The way a woman perceives her body can impact her experience and enjoyment during sexual activity. Research demonstrates that in women, less body image satisfaction is associated with poorer sexual wellbeing, including higher anxiety and lower assertiveness, esteem, desire, arousal, satisfaction, and orgasm frequency during sex (Dosch, Ghisletta, & Van der Linden, 2016). In particular, research supports that in situations where women experience the presence of a male gaze, they are more likely to feel an increase in self-consciousness and shame about the body (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). Subsequently, for women struggling with eating disorders, persistent body image concerns, and/or body dysmorphia, their body dissatisfaction may intensely impair their sexual experiences.
A Recent Study
While there does exist this correlation between negative body image and sexual experience in women, not much is known about whether women are aware of the impact. In their study, Weaver and Byers (2018) looked into how young women perceive their body image and its effect on their sexual wellbeing.
The researchers interviewed 16 young women (ages 19-29) from an undergraduate university in a Canadian province. All women were involved in a romantic relationship with a male partner; these relationships ranged between 1 month and 5 years. A majority of these women were White/Caucasian and all were heterosexual.
Weaver and Byers (2018) were specifically interested in the following questions:
How do women’s feelings about their body image affect their sexual experiences?
What factors improve or worsen this impact?
What techniques do women use to reduce this impact?
They asked participants general questions about their current romantic relationships and body image, as well as the relationship between the two, such as how participants feel about their body when taking part in sexual activity with their partner. They also asked participants if they do anything to make themselves feel more comfortable with their bodies during sex, or to cope with negative thoughts and feelings about their body image.
Improving Sex when Facing Poor Body Image
Weaver and Byers (2018) discussed various strategies that participants reported for enhancing their sexual experiences when facing negative body image:
- Focusing on physical sensations to remain present
- Finding aspects of themselves (outside appearance) that make them feel worthy and sexually desirable (these can translate into confidence during sex)
- Pushing aside, letting go, or talking back to their negative thoughts
- Talking to their partner about their insecurities
Furthermore, the researchers called for interventions that preach self-compassion and recommended mindfulness for focusing on the present moment by diverting from negative thoughts to the sensations of intimacy and sex. Thus, despite the influence of negative body image on sexual experience for women, there are ways that women can play an active role in combating their negative feelings and enhancing their sexual wellbeing.
Bio: Bahar Moheban, M.A. is a clinical psychology doctoral student and registered psychological assistant in Torrance under the supervision of Dr. Nazanin Moali. She offers individual and group counseling to adults and adolescents with eating disorders and body dissatisfaction. Bahar has mentored and facilitated support groups to help individuals develop a more peaceful relationship with food and body image. To improve your body image and subsequently enhance your sexual experiences, contact Bahar for a counseling appointment.