Sex advice: ’Being naked makes me uptight with him’

READER: I feel very uncomfortable being naked and it makes me feel very awkward about sex. 

I think about the way I look all the time and sometimes I refuse to have sex because I feel so self-conscious. Certain positions are a no-no because they make my large stomach look so ugly. Because I am always thinking about how I look, I never really enjoy sex. My boyfriend doesn’t know how insecure I am because I have kept it from him and I think he just thinks that I am uptight, or have a low libido. How can I resolve my body-image problems without losing my relationship?

SUZI GODSON: BODY image is a powerful self-construct. It defines how we think, feel, and behave relative to our physical attributes. However, in recent years, negative body image has become so widespread that it is now considered to be a “normative discontent” in Western societies.

Although it is presumed to be a largely psychological issue, there is a direct correlation between actual weight and level of body dissatisfaction (Smeets et al, 2013). You don’t specifically describe yourself as overweight, but in Ireland 33% of females are overweight and 26% are obese.

Although negative body image impairs quality of life in countless ways, when it comes to the physical self, there seems to be a disconnect between what women feel and what women do. You say you want to improve your body image, but the easiest way to do that is to improve your body. Dieting and exercising may be no fun, but they work, particularly when executed simultaneously.

Exercise on it’s own will help to tone you up, but you won’t lose weight unless you combine it with a calorie-controlled diet. Different diets work for different people. Some women lose more weight by eliminating carbs and fat. Others can shift the pounds by eating whatever foods they want, but reducing their overall food intake by 500 calories a day. Whatever combination you choose, if you lose weight and become fitter, you will feel better about your body and yourself.

You will also feel better about sex.

Research shows that women who are content with their bodies experience fewer sexual difficulties, more sexual satisfaction , and they are less likely to monitor or evaluate their bodies during sex. Other research shows that women who are physically fit have higher levels of body satisfaction.

They also have more frequent sex, feel more desirable and experience greater sexual satisfaction. In contrast, negative body image has been linked to sexual aversion, sexual avoidance, risky sexual behaviour, sexual dysfunction as well as lower sexual self-esteem and assertiveness.

Changing your body won’t happen overnight so, in the mean time, you need to try and silence your inner critic. Be kind to yourself as you learn to take better care of your mind and your body and if your anxiety persists, don’t be afraid to get professional help. (Choose a therapist who specialises in body image and sex-related issues and meet with several before you commit to the one you feel most comfortable with.

Finally, I think you need to take a risk and talk to your boyfriend about how you feel.

I know you are worried that if you reveal your insecurities he will reject you, but every time you close down sexually, you reject your boyfriend too. In the long term, sexual avoidance strategies are more likely to undermine the relationship than honesty.

To be truly intimate you have to be able to trust your partner.

You have to believe that he has chosen to be with you because he likes you, loves you even, just the way you are. It’s never easy to admit vulnerability, but it is the only way to have an authentic relationship with another person.

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Louisa Earls is a manager at Books Upstairs, D’Olier St, Dublin, which is owned by her father, Maurice Earls.Virus response writes a new chapter for Books Upstairs

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