Following along with the theme of last week’s blog post surrounding natural beauty, it is crucial to evaluate how body image is related to the understanding of a person’s sexuality. A positive body image fosters a connection between a person’s body and their own instinctive sexual behavior. With negative body image comes a separation between these two things, sometimes causing a person to feel ashamed of their body.
As everyone experiences, issues of body image are tested and can be shaped in a variety of ways within a relationship. The founders at PARC agree that body image often plays a major role in the sexual chemistry and nature that two partners share within a relationship.
As Dianne Kaminsky explains, body image “has a strong impact on a relationship, e.g., women who feel fat may avoid having sex with their partners and may ask for constant reassurance. Men, also desire reassurance from their partner and often lift weights to gain muscle mass.” Working on one’s body in order to improve and even maintain a sex life within a relationship is not uncommon. “Weight for both sexes is a cause for concern,” Kaminsky explains and the reality is that we are living in “a culture where thin is considered beautiful” and being fit is seen as a top priority.
Signs of a negative body image are usually not hard to identify and can fluctuate over time. Speaking on the topic of female heterosexual body image, Harriet Pappenheim states
…if a woman has a poor body image, she will be uncomfortable, awkward, shy, insecure and somewhat stifled in her sexual activity and response. Many women (not all) are unable to experience pleasure because they feel intimidated. However, if a woman can express her fears of being unattractive and undesirable to a trustworthy partner, that partner may be capable of overcoming the woman’s physical self-image with sincere reassurance.
Issues of female body image are continuously being emphasized in our society and highlighted among media outlets. Yet, at the same time, men do not escape insecurities or anxieties concerning their bodies. Barbara Feld feels that we must remember that men are also affected by body image. Men are not as different from women in the ways they cope with negative body image, often needing reassurance from their partners. She goes on to explain: “Their partners often do not realize this and do not respond to their needs with support and empathy, creating a spiral in which the man might withdraw defensively and not reach out enough sexually to his wife [or girlfriend].”
At the end of the day, understanding one’s body image issues is the key to overcoming them. Undoubtedly, this process is not simple, yet is necessary in order to be able to trust a partner when engaging in sexual behavior. Being able to communicate one’s negative perceptions of their body to their partner is a huge step in being able to put such issues aside and enjoy the intimacy rooted in a relationship.