Let’s Talk About Sex: Body Image and Bedroom Tension

By Bethany Probst

Women discuss the effects that self-esteem has on the ability to get comfortable with their partners in the bedroom.

The lights are off and you’re laying there with your back on the bed, hoping your partner doesn’t notice the acne on your skin or the stretch marks on your legs. Some of us may have found ourselves in this situation when we’re not feeling the most confident during sex.

Stressful life events or mental illness can play a huge role in the way young women perceive themselves and their sexual responsiveness. Grace Turner, a junior nursing student, recalled how her struggle with anorexia turned her sex life into a never ending rollercoaster of frustration and doubt.

“Somedays I feel really confident about my body and the progress that I’ve made but other days I realize that I’m never going to fit my standards,” said Turner. “I’m never going to be skinny enough, I will never be happy enough. Even if I was literally just skin and bones.”

Turner mentioned how she used to enjoy having sex when she was at a place in her life where she felt confident. However, she said when she went on birth-control her freshman year of college, her sudden weight gain caused her body image to spiral out of control.

“I just stopped having sex,” Turner said. “I felt like if I hooked up with a guy and he didn’t contact me that it was because of my body. It went from being something that boosted my confidence to taking it away.”

While many women that let their insecurities get in the way of intimacy may feel like the only one, they’re not alone. According to a 2019 study done by Brigham Young University, body image has a huge influence on both mental distraction and body confidence. 

Women who struggle with negative body image are more likely to avoid sexual encounters with their partners and are less likely to initiate sexual intimacy. Since body image is more of a mental association with one’s body rather than a physical reflection, many women can have a negative perception of how they look even if they don’t see anything physically wrong with themselves.

While physically everything might be the same as before, insecurity, societal expectations or verbal harassment can lead to developing feelings about their body that are different from how many others may view them. Turner said that despite the negative thoughts, the rational side of her knew that there wasn’t much of a visible change with her body.

“I’ve talked to guys about it too and most of them say they think a girl is beautiful because she’s just beautiful,” she said. “It’s not because she doesn’t have cellulite or some sort of noticeable, physical mark.”

Alexandra Radovic, a senior journalism student, said she feels the most insecure when having sex because there isn’t a way to hide the things about her body that bother her.

“When I’m standing up and wearing certain clothes, I get to control how I look and what I cover,” Radovic said. “But when I’m naked I feel like I have less control, which always makes me anxious.”

Some women choose to take back some of that control in the bedroom by leading with their partners. Radovic first discovered a way to own her confidence in the bedroom when she showed her partner how to touch her in a way that she liked.

“Instead of fake moaning, I just put my hand on his hand and showed him what I wanted,” Radovic said. “I was proud of myself cause I didn’t give these staged reactions for once, and I was able to actually get what I wanted without making him feel bad.”

Another way women can improve confidence in the bedroom is to get more comfortable with their bodies when they’re alone. Radovic said she likes to buy cute lingerie off of Amazon and practice wearing it to make her feel more confident.

“Sometimes I would just wear mine in my apartment alone and practice self love and be like ‘Damn, I look good,’ even if no one was there to look at me,” she said. “I’d also say to just be naked with yourself more often and get to know your body instead of hiding it.”

The importance of self love is a topic that has grown over the past few years as body positivity movements have taken over social media. Arianna Beers, a sophomore kinesiology student, is no stranger to the idea and said the best advice she can give to others is to learn how to love themselves first.

“I think if women don’t feel confident in their body image, it can be super difficult to be in sexual situations,” Beers said. “It’s so important to love yourself before you want other people to love you because it will make you feel more confident and empowered in the bedroom.”

Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of LaggedOnUser’s Flickr account.

Bethany Probst is a senior journalism major and can be reached at bethaprobst@gmail.com.

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