along with relationship distress, negative body image is one of the leading causes of sexual dissatisfaction in women.
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    If you are struggling with a negative body self-image, you can make a few changes to get you on the path to having a healthy body image.

Learning to accept your body as it is can be a transformative experience for women, leading to better sex and overall self-esteem and well-being.

What exactly is a negative body image?

Negative body image refers to the negative thoughts, feelings, and perceptions a person has about their body or certain body parts. These negative thoughts toward the body can occur in many different ways and often include a perception of how the body looks to others, which may or may not match the person's actual body.

A person’s body image is influenced by society and culture, and in the West, many factors could affect how a person perceives their body. These include the attitudes and beliefs of family members, schools, religions, and other communities, which can also affect how a person perceives their body, as well as psychological trauma.

Research has found that negative body image starts young, with girls as young as four reporting dissatisfaction with their bodies.

How does body image affect sexuality?

Along with relationship distress, negative body image is one of the leading causes of sexual dissatisfaction in women. Research has found that negative body image can affect multiple aspects of a woman's life, including relationships, quality of life, and sexual functioning, and is also associated with a decrease in self-esteem and an increase in stress, anxiety, and depression.

Studies have found that women that viewed their bodies negatively experienced sexual desire, arousal, and orgasms less than women who viewed their bodies positively. Additionally, studies have found that women who viewed their bodies positively experienced more sexual desire with their partner and in response to sexual stimuli, regardless of body type.

Negative body image usually manifests in two ways. Either a woman believes that she is unattractive, which can lead to avoiding sex. Or she believes that others perceive her as unattractive, which leads to decreased arousal.

Why do women struggle with this issue?

Many women struggle with negative body image due to the pressure society, and the media puts on them to look a certain way. Women are constantly bombarded with images of unattainable bodies from the moment they’re born. These images set the standard for how women should look, and, in turn, women and the rest of society use this as a measure to judge themselves against.

Tips to help women struggling with body image

If you are struggling with a negative body self-image, you can make a few changes to get you on the path to having a healthy body image.

Educate yourself on society and the media's role in women's body image

If you were to do a quick scan of the media covering everything from TV, ads, and social media, you would find that they portray a very limited beauty standard of women. While things have slightly improved over the past few years, the media constantly tells us that beautiful women are young, white, and slim. This is problematic in a multitude of ways and leads many women and nonbinary people to hate themselves and their bodies.

Understanding that the media continually portrays unrealistic beauty standards helps to increase your self-esteem and body image. When viewing media, it is helpful to ask yourself a few questions to challenge the messages and ideologies being presented. These include:

Who created this piece of media?

What is its purpose?

What beliefs do its creators have about women and body issues?

Which bodies are shown positively?

Which bodies are shown negatively?

Which bodies are not included?

What conclusions would an audience draw from this?

Practice mindfulness

When struggling with negative body image and self-talk, the mind is preoccupied with non-sexual thoughts and unable to focus on the present. This is particularly damaging when having sex, as we are unable to focus on our pleasure or the pleasure of our partners, leading to a decrease in arousal.

Practicing mindfulness allows us to live in the present, reducing the thoughts and distractions that are often racing around in our minds by noticing the different sensations within the body. Practicing mindfulness outside of sex gives us a better opportunity to quiet the mind during sex and respond to our sexual cues, as well as a partner. Mindfulness also increases sexual desire, as being present within the body allows women to notice their internal bodily sensations as they come and go, including desire.

Decrease negative self-talk

Along with mindfulness, reducing the amount of negative self-talk gives the brain more space to focus on the positive and neutral messages we tell ourselves about our bodies. While we don't need to love every inch of our body, accepting and respecting our bodies as they are can help to reduce negative body image.

Our bodies are only part of who we are and do not need to determine our happiness. A lot of how we look is determined by genetics and is out of our control. By decreasing negative self-talk, we focus on what we can control, leading to more fulfilling sex.

Avoid comparisons

It sounds contrived, by beauty really does come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. Humans are incredibly diverse, so rather than comparing yourself to others, embrace your own unique beauty.

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