Want to enjoy sex but am turned off by myself
June 18, 2013 8:09 AM   Subscribe

I don't have a low sex drive, but I rarely want to have sex. Or rather, I WANT to have sex but I don't want to be me while I'm doing it.

I'm a 30something female, happily married to a male for several years. I struggled with body image issues and self-loathing as a teen/young adult, mostly due to a weight problem, which I now mostly have under control (but my weight does tend to fluctuate).

Sometimes I really enjoy sex. Sometimes it's just okay, and I'm doing it more out of obligation. My husband and I have discussed this, and over a year ago he decided not to "badger" me anymore – we would do it when I wanted to. While I can tell he tries not to make me feel bad when it's been awhile, I also know he gets frustrated. The resulting self-induced guilt doesn't do much to help me get in the mood.

The problem is not that I want to be with anyone else – actually, that would be worse. The problem is me. I am not attracted to myself. When I fantasize about sex, I am never involved. It's always other people.

I've read some MeFi threads on self-loathing, "how can I make my wife feel sexy," etc. Frankly, the idea of doing role play or anything that would really expose me physically is anything but a turn-on. (But if I could transport myself into a body I found attractive? Sign me up.)

I think for a long time, the reason I never spoke to anyone about this (or even really realized it) is because it seemed like leftover chubby kid issues. But it's not that, exactly. My weight's fluctuated enough throughout my adult life, and been low enough, that while I know it makes me feel better and healthier when it's at a good point, I still never feel *sexy*. And since I'm incapable of feeling sexy, it's pretty damn hard to enjoy sex. Wouldn't matter who it was with. Sometimes that feeling of self-disgust is so strong I don't even want to touch myself in a sexual way.

I've never been sexually abused. I've always had body image issues. I appreciate many different body types, find many different body types attractive, and I'm certainly not saying I feel like I need to fit some conventional type to suddenly like my body and enjoy sex. And it's not just the weight – I have quite the mental list of various things that I dislike about my body. Some are changeable, some are not. Objectively, I can look at myself in the mirror and acknowledge the fact that I am okay looking – even attractive, at times. But I never feel like a sexual creature, which is why I think this is much more a psychological problem than a physical one.

I am not in therapy for various reasons, although I will certainly consider it. And while I have been (and will continue to) attempting to do things like eat well, exercise, be hygienic, even pamper myself occasionally, I don't think it's going to magically make me feel like a more sexual person.

Enormous thanks in advance for any advice.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

I am not in therapy for various reasons

This is exactly what therapy is for. It sounds like you recognize you have body image issues and want to work on them to strengthen your personal happiness, sex life and relationships. This is exactly the type of situation in which therapy should be really useful.
posted by sweetkid at 8:12 AM on June 18, 2013 [9 favorites]

I am not in therapy for various reasons, although I will certainly consider it.

Certainly, consider it.
posted by xingcat at 8:13 AM on June 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Nthing therapy... It shouldn't matter if you are skinny, fat, or anywhere in between. Your body is just a vessel (and not the problem); your sexuality comes from your ability to love yourself and share THAT with your partner.
posted by fireandthud at 8:19 AM on June 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Definitely consider therapy. It sounds like you have kind of split yourself into "parts" - the part of you that thinks x about your body, the part of you that thinks y about sex... It might be worth considering with a good therapist how to embrace the whole of your Self.

I'm wondering if it helps at all to consider who it is that's involved when you think about sex, if not you. You say you think of other people - do these other people have any significance? Is it how they look, or how they behave? Is there some quality that you wish you had? Maybe that might be some kind of key to what you need to feel about yourself?

Another concept to consider is that you may be asexual, or have a low sex drive, which are both normal. Don't put too much pressure on yourself to feel or be a certain way which is uncomfortable for you. But again, this is something that a therapist can help you figure out. Good luck.
posted by billiebee at 8:24 AM on June 18, 2013

Maybe it would help for you to figure out a physical goal for yourself and work to attain that. For example, climbing a mountain (or an indoor rock wall thingie), running a marathon, lifting a certain weight. A goal that is hard, not something like run a mile. Once you have done the work to meet that goal you might have a better appreciation for what your body can do rather than what it looks like.

(follow this up with the idea that the only way to have better self esteem is not to talk yourself into it but to do something hard)
posted by dawkins_7 at 8:41 AM on June 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's the thing, I don't think anyone, anywhere is 100% at peace with his or her body. Some times I'll catch myself saying something unhelpful about how overweight I am or how big my legs are and then I'll think, "You know, my legs are big, but they're strong and they take me where I want to go."

The other thing is that less sex makes you feel less sexy, more sex makes you feel sexier. This is the BEST way to fake it till you make it. Your husband, loving your body, and you, loving his is therapeutic for both of you AND it brings you closer together.

Start with easy stuff, massage, kissing, making out, etc. When you hear that voice in your head start on that litany of shit you don't like about yourself, tell it to shut up and mind it's own business. "Okay, so my boobs are lop-sided, so what? They fed my kids, and they're fun to play with."

