Q. I’ve put on a few pounds and feel uncomfortable in certain sexual positions because I am so conscious of my belly.
I’ve gone on a diet but I’m trying to avoid sex until I’ve lost the paunch.
My wife thinks my lack of desire is related to her, but I just don’t feel terribly masculine and I don’t want her to stop fancying me.
A. Gaining weight is an almost universal side-effect of being happily married.
When a psychologist at the Southern Methodist University in Texas examined the relationship between marital satisfaction and weight gain, she found that, for each unit rise in satisfaction, men and women gained one tenth of a BMI unit every six months.
This equates to about a pound a year, which doesn’t sound like much, but over the course of a 25-year relationship it is an elasticated waistband.
Besides the health implications, being overweight has negative psychological consequences.
The correlation between body weight and body dissatisfaction has been examined much more extensively in women, but research shows that men ruminate about their weight and their appearance just as much as women do.
Although women spend more time investing in maintenance behaviours such as grooming, or putting on make-up, a study by the department of psychology at the University of British Columbia found that men and women report almost identical levels of appearance-related cognitive attention.
They also identified a direct relationship between negative body image and sexual avoidance.
Specifically, they found that the more people worried about the way they looked, the more self-conscious they were during sexual activity, and the more likely they were to avoid sex.
When a clinical psychologist at Duke University, North Carolina, studied sexual difficulties in 1,210 overweight people, he found that four out of every 10 reported some sort of sexual dysfunction, and many avoided sex entirely.
In contrast, people who are content with their bodies experience fewer sexual difficulties, more sexual satisfaction, more frequent sex, more reliable orgasm and they are less likely to monitor or evaluate their bodies during sex.
Once couples stop having sex, resuming sexual interaction becomes increasingly intimidating. There is no gentle road back. You really do just have to go for it.
If certain positions make you feel particularly self-conscious, stick to positions such as spooning, where she can’t see your stomach, but intimacy is not compromised.
You might also feel less inhibited if you make the environment darker and more romantic by having sex by candlelight.
Screening out visual distraction can be terribly liberating and might make you feel less body-conscious until you get used to sex again and feel comfortable.
In the meantime, you need to consider your wife’s feelings. You know that your sexual avoidance stems from a lack of confidence, but she doesn’t.
To her, it feels like rejection, and if you don’t address the gap between your understanding and hers, it has the potential to become a much more serious rift.
Having sex with someone who loves you is a tonic, both for your self-esteem and your body image.
In fact, a study by Rutgers University, New Jersey, has shown that men express greater body satisfaction when there is a high degree of sexual intimacy in their sexual relationship.
Don’t let your inner critic sabotage an activity that has the power to make you feel better about yourself.
You are lucky enough to have a wife who doesn’t care about your tummy and who wants to have sex with you just the way you are.
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