From erectile dysfunction to vaginal pain to depression to not dating Andrew Garfield, there are countless setbacks that can get in the way of a satisfying sex life. Good sex, as elementary as it may seem, requires so much of you: that you are not hungry, that you are aroused, that you are positive you turned the straightener off.
For many women and men, body insecurities make it difficult for them to enjoy sex, even if they're turned on and really, really into their partners. If you're focusing on your love handles or the fat-folds your stomach makes when you're on top, you won't be able to focus on your pleasure or even feel at peace with taking your shirt off.
Kyla Black, a Brooklyn sex therapist who works with many female clients dealing with body insecurities, approaches the issue from a few different angles, and she spoke to Bustle about her suggestions.
1. Hang Out Naked
Black's strongest recommendation for any person feeling uncomfortable with her body? A few times a week — or daily, if possible — take off all of your clothes (turn on some Nelly, if that helps) and spend at least 10 minutes in front of a mirror, looking yourself up and down. Black tells Bustle:
Work your way from head to toe identifying the parts of your body for which you feel appreciative and grateful. It may be parts you can see and can also include internal parts (i.e., I'm grateful that my heart is strongly pumping blood throughout my body; I appreciate that my lungs allow me to breathe fully). Say aloud what you like about what you see. My experiences have shown me that it's rare that a woman won't find at least one thing she dislikes or even hates. So the work here, in addition to vocalizing gratitude for your body, is also to resist the temptation to delve into self-criticism.
2. Check Out Your Vagina
OK, now it's time to seriously investigate your genitals. This exercise is particularly critical for women. As Black points out, "Some women have never spent time looking at their genitals...We're not traditionally encouraged to learn all about this part of our bodies, unlike boys and men who are socialized to touch and talk about their penises in a much more normalized fashion."
For this next, more "genitally-focused" activity, Black recommends taking a hand mirror to the vag and investigating both external and internal parts, making sure to notice color, texture, size, and sensations. Touching is encouraged. Here, this video from YouTube sex vlogger Laci Green will help you come to terms with your vagina.
Clearly, deep-seated body insecurities are hard to shake, especially just by staring at your body and forcing yourself to say positive things. But it's a start. Appreciating your body is a habit, just like biting your nails or eating cheese in the night. With time, it can become intuitive, automatic.
3. Get Some Exercise
Rachel Sussman, a New York-based relationship counselor, suggests exercise as a way of building confidence and feeling more connected to your body. (It should be noted, however, that this must come from a loving and kind place — no exercising to "fix" problem parts. Slippery slope.) "Challenge yourself to do things that you've always wanted to but might be afraid of," Sussman tells Bustle. A Beyoncé hip hop class perhaps?
4. Or Exercise Your Brain
Challenging yourself doesn't necessarily have to be in the realm of exercise...Take a pottery class. Make flan. Climb a mountain. A higher base level of confidence, nourished by trying and accomplishing new things, can translate into a healthier body image. Why? Because so often, the destructive, hurtful ways we view our bodies are rooted deep inside us. Your insecurities are not really about the fact that your left boob is a cup size bigger, or that you're convinced you have mom arms. Something deeper, more fundamental is at play.Whether you begin exercising or building the popsicle-stick castle you've always dreamed of creating, embarking on new projects — just for you — will build confidence. "The very best outcome is being kind and patient with yourself and going forward to build your self-esteem," Sussman says. "That will translate into a healthier body image and better sex."
5. Find Your Sexy Self
Of course, the most important project is connecting to your sexual, sensual self, which won't necessarily happen after a week of exercise or pottery or staring at your naked body. You're going to have to use your imagination; the hope is that, eventually, your sensual self will speak louder than your insecure self during sex, who is trying to tell you about your cellulite and sabotage your whole sexual experience.
Black acknowledges that this is an ongoing process — a real "work" — that requires a significant amount of imagination. "I've worked with a lot of women who recall a weekend or a special night or some other occasion when their 'sexy alter ego' came out to play," she tells Bustle. "Some also have expressed that they know she's in there but don't know how to get her out. It's a commitment to call forth this lovely self and allow her to flourish." So go forth and find that sexy alter ego. Because she thinks your body is perfect.
Images: Fotolia; Giphy