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How Self-Esteem Impacts Your Sex Life

Self-esteem can feel like an elusive creature. When we suffer from low self-esteem, as many people do, it can strip away the enjoyment from a lot of our life experiences—including sex.

Psychotherapist and sex therapist Gila Shapiro addressed this in a 2016 article in the Huffington Post, pointing out that sexuality is a combination of cultural, emotional, interpersonal, physiological and psychological factors. And our relationship to each of those things is intrinsically tied to our self-esteem—here's how.

Your body

Most of us have some aspect of our bodies that we feel self-conscious about. But when you focus on that aspect during sex, it can prevent you from actually enjoying yourself because you are preoccupied with the thought of your partner judging that body part. The thing is, unless you tell them, often your partner(s) can interpret that preoccupation as a lack of interest in them, which can cause even more problems in a relationship.

To counter this, Shapiro suggests doing a body scan to assess which parts of your body you dislike and what could be causing you to feel that way. Is it unrealistic ideals shown in the media and pop culture? Or comparison to someone who has an entirely different body shape to you? Once you develop self-awareness about what is impacting your perceptions of your body, you can try to challenge them and, in time, learn to appreciate what you once were ashamed of.

Your sexual narrative

The way we think about sex as adults usually stems, at least in part, from our perceptions of it during childhood. Religious and cultural beliefs, and the level openness around the discussion of sex in our families (and whether it was considered taboo) all shape the sexual narrative we carry into adulthood. If we were made to feel shame and guilt around sex as children, for example, those feelings can impact our sexual self-esteem as adults-perhaps you feel as though you’re not worthy of being desired or of experiencing pleasure. Again, Shapiro advises identifying any destructive beliefs you may have and creating a new, more positive narrative that can help boost your self-esteem.

Your communication

For a lot of people, self-esteem issues during sex can stem from a concern that they’re not doing it “right.” But Shapiro points out that we shouldn’t get so caught up in technique-especially since everyone is turned on by different things-and instead focus on communicating with our partner(s). Be open with one another about what gives you pleasure and what you do and don’t like during sex. And be sure to show your appreciation when they’re doing something that gets you going. After all, everyone likes to know when they’re doing a good job.

Your sexual meaning

Sexual narrative aside, the meaning that we apply to sex can also impact self-esteem. For some people, it’s merely a physical act with no emotion attached, while for others it’s a means of connection, of validation, or even of asserting power. But if you and your partner(s) have completely different meanings attached to sex, it can lead to misunderstandings, dissatisfaction and feelings of unworthiness. The answer, according to Shapiro? Talk about it beforehand and get clear about what the sexual encounter means to everyone involved.

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