My boyfriend is slender with a runner's body. I, on the other hand, have packs on packs on packs of fat. The biggest thing on him is his penis. The biggest thing on me is my stomach. I'm really self-conscious about my body especially when we're having sex, so I often choose a position that allows me to just lay on my back so that I don't feel like a fat woman smothering this stick figure of a man. Lately, I've been shying away from sex altogether because of my body image issues. Are there any positions you suggest or maybe a new mantra I can repeat in order to get back into the groove?
— Too Big For Him?
Dear Too Big,
Listen, you're not the only woman going through what I call "Bedroom Body Shame." You start thinking things like, "I'm too fat to have sex" (which is ridiculous by the way — your boyfriend loves your body). You start joking that beauty is only a light switch away, but you get serious about having sex with the lights out. You tell friends you're not having sex till you're a size six. You put conditions on sex. You wear cover-up clothing and only get in positions that prevent your partner from looking at or touching certain parts of your body. Your partner starts getting a little tired of "conditional sex," and now you start having "duty sex" to avoid losing him or getting into terrible arguments. What you used to enjoy you now endure. Pretty soon your desire for any sex, conditional or not, goes away. Or your libido stays high, but self-judgment paralyzes your enjoyment of making love.
Studies have shown that your sexual satisfaction is intricately tied to the way you feel about your body. The more you perceive yourself as overweight the more likely you'll experience a drop in sexual desire. The more unattractive you feel, the less sex you're willing to have. In fact, the latest study in the Journal of Sex Research came to a pretty shocking conclusion: How you feel about your body has more of an influence on sexual functioning than even menopause!
Right now you're suffering from "spectatoring," the phenomenon of observing yourself as a third person in the bedroom, diverting attention from your partner and your own sensations and focusing on your "flaws."
Don't get me wrong. It's OK to say, "I like to watch," but only if there's a mirror over the bed or a third person in the room. It's not OK if you're passing up pleasure so you can pass judgment.
It isn't possible to enjoy sex when you're so busy playing hide-and-seek the pleasure can't be found. Here's the secret that'll take you from being a spectator who's grimacing at her body to a participant who's experiencing her body: Be a vehicle for pleasure rather than an object to be looked at.
That's my fancy way of saying, "Be active in bed." Move around, stroke left, lick right, bend low. The more proactive you are in bed the less reactive you'll be in your mind. It's hard to concentrate on any thought, let alone negative ones, when you're actually doing something you enjoy. Laying too still or waiting for him to make the next move is an invitation to spectatoring. Move so you can go from being a sight to see to a force to be felt.
Obviously, you have to work on your body image, but I promise you this: Cutting out sex will not help. Sex is not the reward for losing weight. It's the reward for being human.
Got a burning or a why-is-it-burning question for the Sexorcist? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mike Alvear is the author of a line of How To Meet Guys On Facebook and teaches monthly blogging workshops with Hollis Gillespie.