Here's How Your Body Image Can Impact Your Sexual Health

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

It can be challenging to get out of your head during a hookup if you don't feel 100% comfortable in your own skin. But, according to experts, body image can impact your sexual health in a multitude of ways, including how likely you are to use condoms.

According to Virginia Ramseyer Winter, Ph.D., MSW, assistant professor and director of the Center for Body Image Research & Policy at the University of Missouri's School of Social Work, negative body image refers to feeling dissatisfied with how you look, have negative emotions associated with your body, and experiencing a high level of investment in your appearance. And when you're struggling with negative body image, Winter says you're more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior, including having lower levels of condom use self-efficacy.

Winter says it's possible that when you're experiencing negative body image, you'll feel less inclined to take care of it. You may also fear rejection, which can lead to an increased risk of engaging in dangerous sexual practices. If you're worried about the impact a negative body image may be having on your health and well-being, Winter says there are steps you can take. If possible, consider talking to a mental health professional, working to shift focus away from your appearance, and toward its function. Appreciating your body for what it can do, not what it looks like, can make it easier to enjoy sex — and to do so safely.

Additionally, limiting time spent online, as well as the type of content you consume, can be a big help. "In other words, fill your feed with content that makes you feel good about your body," Winter says, pointing to the multitudes of body-positive influencers out there who are working to change the way we view ourselves. Winter suggests searching hashtags, like #efyourbodystandards or #bodyposi, so your feed celebrates all types of bodies, not just the "ideal."

"In addition to filling your social media with positive influences, do the same with your friends and colleagues," Winter says. Make an effort to surround yourself with people who build you up, and who speak highly of themselves and their bodies. Consider instituting a rule that restricts conversations around diet culture in your friend group, as those can feed the idea that some bodies are "bad" or need to be changed, leading to lowered self-esteem.

If you struggle with negative body image, learning to change your internal dialogue, build stronger self-esteem, and ultimately have a healthier sex life is a process. But with the support of others, and a concerted effort to change the negative tape in your head, it's certainly one worth pursuing.

Studies:

Blashill, A. J., & Safren, S. A. (2015). Body dissatisfaction and condom use self-efficacy: A meta-analysis. Body Image, 12, 73–77. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2014.10.002

Experts:

Virginia Ramseyer Winter, PhD, MSW, assistant professor and director of the Center for Body Image Research & Policy at the University of Missouri's School of Social Work