I was caught by a news headline that in a
poll of a thousand people, approximately 50% of female participants say they
would rather go without sex for the summer than gain 10 pounds. One quarter of
the male respondents agreed. The Nutrisystem poll was supported by recent
European research with 12,000 participants. The study found that obese women
were 30% less likely to have a sexual partner than normal weight women.
Interestingly this did not hold up for obese men.
How we imagine how other people see our bodies and how we perceive ourselves
when we look in the mirror, or touch and smell ourselves has a significant yet
complex impact on how we think about ourselves sexually. Body image doesn’t just
include our estimation or our shape and weight compared with the ideal cultural
body type, it also often includes our feelings about specific body parts. Our
feelings about our own bodies are a learned response based on the ideal of
beauty that our society and families value. Growing up comparing ourselves and
being compared to a specific type of beauty is how our feelings about our bodies
grow in us.
While weight issues are often the leaders in poor body images, equally
detrimental are feelings of inadequacy from the size and appearance from the
size, shape and appearance of genitals and breasts. Many men and women compare
themselves to pornographic images of sexualized body parts The actors in these
films do not reflect the norm, they got those jobs because of their unnaturally
Surprisingly we all believe that there is a direct and simple relationship
between having a positive sense of physical self and a positive relationship
with sexuality. On a certain level, it is true that feeling good about your
body makes you more comfortable with it and more likely to create healthy sexual
Interestingly, positive body image doesn’t always lead to healthy sexuality.
Studies have shown that the opposite is true for men with a positive body
images. They were more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior than men with
lower body esteem. However women with positive body images were less likely to
engage in risky sexual behavior. It is hard to understand these differences,
except in the context of the mysterious and unique relationship we all have to
our sexuality. What’s more is that the impact between body image and sexuality
functions in the inverse as well. Satisfying sexual exploration and behavior can
have a positive impact on body image.
Women who don’t feel sexy because of their body image in the world, have
reported high levels of sexual satisfaction. The power of engaging and
satisfying intimacy lifts the inhibitions and self consciousness that women
experience. This is a paradigm shift in the same way that we are beginning to
recognize that waking up the arousal mechanism in the body can shift the mental
experience of desire. The act of intimacy and the deep satisfaction that
accompanies it can actually turn the body image problem on its head.