There's no emoticon for what I'm feeling!
October 23, 2006 9:38 AM   Subscribe

Is it a sex question? Is it a relationship question? Is it a psychology question? Who knows!

I've been with my boyfriend for several years now. I love him very much, but there are a couple of things we need to work on, and for me the big one is our sex life. It's also one of the things that's entirely my fault: I'm fat, and it's messing with my head. It's not an attraction thing. My boyfriend is, amazingly, attracted to me - he tells me so frequently and often initiates sex, so I have no reason to disbelieve him. And I'm very attracted to him, too. The problem is that I'm so intensely ashamed of my weight and the way I look that sex is pretty difficult for me. I have been fat my entire life, and all those years of cruelty from children and casual contempt from adults has done quite a number on me in that regard.

Being naked is, for me, an incredibly uncomfortable experience, and my shame and self-loathing keep me from fully enjoying anything. I can't stop thinking about how I must look, and even though I rationally understand that my boyfriend probably isn't lying about being attracted to me, I can't actually make myself believe that it's true. (Especially as he isn't fat or in any way phsyically unappealing - he's quite a head-turner, actually, and his previous girlfriend was a pretty little wisp of a thing.) Anyway, as a result of all this, the sex we have is much tamer and much more infrequent than either of us would like.

I do like sex, and I do want to have more of it. And when I'm not so tense - either because I've had a couple of drinks or because we start fooling around in the middle of the night while I'm half-asleep - it's really great. So my question is this: how can I escape my head more often so that I can have more and better sex? I don't want to have to get drunk or fall asleep every time I want to screw my boyfriend.

I realize that there are two obvious answers to this: "Lose some weight, fatty," and "Get some therapy, crazy lady." The former is a reasonable response, and it's something I'd like to do, but I'm hoping that I might be able to have a good sex life even if it doesn't happen. After all, my boyfriend and I love each other and are attracted to each other already. The latter is something I'm open to, but I don't have health insurance right now and I'm not sure therapy is something I can afford on my own. If you have cheap or free suggestions, they're welcome.

Possibly relevant details: I'm female, in my late twenties, and I live in New York City. Some years ago I was diagnosed as depressed and given Zoloft, but I didn't like the side effects and now I'm not on anything. I have never been in therapy. Friends and co-workers would probably be surprised to hear me described as depressed, but my boyfriend and family would not.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

I'd say the getting drunk angle is a good starting point. Make a dinner date, have a few drinks and go from there.

Then start weaning yourself off of the booze, but keep the 'date -> sex' association strong and theoretically you should be able to transition away from being so tense.

Of course, alcohol tolerance and body weight are pretty well correlated so this may be an expensive proposition, YMMV obviously.
posted by Skorgu at 9:55 AM on October 23, 2006

I super highly recommend you turn off your computer right now, run out of your house, hop on the train to your local indy bookstore, and buy copies of Fat!So? and Big, Big Love.

We can argue forever about whether you should lose weight or not, but in order to increase your satisfaction and pleasure with your partner, and with your own happiness, I believe you are going to have to find ways to accept and love yourself the way you are. And believe it or not, there is no weight loss strategy that has been proven to work long term. Think about it: Do you know ANYONE who has lost a significant amount of weight (say, 30 pounds or more) and kept it off for more than 3 years?

I'd also suggest actively looking for images of big, sexy women. Here's The Big Burlesque, Candy Kane, Women En Large. And finally, just helping yourself feel more open about sex and sexuality in general is bound to help. A visit to Babeland in NY could net you some really fabulous erotic magazines, videos, books, or comics that show a range of body types having hot sex.

Good luck. You're facing a huge uphill battle against a lifetime of negative messages that you have been inundated with.
posted by serazin at 9:57 AM on October 23, 2006 [2 favorites]

Perhaps -

Subvert your forebrain by focusing on the sensations of him, particularly smell. Let your primal brain be your friend.
posted by dragonsi55 at 9:59 AM on October 23, 2006

I am so sorry that you remain irrationally convinced of your body's ugliness, despite the overwhelming evidence that you are truly beautiful.

I mean, he has been with you for several years. Which means that several years of assurance, mutual physical attraction, and support, are outweighed by the ghosts of emotional trauma and social alienation. When what is real and lasting is shot down by what is subjective and in the past, you know you have a lot of work to do.

Even if you can't afford therapy, perhaps there is some womens' group you can find, a support group or discussion group on the matter. Most of these are free. Craigslist can point you toward things like this. Being around other women who have been where you have and hearing their stories might make you feel less embattled. You may discover how much better off you are than some of them, or may be inspired by the strength of others. Perhaps you will make friends, or perhaps you will get more by hanging back and simply observing. Regardless, you need to find a way to air out this problem and face it comfortably among others.

Hiding your insecurity is only delaying the inevitable, and if your boyfriend is as wonderful as you make him sound, then he deserves to have all the great sex he wants, and you deserve the satisfaction of knowing how many skinny bitches out there would kill to be in your shoes.
posted by hermitosis at 10:01 AM on October 23, 2006

Drink more. Or you could get high. Or possibly a prescription anxiolytic like Xanax, though that could be harder to get ahold of.

Anyway, this is a problem that you can definitely solve chemically with few negative side effects, so why the hell not?
posted by myeviltwin at 10:02 AM on October 23, 2006

As someone who moved from NY a couple years back, let me just say that I know that it's a hard place to begin an exercise regime. Gyms are expensive and you imagine that everyone there is a size zero. If it weren't for a traumatic knee injury that forced me first into physical therapy and then into therapeutic weightlifting, I doubt I would ever have seen the inside of New York City gym. But once I started that regime it really changed a lot for me.
First I realized that I was not the only person there struggling to lose a couple of pounds.
Being bigger in New York can make you feel really invisible, but once I started building muscle (my weight loss was minimal, thanks to muscle gain) I immediately started getting more and better attention, and got to know a couple of people who were going through the same thing. Exercise in general too, once you get through that first stage of resistance, can make you feel better.
It sounds to me like you need some support in weightloss/exercise. You sound like the kind of person who could get a lot out of going to Weightwatchers. I think also you urge to talk about your depression with a therapist sounds like a really healthy direction
posted by Sara Anne at 10:02 AM on October 23, 2006

Another suggestion that may help is to promote casual nudity. That is, maybe sleep nude, or cuddle nude. Keep the pressures of sex out of it completely. I know I had some nudity issues when I first started having sex &c., and what helped me the most were two things:
1) a short experiment in sleeping nude (which I didn't find to be all that interesting, but got me comfortable with the idea of being naked for extended periods of time)
2) just spending time nude around my girlfriend at that time. Again, sans sex-pressure.

Granted, I'm only slightly overweight (BMI of 26.7), but it bothered me a lot before. Actually, I just had issues wtih being naked (I felt, strangely enough, exposed), but my little belly didn't help me break them.
posted by Xoder at 10:05 AM on October 23, 2006

I know I recommend yoga for just about anything, but... If it's something that interests you at all, the right yoga class is neat because it combines some physical movement/exercise with a philosophy that emphasizes how perfect you are right now. Anusara yoga, the style I do, moves fairly slowly, gives a lot of instruction, and focuses a great deal on that sense that you don't have to change in order to be perfect, that your limitations and body and whatever else are all part of who you are. It can be rather amazing to not only hear someone say that but actually see how that applies to your physical body as you're going through the poses, and I think that combination lets you take those lessons into your daily life fairly easily.

If yoga does not appeal, then I suspect that other exercise, even without the goal of losing weight, would help. I had been couch-potatoing for the last few months due to an overburdened schedule combined with a banged-up knee, and my body confidence just nose-dived. Getting back into an exercise routine, even though I haven't really lost any weight, has done wonders for my confidence.
posted by occhiblu at 10:05 AM on October 23, 2006 [2 favorites]

Are you comfortable being naked when you are alone? If not, that would be a good first step. I used to be about 150 pounds overweight and although I didn't notice it at the time, I went out of my way not to see or notice my own body. I don't have an easy answer. But I suspect this is more of a self-esteem issue overall, than a body-image issue per se.

The best thing to try I think: Just fake it. Pretend to be comfortable, eventually you'll get good enough at pretending that you'll actually be comfortable. I used to be really self-concious at the beach or pools, but I eventually forced myself to just go out there and be comfortable with my not great body. I'm still not completely comfortable (I'm still somewhat overweight), but it's not that bad. And when it comes to sex, I trust my partner must like me enough that I should pretend to be comfortable, even if I'm not. Being comfortable generally follows shortly thereafter.
posted by bluejayk at 10:06 AM on October 23, 2006

Exercise . . . Not for the sake of losing weight but for the sake of feeling better about yourself. This is coming from someone who loathes exercise. And I'm not talking about strenuous crazy exercise, but just doing something more than you're already doing. Take a walk, walk up two flights of stairs as opposed to taking the elevator the entire way, swim around in a pool (not necessarily doing laps) . . . things like that. I always feel so much better about myself after doing a little more than I usually do.

I'm not saying for you to lose weight, but exercise has as many psychological benefits as it does physical. It might even erase the need for you to seek a psychologist. Who knows?!
posted by Sassyfras at 10:06 AM on October 23, 2006

I can think of two things that a behaviorist might suggest you try.
1) Confront your body issues by pushing your comfort level beyond your present stage. Unfortunately it's getting chilly so it's hard to go to the beach in a bikini. But biking in spandex might have the same effect. The idea is to turn your current state of comfort into a slightly newer state by giving yourself a new threshold. If you can bike in spandex then perhaps you can have sex in subdued lighting (for example).

2) Focus all your attention on pleasuring your partner. This again is a means of incrementally changing things, getting you a little more comfortable with the sexual situation in which you are in control.

Because each of these involves changing things (parading your body, controlling sex) they will be difficult, especially since they involve the precise body issues you (internally) want to avoid. But don't try to change things too much at one time. Tiny steps (maybe spandex is too much the first time) means it's doable, and tiny steps means change might be very gradual. Be patient with yourself.

Losing weight is clearly good for your health. Being comfortable with who you are and what you look like is good for your health too. You wouldn't expect to lose 20 pounds in a week, so don't expect to change your body image in a week either.

Good luck!
posted by johngumbo at 10:08 AM on October 23, 2006

Try this book--Intimate Connections--it will help you deal with your body issues as it affects your sexual relationship with your boyfriend. Unlike almost every other book in the self-help area, it isn't a book that tells you what you should think, it gives you concrete exercises to help you get to where you want to be.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:21 AM on October 23, 2006

Good advice there from Occhiblu. Get yourself moving - exercise is a great way to get comfortable with your physical being. This runs much deeper than appearance; putting your body under some healthy stress will help you learn more about how it works, and you will feel stronger and more comfortable in your skin.
posted by Mister_A at 10:23 AM on October 23, 2006

I second Xoder's thoughts on casual nudity. You said that often you don't feel comfortable naked because of your weight. Well, as you've stated, you've always had a little extra weight and your boyfriend, not only doesn't mind, but finds you attractive. Yeah! Yippee! That takes care of the weight thing. But you can address not feeling comfortable naked. Try to do more things closer to naked, both by yourself and with your boyfriend. Things that get you more in touch with your body, your skin, moving around, things that you enjoy!

You can start slow, go swimming for example. Wear a bathing suit that you don't feel too awkward in and just get out there. If you don't swim, splash around. Just BE in your body, and be more comfortable using it. It doesn't matter what size you are, but the more in control and in touch with your body, the more comfortable you will feel with it.

Other examples, take a sexy dance class together, like salsa or tango. It will get your blood racing and your bodies in close contact. You're not naked, but you will be using your body in a sexy way. It's very freeing.

Take showers/baths together. This doesn't need to immediately lead to sex (though it might!) Even just day-to-day being more comfortable naked might help you.

Of course, some of these things might also help you lose weight too. It's pretty well-documented that exercise releases endorphins and can alleviate minor depression. But most importantly, try to get more in touch with yourself, and enjoy your body!
posted by typewriter at 10:24 AM on October 23, 2006

You have what he wants, baby ! I can't emphasize that enough. I'm female, and I encourage you to focus on the clear and obvious attraction in your relationship. If he wanted the wisp, he'd still be with her. He wants YOU (and I'm willing to bet he thinks you are "quite a head-turner", too).

This is so worth fighting for !

And I second bluejayk's suggestion: fake it till you make it. Having more and better sex will help you feel more attractive, and then you get a wonderful cycle going. The more sex you enjoy, the more attractive you feel. The more attractive you feel, the more sex you want to have.
posted by AuntLisa at 10:26 AM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

When I can't stand to look at my body, I set up a situation where we'll be having sex with me mostly clothed. a plaid skirt and knee highs are good for this. I find that as I get sweatier and more turned on, I get more comfortable taking things off.
posted by nadawi at 10:29 AM on October 23, 2006

Increase sex, decrease calories. Substitute one for the other.

