If I asked you what the worst thing about having sex is, what would you say?
For nearly one out of three women, it’s body shame.
Sex toy company Lovehoney asked over 3,000 people this question. Men’s top concern about sex was when it was over too quickly. But for women, the most commonly reported worst thing about sex was feeling self-conscious—some 30% of women said this.
Why women feel so self-conscious during sex—and how it affects their pleasure.
“Our culture puts a lot of pressure on women to be attractive yet not too sexual—open and receptive to sexual experience but not too knowledgeable or demanding,” certified sex coach Myisha Battle, M.S., explains to health news. “There is also societal pressure for women’s bodies to conform to an often unattainable standard of beauty. All of this (and sometimes more) contributes to why women feel self-conscious during sex.”
Past research has found body image to be a big roadblock to women’s sexual well-being: Studies have shown feeling bad about your body makes you less likely to advocate for your needs in bed, stand firm in your boundaries, and ask for safer sexual practices. On the other hand, feeling confident in your body—particularly your genitalia—has been linked with being less stressed over “performance” during sex and actually having an easier time getting turned on, lubricated, and having orgasms.
“It’s really challenging to believe in your sense of pleasure when you are constantly questioning whether or not you are living up to standards that the world imposes upon you,” Battle says. “When we don’t feel the best in our bodies, our sex lives can suffer. In my practice I see people who have difficulty with arousal and orgasm as a result of self-monitoring and overthinking. It’s actually very common. When our minds are racing with these thoughts, it can inhibit our ability to tap into physical sensations and dampen our experience of pleasure.”
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How to get out of your head during sex.
1. The “M” word.
Yes, it’s about mindfulness—you can’t get away from it!
Mindfulness is deeply tied to sexual pleasure. No matter your gender, if you regularly find yourself feeling self-conscious and anxious about the way your body looks during sex, Battle recommends taking up a meditation or mindfulness practice to be able to monitor your thoughts and learn to release the negative ones.
“Notice when you’re having a self-critical thought. Keep a journal if it’s helpful. You may be surprised at how many times this happens,” she explains. “You can then try replacing each negative thought with a positive one. It takes time and sometimes a lot of effort to come up with something positive, but over time it can be really helpful for cultivating a positive self-image.”
(If you need some ideas for positive thoughts to repeat to yourself about your body, I love feminist life coach and women’s rights lawyer Kara Loewentheil, J.D.’s recommendations.)
2. Rally the troops.
Self-confidence stems from within, but that doesn’t mean the people in your life who love you can’t help you in that journey. Research shows people who talk about sex with their friends tend to have more sexual self-confidence and are more willing to ask for what they want in bed. And if you’re in a relationship, that partner of yours should be worshipping your body—and making it obvious. Another study found people who feel like their partner really appreciates their body are more sexually satisfied, have more desire and orgasms, and are more satisfied with their relationship overall.
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3. Develop a body love ritual.
“I also recommend taking some time out of each day to practice body acceptance and self-love. Take a moment to thank your legs for getting you to work, your belly for digesting your food, your arms for helping you carry your groceries, and so on,” Battle says. “We only get one body in this world, and regardless of ability, age, size, or race, every body has the capacity for pleasure and is deserving of it.”
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