Affirmations are terrific to take you out of your head, and to re-write all that unhelpful and destructive programming in there.

"My body is strong and healthy and I enjoy using it to get things done."

"My husband loves me and loves my body, no matter what shape it's in."

Just keep saying it. Out loud. Set it to music. In fact, walk around with Milkshake in your head, that will drive out the demons!

You may never be super-sexual, and that's okay. I recommend rituals that bring you physically close with your husband though, because he might need the comfort of your caress and it's not always about you.

Therapy will help you overcome some of your issues too, so do find a therapist you like and can work with. I recommend someone who works with people with eating disorders, since body dysmorphia is a huge component of them.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:13 AM on June 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

What about sexy role play outfits that are not revealing? One obvious starting point is Victorian clothing. With all the corsets and floor-length dresses and voluminous petticoats and stockings it is basically designed to make you look like you have a completely different but attractive body, and actually taking the clothes off is completely optional.
posted by steinwald at 9:33 AM on June 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

You aren't alone in this. We all have those moments. I was so skinny for so long that it constantly surprised me when men found me attractive. I had no womanly curves! What were they looking at? I compared my figure to Gumby, I had the figure of a teenage boy! You have womanly curves, this is a good thing.

Ask your husband to help you with this. Ask him to write down 3 things that turns him on about you. Post that list on your mirror and look at it every day for a week. Then ask for 3 more things.

Remind him that open compliments are too much for you right now, they just feel like lies. Reading your list gives you a bit of control. You can choose to believe these things because they are true.

Making love in complete darkness can be terribly freeing. Focus on the feelings, what feels good, what doesn't, and forget that it is you for awhile.

Tell yourself every day that you are beautiful and sexy. Eventually you will believe it because it is the truth.
posted by myselfasme at 9:35 AM on June 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Try to remove your ability to control and/or focus on your self presentation. A blindfold might be enough.
posted by srboisvert at 9:38 AM on June 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

This doesn't sound so much like a body issue as it does depression and self loathing. Sometimes when I'm severely stressed and just can't cope with day to day bullshit I find myself getting into a negative thought cycle about things I normally don't think much about, like my body, but when I get to that dark place it's like the still shot artists from Ren and Stimpy created the look of my body (in my head anyway). This typically subsides when I am able to relax and get some positive forward motion in my life.

This is all to say therapy, or whatever your chosen method for treating depression would be is a good place to start with this issue.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:48 AM on June 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

I don't think you actually need to feel like you are a sexy and beautiful person in order to have great sex. You don't need to be attracted to yourself. You just need to be attracted to your partner.

And sure, it helps a lot if you like yourself... but ugly people have sex too. If we use a shallow definition of beauty for a moment, then we're all going to get old and ugly anyway, but does that mean we can't have sex anymore, or that we can't enjoy it? I daresay it doesn't.

Try looking at yourself from a different perspective. Stop thinking about what you look like. Your body probably feels really nice to your partner. And it's most likely perfectly usable to make him feel great pleasure.
Your body is not an ornament; it's a wonderful tool for many, many things, and one of them is giving pleasure to someone you love. Who will then, in turn, use his body to give pleasure to you, because he loves you. Because that's something most bodies are good at: expressing love.
Can't you focus on that, and less on what it looks like?

Is your husband sexy to you? How about focusing on that?
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:17 AM on June 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Good advice above. I'll just add: do you masturbate? You could try feeling sexy by yourself, and see if that helps the dynamic with your husband.
posted by Specklet at 11:17 AM on June 18, 2013

I hate to blame 'the evil media', but I think my body issues stemmed from tv. Growing up in the 80s it was all video vixens and Kelly Bundy. I was a flat-chested teenager and felt very unattractive for it. But then I saw the movie Pump Up the Volume and it changed my outlook. Samantha Mathis has a scene where she takes off her top and has these beautiful small, natural breasts--something I hadn't seen in a movie -- I had seen topless scenes in movies before, but they were usually silicone-pumped bimbos. Anyway, after that she became a sexy icon for me, and I've grown to love my own small boobs--find them sexy even!
As for feeling squishy, have you ever watched Girls? Lena Dunham is a controversial figure for showing her 'flawed' body so much, but I think its wonderful. Not only is she a bit chubby but also has small boobs! Thats like the complete opposite of the 'sexy babe', but Lena owns it, and in the process I think many people find her attractive.
So, I'm not sure if this will help you, but maybe watch Girls or something else where a chubby girl is happy with herself, and maybe use them as a sexual role model?
posted by hellameangirl at 11:22 AM on June 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

I am not in therapy for various reasons, although I will certainly consider it. And while I have been (and will continue to) attempting to do things like eat well, exercise, be hygienic, even pamper myself occasionally, I don't think it's going to magically make me feel like a more sexual person.

First, like many others have already suggested, I also urge you to give therapy a try.

