Body Image, Self Esteem and Sexual Behavior

Body image is the ability to accept one’s body for what it is, no matter its shape, size, ability or disability. Many people have body image issues that can cause a lot of stress, potentially leading to unhealthy habits (excessive dieting, over exercising, plastic surgeries, self-neglect) which ultimately can affect their self-esteem and sexual behavior.

The concern with body image

Take a look at any findings on Pinterest if you search for “pregnancy” or “women’s health” and what you’ll find is a litany of images and links about losing weight, diets, getting a flatter stomach and how to look your best no matter the circumstances. With this abundance of pressure, influence and information, it is no wonder women can be overly-concerned with their body image.

These feelings or perceptions about one’s body are often influenced by sociocultural and intrapersonal views and can impact both sexual experiences and satisfaction with those experiences.(1)

When a person sees their body in a positive light, they are likely to:

  • Eat in a way that is healing and nourishing
  • Begin healing from an eating disorder
  • Stop over-exercising
  • Start exercising
  • Get better medical care
  • Get out of a relationship that doesn’t honor them
  • Get in to a relationship where they are truly loved and cared for
  • Find the confidence to set boundaries with people
  • Realize their own self beauty
  • Find intuitive eating can be easy
  • Feel great being the person they are

Women more satisfied with body image reported more sexual activity, orgasm, and initiating sex, greater comfort undressing in front of their partner, having sex with the lights on, trying new sexual behaviors, and pleasing their partner sexually than those dissatisfied.(2)

Finding acceptance

Avoiding negativity

Body acceptance is the approving of and loving of your body, despite its “imperfections,” real or perceived. One of the key ways in finding acceptance is to avoid saying and thinking negative things about yourself.(3) This may sound like an impossible task. Women in particular tend to default to being self critical as well as outwardly critical. Maybe you find that the criticisms you direct to others are ones you place on yourself. It’s definitely possible that these thoughts will still enter your mind but you don’t need to give them any power. They can live there in your mind for a moment and then you can let them go. When and if negative thoughts enter your mind, try this:

  • Breathe in to the count of 4 and out to the count of 8
  • Close your eyes and listen to your breath
  • Realize how well your body is functioning at that moment to give you breath, pump blood through your veins and allow you to think

Reduce using comparisons

Comparing yourself to others creates an unrealistic ideal. Every person has had different experiences, good and  bad, that contribute to them being who they are. People of all shapes and sizes have insecurities. Some may just not be as obvious as you think. Maybe you feel poorly about your weight but feel very confident in your ability to grow a garden, fix your car, crunch data for work or write eloquently. The person you think is the physical ideal may lack esteem in all those other areas. Remember that nobody is perfect and no two people are alike. Every person has a uniqueness all their own. Enjoy and embrace it.

Try positive speak

This may feel really cheesy at first and we admit, it can be hard to stick with it. But even if you’re acting “as if” you are feeling confident, it can have an affect on your body image.(4) If you’re stumped about where to start, try these mantras that are short and easy to remember.

Finding help

When it seems too difficult to break the cycle of negativity, a mental health professional can be helpful in working through body image issues. Those who specialize in cognitive awareness are especially adept at re-framing and shifting the perspective on negative circular thinking. Also, by discussing the sources of pain, frustration, low self-confidence and insecurities, you can begin to work out how it is no longer necessary to stay attached to those negative feelings.

Body image and your sex life

Besides emotional and psychological issues, individuals with body image issues may also have physical limitations. However, it is healthy to realize that everyone has the right to enjoy sex and sometimes it simply requires working through the practical issues of how to do it.

A fulfilling sex life does not have to do with anything regarding your height, weight or size or physical appearance.  A major part of enjoying sex is being comfortable with one’s body and loving it for what it is. It is hard for a person to be happy and enjoy their life when they feel bad about their body.

It helps to be willing to experiment with positions and find what is comfortable.  Sex isn’t just about intercourse—it is also about intimacy.  Exploring other forms of intimacy may include masturbation, toys, kissing and cuddling. It is most important to do what you feel comfortable with and to not allow the mind to revert to negative assessment.


(1) The Association Between Sexual Satisfaction and Body Image in Women

(2) Effect of body image and self-image on women’s sexual behaviors.

(3) How to improve your body image by talking to yourself.

(4) Positive thinking: Stop negative self-talk to reduce stress