Suzi Godon says being sensitive to your boyfriend’s feelings is likely to be a more effective strategy than throwing on the lights and demanding more adventure.
Q. I’m in my mid-30s. I’ve met a new man who is fantastic — but for someone who is normally very confident, he’s surprisingly shy in bed.
When we have sex, it’s very unadventurous and with the lights off.
How can I build his confidence? I’d love him to take the lead.
A. If he has never shown any interest in being sexually assertive and he regularly insists on having the lights off, his reticence could either be sexual anxiety, or it could be related to negative body image.
Darkness often becomes a security blanket for men and women who feel insecure for whatever reason.
Good sexual relationships are predicated on mutual trust, and that takes time to build, so being sensitive to his feelings is likely to be a more effective strategy than throwing on the lights and demanding more adventure.
However, in all committed relationships there comes a point where couples feel safe enough to relax and drop their guard, and as you become more familiar with each other, some of his self-consciousness may dissipate naturally.
In the meantime, you can help him to jump small hurdles one at a time.
One exercise that will build trust and indicate where his vulnerabilities lie is to undress opposite each other in a room that is candlelit or has soft lighting.
Take turns removing one item of clothing each.
So, for example, you take his shirt off and then he takes your shirt off.
If he finds this exercise very uncomfortable, you can be pretty sure that his sexual reticence relates to his body.
A lot of men are unhappy with —and increasingly preoccupied by — the way they look.
A 2012 study of British men conducted by the University of the West of England revealed that 38% of men would sacrifice at least a year of their life in exchange for a perfect body.
The survey also found nearly a third of men thought about their appearance at least five times a day.
If your boyfriend is happy for you to see him naked, but he insists on covering up when the interaction becomes sexual, his anxiety is more likely to relate to his erection.
Men who are perfectly normal in every other sense can become fixated on the size and shape of their erect penis, and this can inhibit how sexually adventurous they allow themselves to be.
For example, a man who thinks his erection is too short won’t mind missionary under a duvet, but would feel far too self-conscious to let his partner give him oral sex.
Research carried out by the psychiatrist Dr David Veale suggests that about 30% of men are dissatisfied with their genitals.
Self-flagellation about not conforming to ideals of physical perfection used to be more common with women.
Now more men are having first-hand experience of the ways that negative body image can poison the mind, distort perspective and erode self-confidence.
The truth is, no body is perfect, no mind is perfect and no life is perfect — we are all beautifully flawed.
Ultimately, building body confidence is something people have to take personal responsibility for, but your support, flattery, encouragement, enthusiasm and appreciation can really help.
You can’t make your boyfriend more confident, but routinely remind him you love him just the way he is and you will, at least, give him no reason to feel anxious.
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