People often assume that sex writers have the sexual confidence thing nailed. Nope. We’re human too - we do not get our sexual superhero mask, cape, and super powers when we start writing. Case in point: Over the last year, I have been struggling with some health issues that have resulted in my body looking very, very different than it did before. For me, this has brought about a huge dip in sexual confidence. I know this is something a lot of people can relate to. And the question it brings up is a tough one: How can we feel sexy when we feel bad about our bodies?
6 Ways to Feel Better about Your Body in Bed
Just in the nick of time I sat down with sex educator, author and body image coach Elle Chase and bounced around some ideas for finding your sexual groove when you’re not feeling great about your body. Here are our top six ways to feel better about your body in bed.
Look at Bodies in Places That Aren’t Mainstream Media
When we consume a steady diet of movies, television and magazines, it becomes easy to believe that everyone has perfect hair and make up and whatever body type the world is saying is sexy at the moment. (Don’t forget, it changes!) But the world is full of sexy people of all different shapes, sizes, races, ages, abilities, genders and more! Sometimes, I go hang out in one of Portland’s clothing-optional spas (large outdoor hot tubs are involved, it’s lovely) to remind myself of what the world at large looks like. Other great options (in case your city is less public-nudity friendly than mine) include sex-positive porn - the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health has a great directory to guide you - and books like Elle’s "Curvy Girl Sex," which contains a ton of body-positive advice, sex positions, toy tips and more as well as inside covers that are lined with images of gorgeous people of all shapes and sizes!
Read: Visual Feast: Boosting Your Naked Confidence
Read "Come As You Are"
OK, so I give this advice to just about everybody dealing with any sexual issue ever, but I maintain that it’s a really good idea: Read "Come As You Are." In it, author Emily Nagoski explains how our minds work in relation to sex in ways I had never understood before. Check out what she has to say about the “dual control model” of sexual responses. According to this model, when it comes to sex we all have gas pedals (things that make us say “oh yes!”) and brake pedals (things that make us say “oh no!”). If we are disliking our bodies, there’s a good chance the thoughts we are having about them (that they will turn off our partners, that we are not sexy, etc.) are slamming on the brakes. So, what can we do about it? It is possible to essentially retrain your brain to ignore the body-image panic and focus instead on pleasure. How? Check out the next tip!
I’ll be honest: as someone who copes with mental illness and works in a touchy-feely profession, I’m pretty much at the point where just hearing the word “mindfulness” irks me. But this totally works and if it could win over a mindfulness cynic like me imagine what it could do for you!
So, what do we mean by “mindfulness” here? Simple: Pay attention to your pleasure and your partner. In other words, stay tuned in to the moment, rather than getting hung up in your head.
”Generally, sex is best when you can be in the moment, focusing on your pleasure and that of your partner. If we are under the impression that our bodies make or break someone's sexual attraction to us, this false premise takes us out of the moment. Take your focus off you and into co-creating a pleasurable sexual experience,” Elle told me.
OK, that actually sounds really good!
(BDSM and bondage helps some people stay in moment as well. If you're into it, it's worth a try!)
Set the Scene
When we are not feeling great about ourselves it is particularly tricky to transition from “regular day” to “bow chicka bow wow,” so let the transition be a thing. In "Come As You Are," Emily Nagoski talks about responsive desire, or desire that is triggered by sexy circumstances/situations. What that means is that if you want to feel sexy, you may need to set the scene. Get some music going: Marvin Gaye, Barry White, Nine Inch Nails, The Wiggles ... I’m not judging, whatever does it for you! According to this study, 40% of people said that music was more important to their arousal than their partner's body and touch. Light some candles if that’s your thing. I always set out the toys and accessories I know will equal a good time: my favorite wand, a paddle. Create the circumstances that make you feel sexy and help you get out of your own anxiety and into your arousal.
Talk to Your Partner About Your Insecurities
To be filed under “so simple it sounds like it couldn’t possibly work” is talking to your partner about your feelings. I know, I know, telling someone you are having sex with that you're afraid your ass is a turn-off doesn’t sound super sexy but it can do wonders to put your mind at ease. I struggled with this one myself for two reasons:
- Under normal (outside the bedroom) circumstances my partner saying “I think you’re hot” does nothing for me when I’m feeling unattractive because my feelings of inadequacy are coming from me and someone else’s opinion doesn’t change them.
- I’m non-monogamous, so I had to have this conversation twice.
But, you know what? I took the chance and it totally worked. Here’s why: My imagination was running wild as to what my partners might have been thinking about my new body. Talking to them about it brought that to end because I was forced to hear what they were actually thinking. The verdict: Neither felt that having more of me to love could be a bad thing and I’m pretty sure they are far from the only people who feel this way about their partner. We all tend to be harder on ourselves than anyone else. So, before you assume anyone is thinking anything, ask them!
Wear Things That Make You Feel Good
Read that carefully. I didn’t say “dress sexy” or “wear lingerie.” I said “wear things that make YOU feel good”. As Elle says, “we are inherently sexy,” but I firmly believe that you can set that up to shine through by ensuring that you feel like the best version of yourself. What makes you feel good? If it’s lingerie or other sexy wear, go for it. If it’s a great pair of jeans, rock on. If it’s a terrific bathrobe, get it! If you feel good, you’ll be in a much better position to get sexy.
Remember folks, we deserve to enjoy our sex lives now. Not when we are a different size, NOW. We are all beautiful and sexy and worthy of pleasure. So, let’s turn down the volume on our inner critics and turn up the volume on our inner hedonists. Have fun folks, and above all, be kind to yourselves.
JoEllen is a writer, speaker, researcher and mental health advocate whose work explores the impact of depression on sex and relationships. Since 2012 she has written about sex, mental health, and how none of us are broken on her award-winning site The Redhead Bedhead.
JoEllen's book The Monster Under the Bed: Sex, Depression & The Conversation We Aren’t Having is now available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook.