This is Part 2 of the series on Body Image and Sexual Functioning. If you have not read the first part, do so here.
In the first half of this topic we talked about the impact of social media, culture and pornography on self-image and sexual self-consciousness. Today we talk about how you can help yourself and your spouse overcome issues with body image and thereby improve your sexual satisfaction.
Improving Body Image and Sexual Satisfaction
Body Image & Sexuality
Make sure you grab the worksheet to go with this topic because this is very serious stuff and the worksheet will help you distill your difficult thoughts and help you move yourself towards a place of healing and greater intimacy.
In addition to the worksheet there are three things to think about today.
First, recognize the buffering effect of marriage.
The very fact that you are married needs to be recognized. In 2004, researchers studied what they call the “cultural standard of an impossible-to-attain ideal body image”.[i]
They compared married couples and single individuals and found that marriage lessens the importance of the ideal body image for both men and women. In this study, married people when compared to single people rated it less important for their spouses to possess the ideal body image.
The importance of long-lasting, satisfying relationships decreases the importance of body dissatisfaction and mitigates the impact of unrealistic ideal body image.
This should be not underestimated as popular media and the marketing world would pitch the ideal sexual partner as young, single, attractive, fit, a model or movie star. The actual human brain, on the other hand, which you have and your spouse has is actually wired to appreciate a healthy intimate relationship over ideal body image. Your brain is real – Hollywood is not, and porn is not.
Trust this God-given reality that when we get married God makes two people one flesh. There is a sacred union and he designed that union and us as people so that as we age together and make babies and bodies’ grow old and mature, the intimacy actually can improve while the physical appearance is going the other direction.
Secondly, sexual function is related to body image, not body weight.
Again, this is a very important point. In 2013, a study that looked at the effect of body image and body mass index on the sexual functioning of women found that:[ii]
- The positive body image of women had a positive effect on their sexual function.
- Women who were overweight and obese based on BMI had poorer body image, but weight had no effect on a woman’s sexual function.
How you see yourself is more important than what you look like.
Speaking on behalf of men, Caleb points out two things at play here. One is that husbands appreciate their wife’s self care, but the second is that they don’t need their wife to have the perfect body. It is valuable to bring the best version of ourselves (both husband and wife) to the marriage, but what is most important is the connection and love that we have.
In the context of sexual intimacy, what a husband wants is for his wife not to be able to get enough of him. To quote Caleb, “You, coming at me hungry, is more important by FAR than you coming at me with a perfect body. It’s not even on the same scale, in fact. I just want to be wanted.”
Other Christian bloggers and podcasters are saying the same thing – you don’t need to buy into the unrealistic standards that are out there.
Thirdly, husbands – you play a critical role in your wife’s ability to move forward.
Caleb and I know a guy who would point out a woman on the street and say to his wife, “Why can’t you look like that?” Let me add, his wife was taking pretty good care of herself at the time too.
Ladies – if this is your husband, this is HIS problem, not yours. I know it’s yours in that you feel the pain, but this is about his own issues. It is NOT about you.
Another study of 144 couples found that wives’ sexual outcomes were more strongly shaped by husbands’ satisfaction with her body.[iii] So men, communicate satisfaction to your spouse!
When your wife brings up her body concerns (and she’s going to do that a lot because of the culture that we live in), you can alleviate those concerns by routinely reflecting positive body image back to her. As you consistently promote positive body image for her, you can help her to become less sexually self-conscious.[iv]
There are two parts here. One is to not buy into the lie that a more ideal body is going to provide a better sexual experience. It may provide more arousal, but if you believe that sex is about intimacy and not just about release, then your best sexual experience is going to happen with the person you’re most intimate with – the one who loves you to death and can’t get enough of you.
Second is sometimes you’re going to have to explicitly promote your wife’s positive body image. In other words, affirm her beauty. You might have to tell her, “I don’t want to be married to [whoever she’s comparing herself to], I want to be married to you! And I want to make love with you, not with her!” Read the Song of Solomon for some ideas – there’s a whole lot of body parts on your wife and there should be plenty to compliment and affirm.
In summary: Ease off the social media comparisons. No pornography. Get help if you need it. Believe in the power of your marriage as a vehicle for lifelong sexual satisfaction. Focus more on fixing your body image concept than your body weight. Husbands: affirm your wives. Make sure you get the worksheet for this episode.
[i] Gail Tom et al., “Body Image, Relationships, and Time,” The Journal of Psychology 139, no. 5 (September 2005): 458–68.
[ii] Nülüfer Erbil, “The Relationships Between Sexual Function, Body Image, and Body Mass Index Among Women,” Sexuality and Disability 31, no. 1 (March 2013): 63–70, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11195-012-9258-4.
[iii] Ruixue Zhaoyang and M. Lynne Cooper, “Body Satisfaction and Couple’s Daily Sexual Experience: A Dyadic Perspective,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 42, no. 6 (August 2013): 985–98, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10508-013-0082-4.
[iv] Diana T. Sanchez and Amy K. Kiefer, “Body Concerns In and Out of the Bedroom: Implications for Sexual Pleasure and Problems,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 36, no. 6 (December 2007): 808–20, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10508-007-9205-0.