What comes to mind when you think about your body and how it relates to your sexuality and sexual experiences? I’m willing to bet (depressingly) that quite a few people would relate the two concepts with words such as “embarrassed,” “shame” and “not good enough.” If I’m wrong in using these words to describe your particular narrative, then great, keep doing your thing boo-boo. But unfortunately, this is the reality for a lot of people in a culture where we are conditioned to feel that our bodies are never good enough. Not only are our bodies never good enough, we believe that we must strive to look like the photo shopped people in magazines and print advertising, all of which are portrayed to have a completely unattainable body type.
The problem is, these images are so pervasive that we are made to feel that these body types are actually attainable since they’re literally everywhere. When we see nothing else in popular culture and media other than these ‘perfect’ body types (i.e. thin, toned, usually “curvy in all the ‘right’ places” for female-identified individuals; muscular and tall for male-identified individuals, and not to mention, ‘white’ for all identifies), we think these are the standards of beauty that everyone desires to obtain as well as desires to ‘get with’. When we don’t fit in these body-type categories, we pick ourselves apart and highlight the things that are ‘undesirable’ until there is not a shred of self-love left.
So what effect does this have on your sexuality and sexual experiences? Well, it can completely ruin them for one thing. When you’re worried about how your stomach looks when bending over your partner, you’re not focused on the sensations and pleasure you could be getting from that experience. When you’re worried about what parts of you jiggle when rolling around in bed, you’re not focusing on connecting with your partner. When you’re worried about not having completely shaved legs, pubic area, armpits, or back, you’re not able to focus on how it feels when your partner touches those areas. It goes even further and deeper when we delve into trans folks’ body images, how they navigate their partners’ reaction to them and their bodies and how it relates to their identities. All these issues have a powerful pull over where our minds go when we’re engaged in sexual activity, and usually, that isn’t a good thing.
In the last few years, we have seen a big push in the body positivity movement. People are speaking out about false notions of what is conventionally attractive and desirable. 19 year-old Samm Newman brought national attention and dialogue to social media bias in what they deem ‘appropriate’ on their platforms. Instagram deleted her account after she posted a picture of herself in a bra and boy shorts (pictured below, far left), saying the picture violated their community guidelines about nudity. Samm rightly took to other platforms of social media to point out that her picture was exactly the same, and much tamer than a lot of pictures you usually see on Instagram (examples beside Samm’s picture), and that the deleting of her account was discrimination against fat people who love their bodies the way they are.
Samm’s account was quickly reinstated after the attention she received, with Instagram releasing a statement that said the deleting of her account was a “mistake,” when we all know it wasn’t. It is certainly not a mistake that the above pictures were allowed to stay on Instagram (still), and that there are literally millions more like them that don’t seem to violate their policies.
What we’re seeing play out here is media creating our culture’s regulations about who is allowed to be proud of their bodies and who should be ashamed. As a product of our society, sexual confidence is inextricably linked to how we feel about our bodies and how we think our partner(s) view them. So how are people supposed to feel confident in themselves if the world is telling them they have no reason to feel it? How is someone supposed to tune out a lifetime of schema of what a desirable body looks like and begin to love every inch of themselves when we’re constantly being fed these images of unattainable perfection? The first step is simply realizing these perceptions are given to us by outside source, and that there can be a totally different view of ourselves that comes from within us.
On a personal note, I can illustrate this point that the outside sources become our inside voices. I did an interesting thing a couple months ago when about 15 girls got together for one of my best friend’s bachelorette parties. I told everyone I was making a rule that whenever someone said something negative about themselves, someone else needed to call it out and correct it or say something positive. It was shocking the amount of times someone called others out, because with a group of 15 girls, the negative comments seemed to ALWAYS be there. If it wasn’t something about how someones arm looked fat in a picture, it was about how their hair looked bad, or their stomach was poking out too much in their dress. A lot of the girls said they hadn’t realized the amount of times a day they say negative things about themselves. It’s ridiculous the lengths that we go to to point out of flaws in ourselves, and the amount of times we criticize and beat ourselves down for things that are completely natural and normal to 99% of the population. So, the take away here is to realize when you think negatively about yourself, try to take active steps to think a different way about it, realizing that outside sources shouldn’t dictate your personal self worth. This takes time and practice. It takes a lot of effort to break down years and years of learning to hate your body. But trust me, when you start accepting and loving your body, your self-image, confidence and sex life will be a lot more fulfilling. So treat yo self to some body positivity!