Hate Your Body? How It’s Ruining Your Sex Life and What to Do About It

Published: MARCH 22, 2017 | Updated: JULY 24, 2017
Bad body image can have a serious impact on sexual performance - and pleasure.

Getting distracted during sex happens to the best of us.


No matter how much preparation and foreplay you do, it’s easy for the mind to wander. Your to-do list, that issue at work, the fight you had, and, oh, how many more days until you run out of underwear? As familiar as this list may be, none of these worries likely occurs as often as ones about your body. In fact, body dissatisfaction is one of the most common distractions during sex. It’s so common that psychologists gave it its own name: body appearance cognitive distraction during sexual activity (BACDSA). Whew!

The bottom line? If you hate your body, it's probably having a very negative impact on your sexual performance - and pleasure!

Body Image and Sex: The Research

In 2012, Portuguese researchers set out to take a look at how body image impacted sexual function and performance. They surveyed nearly 700 adult men and women from the community to explore:


  • Which, if any, specific body parts caused concern during sex
  • What aspects of body dissatisfaction contributed to BACDSA
  • Whether relationship variables also impacted it
  • As it turns out, two main factors predict BACDSA: overall body dissatisfaction and worrying about specific body part(s) during sex.

    The more often participants reported experiencing negative thoughts, behaviors and feelings about their bodies, the more likely they were to report being distracted by their bodies during sex. It didn’t matter whether their stinkin’ thinkin’ happened during sex or at any other time. More “I hate my body”-esque thoughts, more BACDSA.

    As for worrying about specific body parts, the belly was the most common source of distress for both genders. It was followed by the breasts for cis-women and the penis for cis-men.

    Relationship factors played an indirect role. For example, some participants reported disliking their body but not experiencing BACDSA because they felt loved and sexy, secure in their relationship, and confident that their partner loved their body.


    Gender Impacts on Body Image

    Unsurprisingly, cis-women were more likely to report experiencing BACDSA than cis-men. They also reported worrying about more body parts.

    Additionally, relationship factors played a bigger role. If cis-women reported perceiving that their partners had an issue with their bodies, they were also more likely to report experiencing BACDSA. On the other hand, those who said they felt satisfied with their partner’s feelings towards their body were less likely to do so.

    For cis-men, relationship factors played a small yet unclear role in predicting BACDSA. Other factors that weren’t measured may impact the connection between relationship factors and BACDSA in cis-men. It also could be that they’re more likely to struggle with the other common cause of distraction during sex: performance anxiety.


    Struggling with BACDSA? Here's What to Do About It

    Getting distracted by your body during sex has been shown to cause problems between the sheets, including lowered sexual:

    • Confidence
    • Assertiveness
    • Arousal
    • Pleasure
    • Orgasm
    • Satisfaction

    Learning what causes this distraction gives you a starting point (or two) to improve your sex life. But you must start by loving your body, one part at a time. Why just one body part? Because healing your relationship with one body part can be easier than attempting to love on your entire body all at once. Start with your abs, breasts, genitals, butt, thighs, wherever it is on your body that causes you to struggle.

    Look at it. Touch it. Make a list of all the things you like about that body part. Literally, write them down. All these negative thoughts will come up first. Don’t include them on your list. Do this at least once a week. Over time, the things you like become more noticeable, while the criticism gets quieter. Rinse and repeat for other body parts you don’t adore.


    Combine Self-love with Mindfulness During Sex

    Our brains like to go, go, go! Instead of bemoaning this, harness it! Use all your thinking to focus on (hopefully) yummy sensations. One of my favorite ways to do this is to cycle through my senses. Push yourself to think about five things you see, hear, taste, smell, and feel while you're with your partner. Then cycle through as many times as you need to stay fully present.

    Be Gentle with Yourself

    Even people with amazing bodies still struggle sometimes with body image. It’s more than OK – it’s totally normal. The goal is to have more body love days than hateful ones, and more sexy times where you’re present than distracted. Any movement in this direction is bound to help you create the more intimate, exciting, and fulfilling sex life you crave.

    Kait Scalisi

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