An unhealthy relationship with your body can impact your ability to enjoy sex. Body shame, low sexual self-esteem and buying into myths about how your body functions can all lead to distress and dissatisfaction in your sex life. Betty Dodson's Bodysex workshop aims to combat sources of sexual insecurity and improve body image. Dodson started her workshop during the feminist movement to teach women how to take control of their bodies and orgasms. She would talk to women about masturbation, debunk particular sex myths, and encourage her participants to embrace their bodies and learn to practice "self-love." I first heard about Betty’s workshops during my training as a sex therapist. I learned that Bodysex offered an intimate setting for women to talk about sex, share experiences, and overcome sexual barriers. Last year, when I found out that Betty was offering the workshop in New York, I signed up, flew to Manhattan, and even convinced my colleague to come along with me. The experience changed my professional and personal life by challenging me to face the two biggest barriers to a satisfying sex life: body image and talking about sex.

Confront Yourself: Improving Body Image

As women, our body image directly affects our sexuality. It is entwined with social ideals and standards of beauty and is multi-faceted, impacting many areas of our lives. Most women don’t realize body image is something that is learned. We are not born hating our bodies. Our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, partners and friends all contribute to how we view and perceive our bodies. Body image is also socially constructed. There are lots of misconceptions about the relationship between body image and sexuality. Having a positive body image doesn’t always lead to better sex, but learning to be more comfortable with your body can lead to more positive sexual experiences. Women who develop a relationship with their body through exploration and self-pleasure are better equipped to teach a partner how to sexually satisfy them. Body image also impacts the decisions we make - negative body image can cause us to make unhealthy sexual decisions, and the better you feel about your body, the better your sexual health. (Learn how to do away with common body-image roadblocks in Worried About Weight? How to Have Spectacular Sex Anyway.)

Imagine walking into a room full of complete strangers, without any clothes on, and talking about your sex life. Well that's what the Bodysex workshop was like...literally. The workshop included two days of sitting in a circle, completely nude, and talking about our body image issues and orgasm experiences. Each participant did a genital show-and-tell (yes, that's exactly what it sounds like), and performed a guided masturbation. We talked about our sex lives and bonded over the many similar experiences that we share as women. Certainly not every woman would feel comfortable in a Bodysex workshop, but something that I quickly realized is that when women can learn to be vulnerable with one another, they are that much closer to overcoming genital shame and other sexual barriers. This vulnerability leads to a huge positive shift in how we experience sex. For example, most women will admit that they have never looked at their vulvas. As a sex therapist, I often talk to women about body acceptance and will recommend that they use a hand mirror really take a look at themselves. The first time I saw my vulva was an experience was like no other, but confronting myself in the mirror allowed me to get in touch with my body and feel more open and comfortable. (Read 10 Things You Don't Know About Self-Love for more ways to boost your sexual confidence.)

Finding the Words: Talking About Sex

In Betty’s workshop, we were often given the floor to share how we felt about our sexual experiences. For some women, this was the first time they had talked about sex publicly. It was difficult to find the words to truly articulate such a deeply personal part of our sexuality. As a sex therapist, I talk about sex all day long. In the workshop, it wasn't talking about sex that was difficult for me, but I did find it challenging to focus on myself and my own sexuality. Talking about sex is medicinal in that it can heal the wounded body, heart, mind and soul. I once came across a quote that has been my mantra in my professional work ever since: "Talk about sex and change the world." Once we begin to talk about sex, something changes within us. If we can talk about sex, we can talk about anything. (For more on the importance of communication, read Why We Should All Be Talking About Sex a lot More Often).

Women who learn to embrace sexual communication and enhance their sexual vocabulary will be better equipped, as mothers and partners, in dealing with sexual issues. I remember the first time I heard the word "clitoris." It wasn't until late in my teens that this remarkable organ was explained to me, and it ignited my interest in human sexuality. Little did I know that one day I would build a career out of seeking knowledge and sharing it with others. My work is rooted in helping women overcome the barriers that interfere with a satisfying, passionate and fulfilling sex life. We are born sexual beings and sexual satisfaction is our birth right. Body image and talking about sex are part of being human. Whether through participation in a Bodysex workshop with the legendary Betty Dodson, by joining a support group that deals with sexual concerns, or through conversation with a close friend, my hope is that women can get the healing and guidance they need to move past their personal barriers and make sexual satisfaction a reality.