Here’s a fun fact about your body: your partner wants to touch it.
Let that sink in. It’s for all you ladies who look in the mirror and sigh despondently because “this is too long, this is too big, that is too small, this has spots on it, that has stripes on it!” and then come to the inevitable conclusion that you are hideous and unlovable. Gentlemen, I know you aren’t totally innocent either.
I am reminded of clients I counselled once. The couple came in with the usual complaint: there isn’t enough sex in this marriage. I did what any competent sex therapist would do, I got a sexual history. Now, this does not mean I found out the date and time of every encounter, I simply asked about frequency and satisfaction, whether these had changed over time and if so, when the change occurred. The partners looked shyly at each other and said that it had started when their first child was born. They told me that the wife had gained a bit more weight during pregnancy than expected, and had never quite shaken it off. This was the excuse she used to avoid sex.
“She won’t let me touch her!” the husband complained bitterly. The wife started weeping silently and she explained that it wasn’t just the weight she had gained. It was the C-section scar, the saggy tummy skin, all the cellulite and a myriad of other bodily complaints that banished her husband to sexual purgatory or, at best, to sex in the dark, preferably with all her clothes on, and crippling anxiety about him ever seeing her.
She admitted to me in a small voice,“I look in the mirror and tell myself ‘You disgusting pig’”. Her husband and I were both flabbergasted and deeply saddened by the comment.
Her husband got tears in his eyes and silently held her hand as I spoke. I will tell you all what I told her and I hope it has the same effect on you as it did on her:
- Your partner doesn’t touch you because of how you look, they touch you because of how you make them feel. The idea that someone loves “in spite of” rather than “because of” can be staggering to someone who feels that their worth is tied to their appearance. Your partner wants to touch your body because it is you, not because it’s flawless. Touching you releases a hormone called oxytocin. This is known as the bonding hormone because it fills you with a sense of well-being and calm. This does not happen when we touch people we don’t know (that gives us adrenaline if you were wondering), so your partner needs you to feel this good.
- Not only sexy people get to have good sex. Do you know who has good sex? Normal people with normal bodies who enter into sex with joyful abandon and connect with their partner on all levels of intimacy, not just the physical. In fact, research has shown that very beautiful people are poorer lovers than average-looking people, simply because they’ve never had to make an effort.
- Your self-image has NOTHING to do with what you look like. Blown. I often ask people what will need to happen for them to consider themselves “good enough”. If you think that you are fat or ugly now — or any other cruel description you can impose on yourself — “When will you be happy?” I am met with blank stares or declarations of “when I meet my goal weight!”. And then I ask, “What will you do until then to love yourself?” There is a reason I ask this. I want people to realize that you can love yourself despite your imperfections. Your partner does! And if you don’t reach this (often unattainable, unrealistic or dangerous) body goal, is your plan really to deprive yourself of love as some sort of macabre punishment for not being perfect? Love who you are now and take care of that person as an act of kindness.
- Your self-image is not your partner’s responsibility. Your partner cannot keep assuring you that you are beautiful for you to feel it. Take some of that burden onto yourself. Don’t ask “Do I look good in these jeans?”, tell your partner “Look at how good I look in these jeans!” and give your booty a smack and then moon dance out of there like the sexy rock star you are! You have the power to affirm your self-image much more effectively than your partner ever can.
- Don’t punish your partner for your bad self-image. Switch the damn light on! Your partner wants to see your body in all its splendid, wobbly, scarred, pockmarked glory. Own it. Love them without measure with that body. It is fully functional and can have and give a great orgasm, practically on demand if you know what you’re doing. Your body deserves to be looked at and loved by the person you trust most in this world.
- Never, ever, ever, EVER criticize your partner’s body. NEVER! Not as a joke, not all in fun, not to “motivate them” (whoever thought of this one is the same person that thinks being mean and insensitive is “just being honest”), not to “compliment” them. Don’t do it. To you it may be gentle teasing, but to them it may be the affirmation of the words in their head that make them look in the mirror and say things like “you disgusting pig”. They don’t know you’re joking and even if they do you shouldn’t make jokes like that about the person you love.
- Believe your partner when they tell you that you are beautiful. Your partner has no reason to lie to you. We may say, “you have to say that, you love me” and forget that, yes, they love you, and because of that you are beautiful to them. Don’t tell them they are wrong or point our your flaws. What do you want? For them to say “Oh, geez, yah, you’re right, you are ugly!” NO! You smile and say “thank you, I love you too”.
Do you want to know how my client reacted after we deeply and thoroughly discussed all these points? She took it slow. She started by looking in her mirror and saying to herself, “You are enough, just the way you are”. She started sitting in her bedroom choosing beautiful parts of her body to show her husband a bit at a time. She started by taking care of herself every day and not being so hard on herself. With time and patience she and her husband got back the sex life they had all those years ago.
Eventually the lights went on.