I only feel comfortable having sex when the lights are off

A woman can only have a happy, healthy relationship with a man when she has a similarly healthy relationship with her body.

* I have never felt good about my body, but recently I have started to worry that this is preventing me from forming a proper relationship. I only feel comfortable having sex with the lights off and I cover up afterwards. I would never walk around naked in front of a man. This annoyed my ex so much that he broke up with me, because he said that it stopped him feeling relaxed. How do I get over this?

>>You won’t get over feeling negative about your body without a lot of help and support. There is now widespread recognition that when it comes to size and shape, changing the way that women think about themselves is as important as changing how much they weigh — and sometimes it’s more important.

Negative female body image is an enormous problem. Research shows that girls start worrying about their size and shape from about the age of six. According to one British study, 52% of women say that they feel so overweight that they are reluctant to have sex (Sex in the Nation, 2011). If there was a way of harnessing the enormous amounts of energy that females expend on body hatred, we could at least drive Ireland’s power supply. But as things stand, the only thing that negative body image creates is a huge amount of anxiety, multiple eating disorders, loss of sexual desire, social isolation, introversion, depression and low self-esteem.

More recent diet models now incorporate counselling and emotional support, so if you are very overweight, you may want to investigate one of these. However, for your anxiety and inability to accept your body as it is, a one-to-one course of cognitive behavioural therapy , combined with neuro-linguistic programming, will be more effective than any diet.

Unlike psychoanalysis, which tends to dwell on the past and therefore takes a lot longer to make a difference, cognitive behavioural therapy is primarily concerned with changing how you think and what you do in the here and now. It does help you to analyse where your feelings and behaviour come from, but the main focus is on reconfiguring negative thought patterns so that they no longer cause you pain. It is used to treat a range of disorders, such as anxiety, depression, panic, phobias, stress, bulimia and obsessive compulsive disorder, and it works particularly well when used in conjunction with ‘mindfulness’ — a way of being aware of your thoughts, feelings and body sensations. You can find therapists to teach you mindfulness, but you can also teach yourself using CDs or audio downloads.

Jon Kabat-Zinn’s CD Mindfulness for Beginners is a good starting point. Just 20 minutes of practice every day will teach you to control what you focus your attention on.

Once you become ‘mindful’ you can consciously choose to avoid mental pitfalls, such as negative body image. Whatever size and shape a woman is, she can only have a happy, healthy relationship with a man when she has a similarly healthy relationship with her body.

Feeling comfortable when you are naked is fundamental to sexual intimacy, so if you find it difficult to do simple things, such as rubbing in body lotion after a shower because you want to cover up immediately, you need to force yourself to stop, look at yourself in the mirror and appreciate the things that are lovely about yourself. Nurture your body. Feed your skin with oils. Give yourself a face mask, manicure, pedicure or a spray tan. Learning to take care of, and respect, your body is a huge step towards self-acceptance. You only ever get one body, so be kind to it.

* Email questions to:suzigodson@mac.com


I’d always promised myself a day off school when Gay Bryne died.Secret diary of an Irish teacher: I’ve been thinking about my students, wondering who their ‘Gay Byrne’ will be

In an industry where women battle ageism and sexism, Meryl Streep has managed to decide her own destiny – and roles, writes Suzanne HarringtonJeepers Streepers: Hollywood royalty, all hail queen Meryl

'Ask Audrey' has been the newspaper's hysterical agony aunt “for ages, like”.Ask Audrey: Guten tag. Vot the f**k is the story with your cycle lanes?

Daphne Wright’s major new exhibition at the Crawford addresses such subjects as ageing and consumerism, writes Colette SheridanFinding inspiration in domestic situations

More From The Irish Examiner