I decided to write on this topic of how we view our body and our relationship to our sexuality for personal reasons. I have seen first hand how a young woman’s shame and disgust for life can be turned inwards and become self-destructive. She can’t bring herself to hate the world, so she hates herself instead, and this leads to all sorts of behaviours; Eating disorders, self-harming, depression, just to name a few.
Our culture constantly blasts us with ‘perfectionistic’ views, of our bodies, our work, our families. It’s impossible to live up to the fantasies we see masquerading as ‘normal’ in the movies and media. When I first began to think about this topic, I was focussing on women’s experience of this type of self-hatred. As I was searching, I found that I had neglected to also consider men’s body image issues, and of course, the Queer community has known for a long time that body-image disturbances are part and parcel of trying to figure out where you fit on the gender and sexuality spectrums.
What struck me also was the multifaceted aspect of how we form our own body image. There is both a perceptual component, how we view our body size and our muscularity, and a behavioural component, ie. How much we diet, exercise or look in the mirror. For men, there can even be an over focus on penis size. Perhaps for Queer folk, there is the added confusion of feeling one way inside and seeing another thing reflected back from the mirror. That’s a lot to deal with! Dissatisfaction, disgust, shame and sadness are just the beginning of the complex emotions that can arise.
In my experience, I have seen that these ‘negative’ feelings or hatred of one’s own body, leads to a difficulty in engaging in intimacy or sex with another person. By its very nature, sex and/or intimacy require us to be more open and vulnerable, especially with our body. Sadly, many people insist on having sex with the lights off, or removing as little clothing as possible, or even not having sex at all, because they feel so bad about their own body. Often their preoccupation with how they look to the other person gets in the way of them having any kind of shared experience at all, and sex becomes just something to be endured.
This idea of punishing their own body can lead to a negative feeling towards their partner also, perhaps judging their partner’s looks or performance the way they are talking to themselves. Taken to the extreme, these types of feelings can lead to sadistic tendencies, and while I am not judging BDSM or those who engage in it, it is a worthwhile exploration to ask what motivates that behaviour and to be honest and understanding of ourselves in the process.
Our body image is intimately entwined with our self esteem and our psychosocial quality of life. Our ability to enter into and even commit to long term relationships is part of this picture. Much of the work we do as Sex coaches and therapists is helping someone cultivate a healthy and positive self image and relationship with their own body. This can pave the way for the person to explore caring for themselves and others, which leads to intimacy and a feeling of connectedness.
Part of this work must come from within ourselves and equally, we must strive as a society to create more healthy and wholistic images and role models in our media and our collective mindset. Striving for perfection is doomed to lead us into a more dissociative state as a whole. Let’s work together to form more grounded and realistic ideas of ourselves as human beings, as bodies, and as souls who have worth to the whole just by being born. Acceptance and self-love are hard won assets in today’s society, but something worth striving for.