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All women have insecurities about their bodies, and that self-consciousness can rear its ugly head during sex. For many women, body consciousness can make it difficult to impossible to enjoy being intimate. During sex, you may find yourself getting distracted by your physical appearance (“Wow, my boobs awful in this position”), or trapped in critical thoughts (“I hope he doesn’t look at my my stomach bulging over”). Or you may even avoid being intimate all together, all for the sole reason that you hate your body.
Of course, your relationship with your body is complex and multi-faceted. Patterns that have developed over decades take time to unwind. Nonetheless, you can still make progress toward a healthier self-esteem, and sex can often be a surprisingly great container for that personal development.
Here, a few simple ways to start feeling more confident in your own skin so you can enjoy sex more.
1. Acknowledge the price you’re paying.
Realizing that poor self esteem is ruining your sex life can be a powerful motivator. Take the time to recognize the full impact your negative body talk is having. Are there certain acts you won’t allow yourself to do, or specific positions you won’t attempt? Do you find yourself getting so distracted by your thoughts that it makes intimacy a burden? To avoid making this exercise feel overly depressing, try formulating some realistic goals as well.
2. Look at pictures of average women’s bodies.
The images of women that we see in the media are so skewed that it’s impossible not to develop confidence problems. It’s really helpful to seek out more accurate representations of womens’ bodies. Two of my favorite sites are MyBodyGallery.com and LabiaLibrary.org.au. At My Body Gallery, you can input your height and weight and see dozens of pictures of other women who share your dimensions. Labia Library has pictures of women’s genitals. Seeing these unretouched photos makes you realize how much variety exists in the human body, and may make you feel more comfortable with your own.
3. Practice connecting with your body in healthy ways.
Think about the times that you feel most comfortable in your own skin, the places where you feel most content, and the activities that your body genuinely enjoys doing. Do you feel grounded when you’re jogging through the park? Confident when you’re lifting weights? Happy when you're snuggling in bed with your partner? Try to partake in one of these activities at least once a week, and be mindful about actually enjoying that time. The more effort you make to engage with your body in healthy ways, the better you’ll feel in the less-than-ideal situations.
4. Spend more time naked
I know it might sound intimidating, but if you feel self-conscious about your body during sex, you may find it useful to spend even more time naked. Sleep naked, eat breakfast naked, watch TV naked, pay your bills naked. It's like desensitization therapy. The more time you spend in your birthday suit, the less intense it will feel getting naked before sex.
5. Invest in good lighting and great lingerie.
Set up your bedroom to make you feel as relaxed and confident as possible. Candlelight, red lightbulbs, and dimmer switches all make your skin look amazing. Take the time to find lingerie that fits right and feels like you. Sexy lingerie doesn't need to be a push-up bra and thong. You might feel more authentically hot in a silky nightie or a vintage corset. Spend as much as your budget can afford to send yourself the message that feeling sexy is important.
6. Bring yourself back into the moment.
When you catch yourself getting distracted by negative thoughts in the middle of sex, take a deep breath and redirect your attention to what you’re doing. You may find this easier to do if you create a visual for setting your thoughts aside, like putting them up on a high shelf or watching them float down a river. Or you can try a little self-talk, and say to yourself kindly but firmly, “I don’t want to think about that right now" or "I want to focus on being present with my partner."
7. Ask your partner to give some love to a hated part of your body.
Without knowing anything about you or your relationship, I can almost guarantee you that your partner doesn’t feel as negatively about your body as you do. We are all our own worst critics, especially when it comes to our bodies. When your self-consciousness flares up, ask your partner to kiss, caress, or compliment that part of your body. You can tell him or her that it’s because you’re feeling self-conscious, or you can simply ask for a little extra love without explaining why. I know the idea of calling even more attention to that part of your body might sound embarrassing, but seeing that a little cellulite doesn’t prevent your partner from worshipping your thighs can be a healing experience.
8. Focus on pleasure.
Another way to stay more present is to focus on the sensation that your body feels during sex. If negative thoughts creep into your head, start thinking instead about how much pleasure you’re feeling. Notice what parts of your body are feeling the most stimulated, and try to feel into the nuances of the sensation. You can also try touching your body with your hand, to remind you to be more present in your skin.