We’re sitting on the couch in our living room, watching Netflix and drinking beers after dinner, and I know what’s coming next. When he catches my eye, he’ll give me that “come closer” look before reaching out to pull me into him. His hands will move to my face, thumbs brushing my now flushed cheeks, and he’ll start to kiss me. At first, I’ll let myself get caught up in the electricity between us, but once his hands shift down to my arms and move their way over the rest of my body, everything will short circuit. I’ll freeze, mutter something like, “I have to let the dog out,” or “Man, I’m really exhausted,” before slinking away to the bathroom to cry.
That’s when I realized: My negative body image is ruining my sex life.
It’s often falsely asserted that if you are in a relationship, especially a long-term one, you don’t suffer from negative body image issues. People assume that, after years of being with the same person, you’re perfectly comfortable around each other — clothes off or on.
But I’ve been with my partner for more than half a decade, and within the last year, my negative thoughts about my body have severely impacted our once fun, happy, comfortable sex life.
Where I used to be relaxed and outgoing in the bedroom, I’m now self-conscious and uncomfortable. All of the attention from my partner, the kind of affection I used to bask in, now makes me cringe with unease. The fire that kept our sex life fun and interesting has been smothered out by something bigger than the both of us.
In a world where 91% of women admit to having negative self body images, it’s no surprise that I struggle with how I look versus how society tells me I should look. Like so many women, I am constantly bombarded with unrealistic beauty standards — the ideal, unreachable body type — everywhere I turn, from news, to advertisements, to entertainment, and beyond. Along with 69% of other women and 65% of girls, I can admit that my appearance anxiety is driven by outside forces
So, if I can identify the problem, why haven’t I been able to find a solution? Body image issues just aren’t that simple.
I’ve struggled with my own negative body image for most of my life, consistently telling myself the same narrative about my appearance. When I was 13, I swore I would finally have boobs by 16. When that didn’t exactly work out, I gave my body until my 18th birthday to become the ideal level of hotness. Senior year was going to be my bitch — or so I thought, until my new “adult” reflection remained suspiciously similar to that of my youth. After I graduated, I told myself that I had all summer to become beautiful for college. When my plan yet again failed, I spent four years making up for my lack of self-confidence with a surplus of alcohol — it made the shame of being naked in front of another person, whether it be a serious boyfriend or a casual partner, a little more bearable (until the next morning, when I’d be recovering from a hangover and my still-present body image issues).
I started dating my current partner during my senior year of college, and I thought all of my issues were behind me. He made me feel comfortable and confident in bed. He told me I was beautiful, and I believed him. He told me I was sexy, and I could feel that it was true.
But around my 26th birthday, I suddenly felt all of that anxiety creeping back — not just into my life, but into my bedroom. In the last year, it’s taken complete control of my sex life.
There is a direct connection between our body image and overall happiness, which includes romantic and sexual relationships.
According to researchers, women who struggle with negative body thoughts and appearance anxiety are more likely to suffer from fear, apprehension, and anxiety within their relationships — especially in the bedroom. For me, that fact has turned my once happy sex life into a growing source of tension in my relationship.
No matter how complimentary my partner is, no matter how much he showers me in sweet words, no matter how much he tells me I turn him on, my thoughts are louder than his compliments. I imagine he’s thinking how gross my body is whenever he is touching me, and I can’t seem to break the vicious cycle of negative thinking .
But I am trying to overcome these thoughts.
That night on the couch was the moment when I realized that I was letting an outside force control my relationship, and that was when I felt a shift in power. I told my boyfriend that I hated being naked around him, and how I hated that I hated it even more.
In a vacuum, without advertising, without media, without entertainment, would I even have these thoughts about my body? I find that hard to believe — but we don’t live in a vacuum, anyway. We live in a fast-paced world oversaturated with unrealistic beauty standards and unhealthy body ideals, and it seems like there’s no way out.
However, I’m finding that there is a way around these beauty standards, and it starts with open and honest conversation.
You can’t solve a problem or overcome an obstacle without first recognizing it, and I’m finally willing to do that. So watch out, body image issues, I’m coming for you with all I’ve got.