This week I want to address how our body image affects our sexuality and relationships. A poor body image can lead to unhealthy sexuality and unhealthy relationships. It can lead to unhealthy promiscuity (I define that as someone feeling shame over the amount of sex they have or having sex with the wrong people). It can also lead to an unhealthy avoidance of sex. Poor body image can also lead us to unhealthy decision-making when it comes to our relationships.
Many people stay in unhealthy relationships due to low self-esteem and poor body image. We settle for bad relationships because we don’t believe we are worth more than that. This is especially true for people with disabilities. When I say unhealthy promiscuity or unhealthy avoidance of sex, I am not saying that promiscuity or the absence of sex are unhealthy in and of themselves. Everyone is different. Some people have high sex drives. Others have no sex drive. Both promiscuity and asexuality can be healthy if you do so safely and you are happy. I am not referring to those who identify as asexual. Asexuality in itself is healthy for some people. It is not healthy though when it is something you feel ashamed of or when the only reason you are avoiding sex is due to poor body image. For example, some people may never want to have sex only because they are afraid to get naked in front of someone, because of their breasts, or their belly, or some other body part. This is unhealthy because this is the person who really wants to have sex but avoids it due to shame. This avoidance of sex can make you feel even worse about yourself. It then becomes a vicious cycle. At least it did for me. When I felt so undesirable that I avoided sex, then I felt even more depressed because I wasn’t having sex. I had the sex drive, but I was letting my body destroy my sex life.
The other extreme is that some people feel so ashamed of their bodies and feel so unwanted that they will jump into bed with the first person who looks at them. Often negative body image can lead one to think they are not deserving of love and attention, so they think they cannot be “picky” when it comes to choosing a partner.
I know for a long time. I was so focused on the idea that I was over-weight and I had a disability, that I thought I was unloveable. More so, I thought I was unattractive. I thought no one would want to have sex with me. So, when the first person came along that started to flirt with me, I ran with it. I was super excited. I made some poor choices. These choices didn’t help my self-esteem or body image. These choices made me feel worse about myself.
I am not saying that having a casual fling is bad. If you are doing it for the right reasons and you want to, that is great. Maybe you find someone attractive and you want to explore. Go for it. A hookup can be negative though, if you are jumping into bed with someone, simply for the fact that they are a willing and able partner. If you are doing so because you think you might not get this chance again with another person. If the thought “Who else is going to want to be with me?” is running through your mind, that is a bad sign. Times when I felt this way and jumped in have made me feel worse the next morning.
Now let’s talk about relationships. There could be a case where you are in a relationship with someone just for the sake of being in a relationship. We might be so infatuated with a partner that we start to make excuses for them when they don’t respect us. We might even make excuses for them when they hurt us. We stay in relationships even though we are miserable because we may think “Well at least I have someone. At least I am not alone”.
Patterns appear that we overlook. It may start with being disrespectful. It may become emotional abuse and then turn into physical or sexual abuse. People with disabilities are more likely to be victims of domestic violence. The longer one stays in an abusive relationship, the harder it is to leave that relationship for a number of reasons. So it important to recognize the signs of an unhealthy relationship early on.
What made me realize that I had to stay away from unhealthy partners is that I realized that the fantasy of them in my head was so much better than the reality. I had built these partners up in my head to be so much better than they actually were. Sex with them really wasn’t that great because they really weren’t that into me. I was just another notch on their bed post. They didn’t respect me. They may not have even liked me.
I honestly never thought I would meet someone again after my husband passed away. I thought I might have casual sex, have casual partners, sex with friends. But I never thought there would be someone else out there who would want to spend their lives with me. I didn’t close myself off to the possibility though. I kept socializing, focusing on making friendships, and I kept going out to events and staying close to my core group of people. When I was lusting after someone who wasn’t healthy for me, my friends would call me out on it. I didn’t listen right away. I eventually had to learn for myself and I eventually stayed away from these unhealthy partners. I also took a chance on myself. When I found someone new attractive, I took a chance to get to know them. I risked being rejected.
And guess what? I found someone and have been in a happy, healthy relationship now for the past four years. And he treats me so good. Better than I imagined for myself. If I had continued to waste time being with people who were mistreating me, I would have cheated myself out of finding a new love.
If you are struggling with self-esteem or body image issues, seek out help. There are counselors, support groups. podcasts and self-help books out there. No matter what you look like. No matter what disabilities or medical issues you may have. Everyone has sexual desires and everyone deserves to have good sex lives. Everyone deserves good relationships and love. Everyone deserves respect from their partners. Know that you too deserve to feel special and feel sexy. Know that you too are worthy of lust and love.