Body Image and Female Sexuality

The majority of people allow themselves to be turned on by psychological stimuli more often than they are turned on by physiological stimuli. In other words, they put their sexual imaginations to work in order to have a sexual experience rather than wait for the chemicals in their bodies to regulate their sexual activity.

The emergence into sexual awareness which more and more women have come over the last decades shows that women are sexual beings and they have a sexuality which has previously been stifled by the patriarchal society. Yet men, when they do admit this sexuality, will say women have difficulty in reaching orgasm?"

So women, please accept the fact that you have a burgeoning sexuality! Please wake it up if it is asleep! Please encourage it by every means you know to develop and flower! Remember that your interest and your excitement are powerfully stimulating to your lovers. Enjoy them, while you enjoy yourselves.



Body image is the concept we have of how our bodies feel and appear to ourselves and of how we believe others see us. Some people who are by the commonly agreed standards beautiful may have a poor body image and be eternally full of anxiety and uneasy about their appearance. Others who may conventionally rate as sexually unattractive may be entirely at their ease about their bodies.

Confidence and a feeling of security about the "rightness" of one's body, regardless of how it looks, can facilitate a healthy, integrated expression of sexuality. Doubt, self-consciousness and anxiety about one's body image can do the exact reverse, inhibiting fulfilling sexual expression.

Body image is part - an intimate part, but only a part - of our sense of sexual identity and general identity. When we think of what we are, we think of our experiences and abilities, our goals and our frustrations, our successes and our failures in the context of our bodies.

We may be able to change many things about ourselves, but there is little that we can do to change what we look like stripped naked; at that point all we can do is try to change how we feel about what we see. That is why a person's sense of his or her identity can be altered by body changes resulting from disease or surgery, from putting on weight or losing it and from pregnancy.

As in so many aspects of sexuality, self-acceptance is the key. What you look like is not nearly as important as how you feel about yourself, and in the end people will respond more to your personality than to your idea of how you look to them.



From the moment of birth, adults influence children's body image and thereby their sense of identity. The way a child is held, touched, looked at and spoken to tells it whether it is loved and therefore an adequate person or whether it is approved of and worthy (or, unfortunately) disapproved of and therefore deficient. It is at this stage that a child can begin to learn whether its body is regarded as good, a message that will remain with the child throughout its formative years.

This early learning influences the sexual and other attitudes and behavior of young people as they develop through the natural stages of life. Young people who receive positive, affirming messages about their bodies and feel that they are loved, lovable and valuable as persons are more likely and more able to express love and tenderness as they grow, and less likely to be involved in self-destructive behavior or exploitive behavior toward another person.

Although young children are very curious about their own bodies and the bodies of their friends, and although they learn about similarities and differences at a very early age, it is not until puberty that body image tends to emerge as a crucial factor in their developing self-concept. It appears that from that time on there is a continuing interest and sometimes a preoccupation with body image throughout the life cycle. In Western cultures, males and females alike learn very early that "looks count."

Therefore, the natural biological changes they experience during their early years are monitored and interpreted through the culture's contemporary ideals. Physical size, breast and genital development, evidence of pubic hair, skin texture, hair color and hairstyle, the onset of menstruation and the other typical developmental changes profoundly affect our sense of body image and, for many, their entire sense of identity, especially their sexual identity.

Developing a bit later or not developing like everyone else is not seen as an individual difference: it is seen by many as a sign of inferiority, and can trigger a loss of sexual self-esteem and general self-esteem.

This is not an overstatement, because at this time in one's life being in step with one's peers is especially important, since it is the peer group that frequently lays down the ideals of how a young person should look. The peer group has its own language, dress code and mores, and if a young person finds it difficult to keep up, this may have a seriously adverse effect upon his or her sense of identity. Similarly, adults struggle with their body image as they too are affected by changing cultural standards.

Society has witnessed all sorts of "looks" that are in and soon out again. The scrambling by many people to keep up-to-date and be accepted is evidence of how looking a certain way and having a certain image of oneself affects identity.

Many adults subscribe to the notion that "self is body" rather than "self is a person" (who happens to have a body). It is unfortunate that the features of the body have become what some people see as the essence of being a person.

Comparisons of self to artificial standards are influencing some people toward painful self-consciousness and to devaluing themselves because they do not meet the contemporary requirements of physical beauty. This is not only damaging in itself but has a circular effect too, by influencing young people to perpetuate these anxieties in their own lives.

Parents' questions and answers

Q. "My son is really worried about his penis size. He isn't as big as his friends and he says he thinks about it all the time. Can I take him to a doctor for treatment that will get things going for him?"

A: "I think you need to indicate to your son that you understand his concern and that you recognize it to be of real significance. It is very common for young boys and girls to want to keep pace with their friends in physical development. Their self esteem and self-acceptance is usually related to sharing the common experiences of their peers, so you need to be sensitive to his real and need.

