Body Image Issues

Are you worried about the size of your thighs? Do you insist on sex with the lights out? Sexpert Teesha Morgan explains how body image issues can interfere with your sex life — and offers some tips on what you can do about it.

Q: How can negative body image affect someone’s sex life?

A: Well, it’s something I see more often in women than men — mostly because of media. A lot of women feel like they’re fat. But there’s another aspect of body image, and it involves the genitals. A lot of women have a really negative view of their vaginas or vulvas and they think they’re dirty or that they smell, and that it’s something that’s not right. Getting past that is tough, but I recommend a book called Petals by Nick Karras.

It’s a really artistic book of photographs of just vulvas. You flip through it and it shows the diversity. We get this image — especially with pornography — that women have pink vaginas that have no hair and hardly any inner lips. In reality, a lot of woman in porn get their vagina dyed pink and they undergo surgery to make their labia smaller and shorter — and obviously there’s waxing. Women then look at themselves and maybe one labia is longer than the other or they’re really dark, and they think they’re abnormal. Women need to know how different we really are.

Q: If you are caught up in some of these body-image issues, what impact can it have on your sex life?

A: I think it depends on what it is that someone’s uncomfortable about. But, for the most part, it involves lights-out, missionary, non-fully expressive kind of sex. If you don’t know how to please yourself, if you’re uncomfortable touching your body and having someone else do the same, then you’re never really going to have a fulfilling, healthy sex life. You have to be able to accept yourself. I always tell women that they should stand in front of the mirror, naked and with no one else around, and go from their feet to the top of their head, saying what it is they like about themselves. Try to ignore the things you dislike and focus on the things you find beautiful. You should also look at your vulva, in order to become more comfortable with it. We stare at our faces every day, but how many women just sit there and stare at their vulvas? It’s an area we tend to ignore.

Q: Do you find that women are often preoccupied by disliking a particular body part? Can disliking your thighs, for example, interfere with your sex life?

A: Yes, of course. If you think your thighs are large, then you’re not going to want to be in a position that will make them look larger — or even where they can be clearly seen. A lot of women are uncomfortable with their breasts and don’t want to be on top, but that’s the number-one position for women to reach orgasm — plus, men love it because they’re so visual and they get to see your whole body.

Q: Is this the kind of thing women can conquer on their own, or do you need the help of a therapist?

A: It depends on the severity. A lot of women try to conquer it alone — they go to The Vagina Monologues, start journaling and work on changing their attitude. Another good resource is Our Bodies, Ourselves: A New Edition for a New Era, which covers everything from body image, the media and how to handle that, to gender identity and rape. It really helps, too, if you have a positive partner who tells you that you’re beautiful. There are peaks and valleys, and it depends where you’re at and who you’re with. But I also think everyone should get counseling — whether you have big problems or not.