When you look at yourself in the mirror, what do you see? Your grey hairs or beautiful eyes? Your shapely legs or the few bulges around your waistline? Most likely you see the negative aspects of your body and not the positive. It is perfectly human to focus on something we don’t like in our bodies, but it becomes a problem when this affects our self-esteem and especially our sexuality.
As we respond to images we see of beauty in others – on billboards, TV, magazines, talk shows and soap operas – we tend not to feel admirable and desirable. Today, the media accentuates our belief that aesthetic beauty is the only way to success, especially in relationships. This preoccupation with having the ‘perfect’ body leads us down an ultimately sexually unsatisfying path.
Women are more susceptible to body image problems than men. It is not just that they want to be like the beautiful models they admire, but that they also assume men desire women with slim bodies, when actually most men prefer a few curves. What you feel about your body affects your sexuality. When you feel sexy, you convey a message of desirability. In society today, few women and an increasing number of men, too, do not feel sexy if they don’t consider themselves physically attractive. It is hard to want to take off your clothes and lose yourself in wild passion if you are ashamed of your stretch marks, cellulite, padded hips and drooping breasts. Fat often comes between a woman and her sexuality.
There is a general feeling in society that sex is only for the beautiful and physically fit. While men are less likely to link body image and sexuality, they too are troubled by concerns about their physical appearance, especially the size of their penis, their belly and, as they age, hair loss and greying. Physical changes arising from pregnancy and childbirth make many women dissatisfied with their bodies.
Similarly, some may also have the same feeling as they age, especially when they reach menopause. A woman in her fifties may use menopause as an excuse to give up on sex because secretly she cannot imagine how her partner could desire her body. Sadly though, teenagers and women in their early twenties show the greatest dissatisfaction with their bodies.
While there may be many ways of enjoying sex, most people will enjoy sex more if they are sure of themselves, not simply sure of what they are doing, but sure of their attractiveness and desirability. Attractiveness or sex appeal is very hard to define but sexuality is more to do with your attitude toward yourself, your partner and your lifestyle than anything else, and certainly more than obvious physical attributes. Such qualities are probably more important than your actual appearance, and while it is worth spending some time on how you look, you should maintain a sense of balance by not becoming obsessive about your physical appearance.
A number of men and women feel dissatisfied with their bodies, not because they have gross or obvious abnormalities, but simply because they compare themselves to an exaggerated image of what is good looking. Responding to your partner, being flexible to his or her preferences, and being willing to share pleasure are the qualities that ultimately make a person attractive. Although over-attention to appearance is not necessary, some relationships can flounder if one partner neglects his or her appearance and hygiene.
The best possible reason for taking trouble over your appearance is for your own self-esteem, but you should also do so for your partner’s sake, otherwise he or she could interpret neglect as not caring. This does not imply that one has to spend hours on grooming but an unclean and/ or smelly body; dowdy, ill-kempt clothes; unshaven beard; untidy hair and an ill-tempered face all imprint themselves on the memory and become difficult to erase at times of intimacy.
Go on a self-discovery journey
To get in touch with your body and start loving it, you may have to take a self-discovery journey. Put aside an hour or so for yourself when you know you will not be disturbed. Run a hot bath. Stand completely naked in front of a full-length mirror. Imagine that it is the first time you have seen yourself naked and look at yourself, as you never have before. Don’t gloss over things you don’t like about your body.
Try to see the good points too and remember that you are you and nobody else. Be honest about anything you could improve (a pot belly or fat thighs, for example) and decide to do something positive about it. If you don’t like anything you see in the mirror, no matter how much your partner loves you, you will continue to be disappointed in bed until you come to terms with it or change it. You don’t have to have a ‘perfect’ body to be highly attractive. If you are unhappy with the way you look, do something about it. If this proves impossible, instead of mourning or feeling inferior, learn to adjust and accept those things, which can’t be altered. Concentrate on your good points though and put your bad ones (especially if they can’t be altered) into perspective.
You are not a model or a film star; you are yourself. When you have explored every inch of your body with your eyes, get into the bath, soap yourself all over and start exploring your body physically. Go through the motions slowly and systematically, letting your hands run all over your body, sliding your fingers into all the hollows, folds and creases. Close your eyes if you want and wallow in it. See how different the skin feels over different parts of your body and see what you most like done to each area to produce the nicest sensations. Keep the water warm and keep exploring until you are relaxed. Get out of the bath and dry yourself gently, then lie on your bed in a warm room and try to think about your feelings and about what you have done. Did it make you feel good, bad, guilty, or silly? If so, why? And how do these reasons relate to the way you feel when you are with your partner? Did you think it was a waste of time? If so, why? Think about the fact that many of us have become so unused to giving ourselves pleasure that we are almost incapable of really pleasing someone else or receiving pleasure from others.
Compare how the feelings you have just had with other loving, sexual, sensations you have had with people in the past. How do your current feelings match up? All this should make you begin to question how you feel when you are with your partner in bed.