Second thing is about the exercise. No, it's not a magic fix. And it's not about using exercise to transform your appearance (though that may turn out to be a positive side effect). It's about exercising to make you feel better in, and more connected to your own body. Never mind about feeling sexual; for now it's just about not feeling alienated from your own body.

I find it interesting that when you talk about your body, it's largely about how it appears to you. There's only one sentence where you mention how "it makes me feel better and healthier" when your weight is "at a good point." That's a good sign, and it suggests that a physical approach could have a positive impact on how you feel. I think maybe the thing to do is not focus on your weight so much. Instead, embark on an exercise program that will challenge you to find out what your body can actually do. If you really give it a shot - not half-heartedly - you will very likely surprise yourself with what your body is capable of. It might start to give you a better appreciation of your own body. Make you feel more at home in it. And that is likely to be at least one stepping stone to feeling more sexual.

I am a guy who has had some body image issues, going way back. And there are things about my body that I simply cannot change, no matter what I do. But I decided to try something different and started doing some high intensity interval training a couple of years ago, and that has changed everything for me. Still wish certain features could be different. But I love how I feel, and those other things don't really bother me anymore. And make no mistake - it was HARD at the start. But it was worth it. For me, anyway.

Just some food for thought...
posted by fikri at 11:27 AM on June 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't overthink this plate of beans. Like many other things in life, going through the motions is more than half of it. You do not need to feel like having sex to have sex. You and your partner should have sex every day for a month - whether you want to or not. Get the mechanics working and the heart will follow.
posted by three blind mice at 11:33 AM on June 18, 2013

More sex usually means better sex. Less sex often means a slow slide into hardly any sex. That's bad for you and your husband and your marriage. Whatever you do, I would recommend continuing to have sex on a regular basis, even if it's not the best.

Two things that increase my wife's interest in sex are light exercise and taking a bath. Not huge differences, but enough to notice.
posted by mattu at 11:54 AM on June 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with therapy, it helped so many aspects of my life. Also having sex X number of times a week, regardless of whether you feel like it right then - see if you can't convince each other.

Also, I never think about myself during sex either - why would I imagine a middle-aged fat lady during sex? She's great, but not my usual fantasy. What do you fantasize about when you do masturbate? Imagine That stuff during sex instead. Sure, sometimes the fabulous sensations may pull you out of the fantasy, but that's a feature, not a bug.
posted by ldthomps at 1:55 PM on June 18, 2013

You've framed this in a strange way.
To me it sounds as though you will not allow yourself to feel sexy.

Sex makes you feel self-conscious, your perception of yourself then prevents you from losing yourself in your desires, just being in your own skin, to feel and respond-- so you end up feeling alienated from yourself and thinking about what you look like.

Yes it requires confidence- and a feeling a safety.

Do you believe that your partner finds you sexy?

I don't know if I'm on the right track here, but that's my read.

I find I am often able to tackle my negative thought loops on my own, but if it is very deep seated, going back to childhood, that can be very difficult and not even occurring in the form of a conscious thought.

Perhaps you could try the quota sex routine described above and be very mindful of your thoughts during sex, paying special attention to not feed into anything negative- only the positive ones.
posted by abirdinthehand at 2:28 PM on June 18, 2013

Strongly seconding Steinwald. It's not so unusual to be self-conscious about your body, or to even hate how you look. Roleplay lets you be somebody else, and that can be crazy fun... And sexy outfits can do wonders for your confidence. If you're wearing something really gorgeous and sexy, you can feel proud about that and not focus so much on your little stretch marks or whatever.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:16 PM on June 18, 2013

If there's a difference between how much you weigh and how much you think you should weigh in order to feel sexy then you can either change your mind (therapy) or your body (exercise). Find an objective measure of what a healthy weight is from the Internet (NIH for example) and if you weigh too much go hit the gym. I would warn you away from posts that say just go to therapy - sometimes we feel unsexy about ourselves for a reason. Plus there's only so much having someone talking to you can do and I'm not a huge happy pill advocate. Medical joy in a bottle rarely seems to lead to happiness.

I will warn that if your sex life isn't working out that's a huge red flag for your marriage. If you're already fighting or passive aggressively negotiating about sex (thats on both you and him) that's really unhealthy and needs to stop.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 10:39 PM on June 18, 2013

Wow! If only weightloss and self esteem issues could all be so easily solved by just, you know, *hitting the gym. * OP I'm sure you will discard all the flip answers you get to your complex question. It seemed like you felt you were at a healthy weight and physically in shape so Im nthing the suggestions of therapy. I think you were brave to ask this question and wish you the best.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 5:17 AM on June 19, 2013

Does your husband look at a lot of porn? Some women have a lot of difficulty feeling sexy all the time when their partner is constantly looking at/ogling/jerking off to other women, particularly when those women have a very specific body type. And then they don't want sex often so the husband looks at porn more often, which makes her want sex even less frequently...

If your husband does look at a lot of porn this really could be affecting your relationship, particularly if it affects your body image. If so, your sex life with him would likely improve if he cut down or stopped altogether.
posted by Polychrome at 8:36 AM on June 19, 2013

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