"I would advise going to a doctor at this point. However, doctors will not interfere with normal growth patterns unless there is evidence of some genuine physical reason which is preventing normal growth. Also, unless your doctor is very sensitive to what is going on emotionally and socially with your son, his or her attitude could lead your son to feel that even a doctor can't help his particular condition.

"Continue to listen to your son, be open and available to him and try to communicate when possible that one rate of development is not better than others. I believe this issue will pass like so many of the other issues you have been faced with as a parent!"


"It has always been very important to me to keep pace with every style, every new look. I never thought too much about whether I liked it or not. I just did it. One day I realized I didn't know who I really was."

"Whenever I feel I look good (i.e. presumably feeling powerful and confident) things just seem to go better for me, both sexually and in other ways."

"For a long time in my life, I just cared about how I looked. What I thought and what I said were always secondary."

"Every little change in my weight made me feel like my body had changed. I was obsessively aware of this and rarely thought about other things."

"The biggest change in my life occurred when I accepted how I looked and became concerned with my values and opinions. I had wasted so much time on my body and its sexual attractiveness."

"Sometimes I find myself standing in front of the mirror just staring at my whole body - frequently for what seems like a long time. I wonder what I'm looking for?"

Whatever it is, a lot of people do it. Sometimes it is purely physical assessment - trying to check yourself out against an ideal, trying to estimate what your good points are or how best to disguise what you see as your physical defects. Often it is more than that, however.

Gazing at yourself in a mirror is one way of taking stock of who and what you are. Whatever you mean to do with your life has got to be done in that body - your body - so it is quite reasonable for you to spend some time reflecting on that part of your identity. This is, of course fundamentally, an impulse to determine how sexually attractive we are.


Self-acceptance in every way is a principal factor in being able to form intimate sexual relationships and to have the capacity to give and receive tenderness and love. Painful self-consciousness about one's body and never feeling attractive enough are body image issues that interfere with a person's ability to present him- or herself in a confident, enthusiastic manner; they therefore interfere with the ability to sustain relationships or to form new ones.

Q "When I was pregnant I was really worried that my husband would find me fat and ugly and look around for another woman to have sex with. Believe it or not he found me to be even more sexy this way."

A: I believe it. Some women begin to feel insecure and unattractive when their bodies change during pregnancy and they come to believe that everyone, their husbands especially, shares their view. As you point out, these negative feelings may not be warranted; what is appealing to many partners is not what you see in yourself, but who you are as a whole person. It is usual for husbands to react to their wives' pregnancies as yours has done.

Perhaps you too have experienced the happy situation of your husband's attraction to you as allaying your own anxieties. When you have sex, choose the best sex techniques, ones which make the experience relaxing and enjoyable, and the pregnancy can reinforce your relationship.


Body image is enormously influenced by cultural and religious context. Different cultures place greatly different emphases on which body parts make people look good and how. Some cultures place a premium on fatness, whereas our own emphasizes slimness; in some, women's breasts are all-important (our own, for example), yet in some African cultures they are of minimal significance.

Because of the great emphasis on looks in our culture, we have two distinct problems. First, we are inclined to worry about how we present ourselves to other people, and that, on the whole, means how we dress, arrange our hair and use cosmetics. Second, there is what is underneath: how we look - sexually - when all those image props are taken away and we find ourselves nude with other people.

Both are sources of anxiety about our sexual attractiveness unless the whole sense of identity is in balance. No matter how they look, people can feel comfortable with their bodies and with the way they present themselves to others if they are secure in their identity.

Whereas appearance has become a major industry, nakedness remains a private anxiety. We have a dual inheritance. The Old Testament story of the Garden of Eden has done much to promote the idea that nakedness is associated with sin, sex and shame. Adam and Eve saw no need to clothe themselves until they had sinned, and churches ever since have tended to imply that the naked human body is something to be ashamed of.

On the other hand, we have a great artistic tradition deriving from the Greeks which says that the naked human body is not only a perfectly normal, natural thing but can be of great beauty too. The Greeks, who tended to remove their clothes for sports, appear to have associated the naked body with fitness, health and self-enhancement.

With these two traditions running in parallel, it is not surprising that we have split ideas about our bodies. It is no wonder that people who have inherited the idea that bodies are shameful and disgusting should have difficulty appreciating their own bodies and those of others as sources of pleasure, esthetic and sexual alike, even though they know that countless people have inherited the alternative idea and found their bodies a source of the greatest pleasure - especially the greatest sexual pleasure.

And, by the way, I'd say to nay man who aspires to get a asexual partner, that if he is a quick comer, he should really be able to control his ejaculation and so enjoy better sex. This site has more to say about this.

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Body Image and Female Sexuality