Your Body Image in Bed: Sexual Healing

body image

ColumnI’ve often said that women should follow their lust the way Joseph Campbell wants us to “follow our bliss.” But if we’re obsessing about the (real or imagined) ripples on our thighs, how can we let the gorgeous ripple of orgasm take over? True pleasure requires one to let go, at least a little bit. The ubiquity of body dysmorphia amongst women can be the enemy of good sex. Your self-esteem matters everywhere; but your body image really matters in bed. 

(Got a question for Stefanie? Email and she’ll answer it in the next Sexual Healing column.)

The average woman spends fifteen months of her life putting on makeup. That’s 474 days over a lifetime: 172 hours per year, according to a recent study from the UK. We also spend two months of our lives removing our body hair. Not to mention all the time we sit around thinking about when we’re going to primp, and how we’re going to earn the money to pay for said primping. As of 2010, the beauty industry was worth $50 billion in the US alone, and $170 billion worldwide.

Makeup and hair removal seem trivial when you stack them next to the dangerous diseases that stem from rampant body image distortion thanks to male gaze. From anorexia to bulimia and BDD (Body Dysmorphic Disorder) we are suffering, and sometimes, dying, to be beautiful. Even nine-year-olds are getting sick.

From commercials to billboards to the pages of “sex-positive” Cosmo, women are tortured with deeply distorted, unrealistic images of what they’re supposed to look like. Airbrushing is de rigeur for all fashion editorials. What we think we’re supposed to look like has nothing to do with how we look in the real world.

You may be a feminist like me, and think, yeah, I’ve got that BS under control. You read Naomi Wolf’s Beauty Myth in college, and you’ve firmly wrapped your brain around how unfair it all is. Except, you still do it. Don’t worry – I do it too. The intellect is not that adept at overriding constant cultural messaging,  especially eradicating the harmful belief system you were trained to absorb as a little girl – before you could disabuse yourself of those ridiculous notions.

But, back to sex. When we get naked with a new partner or even the spouse we’ve been with for years, a certain amount of openness and “presence” is required. You know that you need to get your to-do list out of your head before you give head. If you’re not present, your partner will know. But this is not about performance – it’s about pleasureyour pleasure. (We’ll address the whole, “Am I doing this right?” issue in future columns.)

Sex is not about being pretty or good – the two things that women are taught to be in our hetero-normative, misogynistic universe. It can be about being anything you want it to be, but the prescribed roles we play in our most intimate moments are often tied into external expectations of the way our body is supposed to look – before we even get to how our body is supposed to feel.

Porn, with its triple-D, totally hairless actresses, has created outsized (no pun intended) expectations for women. Thank god for feminist porn, currently changing the paradigm and bringing us more realistic images of what women look like and what they do between the sheets (or on the kitchen counter).

Ask yourself: when you’re with a lover, do you arrange yourself in the bed, just so? Do you worry that your breasts may flatten when you lie on your side, or if they’ll sag when you sit or stand? That your nipples are weird (too big, too small, the wrong color)? Do you worry that your last bikini wax was more than six weeks ago? That your belly will jiggle when you’re on top? That if he flips you over, he’ll really see the butt you’re convinced is too big? That your vagina is lopsided? (Yes, labiaplasty is a thing.)

Imagine what would happen if you stopped worrying about being perfect, and just focused on pleasure. Just for a moment. Just like that. Imagine where your fantasy life might go if you emptied your mind of perfectionism.

There are endless 10 Tips For Mind-Blowing Orgasms posts floating around the interwebs; there’s enough pressure to go around already. What we need is the opposite of pressure – we need to relax, unwind, and enjoy our beautiful, extraordinary bodies: no matter what they look like. Whatever shape, pockmark, ripple, hair, freckle, or “extra” flesh you may have, it’s your body to love. And no one else should be telling you how to love it.

It takes practice. Years of hating on your body can take time to transform. Just like in meditation, you can’t get angry at yourself when the, “I’m not right” tapes begin to play in your brain again. Gently swipe them from the screen of your mind the way you swipe to a new page on your iPad. And go back into the moment — again, and again, and again.

Got a question for Stefanie? Email and she’ll answer it in the next Sexual Healing column.

Keep in touch with Stefanie on Twitter: @ecosexuality

ImageHelga Weber

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Slow Sex: Spring is for Shedding (Layers and Baggage)

The 9 Most Empowering Sex Positions for Women: Female Sexuality Remixed





Stefanie Iris Weiss

Stefanie Iris Weiss is the author of nine books, including her latest title–Eco-Sex: Go Green Between the Sheets and Make Your Love Life Sustainable (Crown Publishing/Ten Speed Press, 2010). She keeps her carbon footprint small in New York City, where she writes about sustainability, sexuality, reproductive rights, dating and relationships, politics, fashion, beauty, and more. Stefanie is a regular contributor to British Elle, and has written for Above Magazine, Nerve, The Daily Green, Marie Claire, EcoSalon and Teen Vogue, to name a few. Her HuffPost blog is sometimes controversial. Stefanie is an on-and-off adjunct professor when not busy writing and teaching about sustainable love. A vegetarian and eco-activist since her teen years, Stefanie has made her passion into her work, and she wouldn't want it any other way. She believes that life is always better when there's more pleasure, and sustainable satisfaction is the best kind. Learn more about her various projects at and follow her on Twitter: @ecosexuality.