Have things become slipshod, hasty or makeshift? If so, how about changing things so that your physical lovemaking doesn’t slip away from you further. Two areas of the body that bring about great dissatisfaction and doubt are breasts in women, and penises in men. It is worth looking at these important sexual body parts in order to put them in perspective, so you can use them sensibly to enhance your sexual enjoyment.
In most cultures, female breasts are admired to some degree either for their nurturing capacity or their beauty or for both. To some extent, they are subconscious symbols of comfort and security for men. Breasts are also objects of great erotic power. Breasts have the allure of the forbidden. Fashion is probably also an influencing factor. Flat chests have never been in vogue and big firm breasts are preferred.
Women as well as men create the cultural dynamic of the breast as a sex object. So much of a woman’s sense of sexual identity and attractiveness is dependent on her breast’s matching the fashion standards, and some women will go into any length including breast augmentation surgery to achieve the desired image. Apart from surgery, once a woman has reached maturity, her breast size isn’t likely to change unless she gains weight. Breast swelling due to pregnancy, nursing, or birth control pills is most often a temporary condition.
Good posture will make breasts appear larger. Exercise to strengthen the pectorals, the muscles beneath the breasts, will help lift them, also making them appear larger. Breasts are an erogenous zone and perhaps the reason they are of great concern to women’s sexuality. The breast, nipple and areola (the darker ring around the nipple) are richly endowed with nerve endings.
Nipple erection is one of the first signs of arousal. Breast sensitivity varies from one woman to another and in the same woman depending on hormonal fluctuations and other factors. Studies have shown that the majority of women enjoy having their partners fondle their breasts during lovemaking. A small number of women are able to reach orgasm through breast stimulation alone. If a man wants to handle a woman’s breasts during lovemaking, he should first ask if she likes to be touched. Some women have very sensitive nipples, while others don’t. Some may like to have their nipples lightly squeezed or sucked, and others may not want their breasts touched at all. Some women enjoy having the whole breast massaged and stroked.
One approach does not fit all. In general, however, women prefer gentle stroking of the breasts and kissing, licking and light sucking of the nipples. Circling the nipple with the tongue can be an effective arousal technique. Remember that breast sensitivity varies with hormonal fluctuations. Before her period, a woman may experience tenderness and swelling in her breasts and may want a different kind of stimulation. Breast size is not a measure of a woman’s sexual responsiveness.
However, if a woman has negative feelings about her breasts, her attitude may decrease her responsiveness. While most women will have erect nipples when aroused, not all women do. Other signs of arousal in women include vaginal lubrication, a flush across the chest, and increased body heat and breathing rates. Women (and men too) vary greatly in the ways they respond sexually. Some women never have particularly sensitive breasts although other forms of genital and nongenital touching and stroking arouse them. Other women will not be aroused by breast stimulation for psychological reasons. They may, for example, be embarrassed by the size of their breasts, considering them to small or too large to be erotic.
Just as women are concerned about the size of their breasts, men worry about their penis size. Women, however, are much less concerned about the size of a man’s penis than men imagine they are. Research shows that there is no relationship between flaccid (un-erect) penis size and the final erect size, and in any case, there is no evidence that women like big penises better than small ones.
The vagina adapts to fit any size of penis and only the outer third of the vagina is really sensitive. Most women say they don’t find large penises particularly exciting. Women who are not sure of their own anatomy actually dislike being stashed with a big penis, and other women may genuinely find a large penis painful.
Learn to love your body Loving your body is important if you are to lead a sexually healthy and well-balanced life. There are certain things you can do to learn to love your body. *Let go of unrealistic standards. Few of us ever look like the models, actors and actresses to whom we relentlessly compare our partners and ourselves. In fact, these people don’t even look like themselves before make-ups artists, hairdressers, designers, and good photographers put them together. You should see Oprah without make-up!
*Do something positive to improve your appearance. You can lose the 20 pounds you hate to see when you look in the mirror. You can improve overall body tone with exercise. You can also dress to flatter the shape of your body. You can even wear a little something to bed.
*Practice creative visualisation. Examine your nude body from all angles, preferably in front of a full-length mirror. Stand, kneel and bend. Pull up a chair and sit. Spend at least15 minutes looking at yourself without being critical. Then explore your entire body with your hands. Repeat the exercise a few days later and keep repeating it until you accept what you see and enjoy the feel of your own skin.
*Know the truth about penis size. The vast majority of penises are between three to four inches long when flaccid and five to seven inches long when fully erect. Men tend to think that other men’s penises are larger than theirs. When you look down at your own penis, it appears shorter than it is – and shorter than another man’s penis glimpsed in front view in the locker room.
You can also help your partner learn to love his or her body.
*Praise your partner’s lovemaking ability. Let him or her know the ways in which you are pleased. “I love the way you touch me.” “ I love the size of your breasts.” “I love the way your penis fits inside me.”
*Focus on his or her best features. May be she has beautiful hair, or he has wonderful eyes and strong muscles. Let him or her know what you like about them.
*Encourage positive changes. If he or she is trying to lose weight, don’t sabotage their effort. Participate in your partner’s exercise programme when you can. And don’t fail to complement progress.