But you know this. A martial arts master, a little old chinese guy, said, "You know it, why you no do it?"

Plan! Eating less and lovin' more are just like personal finance. You gotta plan. You can do it. You are coherent and rational in writing, which suggests that you just need to focus. De-prioritize other things.

Tell your boyfriend your goals. Get his help with your plan. Teams accomplish more than individuals.

Never give up.
posted by ewkpates at 11:08 AM on October 23, 2006 [2 favorites]

I second serazin's advice! There's a lot of great fat acceptance/fat politics work out there that can help you see yourself in a new, awesome light. It can help as a way to disrupt the inner negative convos you've been having with yourself since you were young.

I've heard lots of great things about Big, Big Love, too. Pick it up and see if anything sticks.

Also, "Lose some weight" is not, I don't think, a reasonable response. That is, it could be part of a reasonable response (though I think it's more likely to come about as the result of a reasonable response), but unless you approach the negative thoughts and body-hatred losing weight will just feed into that discourse.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:16 AM on October 23, 2006

You know, until you can be more comfortable naked, or even after you are, there's nothing wrong with wearing a pretty little satin nightgown for part or all of your activities. Satin is great to work through. If you don't believe me, try it. Get your guy to touch you through it. I'm thinking of a certain time I wore a little blue number, and YEEEEOWWWW!!!! I actually had to take it off because the sensation was *too* much for me to handle.
posted by orange swan at 11:23 AM on October 23, 2006

coming from the guy side here: you need to learn to view your body in a more positive light. the books recommended above would be a good start.

but remember, your boyfriend is in love with you--all of you, including your size. focus on his desire for you, and how much you appreciate and want that. don't worry about your weight being in the way--it never really is.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 11:24 AM on October 23, 2006

I'll second yoga. It encourages a very gentle and positive connection with your body that can really enhance your acceptance of your body as it is and encourage change in a gentle & nurturing way instead of through shame and pressure.
posted by judith at 11:38 AM on October 23, 2006

Belly dancing. Seriously.
posted by amtho at 11:48 AM on October 23, 2006

I have dealt with these same issues, and here is what worked for me.

1. You said that your SO is "probably not lying to you" and that, to me is a good place to start. It may hurt, but just try to believe him. Really believe him. It will probably take awhile.
2. Write down 100 times on a piece of paper, "I am a sexy and attractive woman."
3. Repeat that phrase to yourself a few times a day. Don't be silly about it, just try to embrace it.
4. Stand in front of the mirror (naked if you want) and try to find one thing about your body that you either like or consider "not so bad." Smile, and say it out loud. "All things considered, my legs aren't too bad."

It will take time. You sound to me like a pretty self-aware person who could enjoy this mind-over-matter type of self-help.
posted by frecklefaerie at 12:01 PM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

You mentioned depression -- do you also have anxiety about a number of things? There are prescription meds that you can take now and then to relieve anxiety for a while. You don't want to have to be drunk or high to have sex, but with something like Xanax you you take a small amount that lets you relax without feeling at all intoxicated. And regarding your depression: Zoloft had side-effects that you didn't like, but that doesn't mean you'll have the same experience with a different antidepressant, should you decide you need one in the future.
posted by wryly at 12:57 PM on October 23, 2006

I haven't tried this -- I'm just thinking out loud -- but what if you tried it when he was wearing a blindfold? You'd feel more free, but you'd still be sober (and it wouldn't take prep time). That might be a good step on the path.
posted by booksandlibretti at 6:42 PM on October 23, 2006

My boyfriend is, amazingly, attracted to me - he tells me so frequently and often initiates sex, so I have no reason to disbelieve him.

I can't stop thinking about how I must look, and even though I rationally understand that my boyfriend probably isn't lying about being attracted to me, I can't actually make myself believe that it's true.

"Probably"? Is he crazy? Masochistic perhaps? Why would he keep forcing himself to have sex with someone who isn't attractive? Initiating it even!

he's quite a head-turner, actually, and his previous girlfriend was a pretty little wisp of a thing.
And he's with you. That suggests you're pretty damn attractive.

It may be that you're not even overweight - I've known far too many people who have insanely distorted views of themselves. It may be that you are, to some degree - it's not a black and white thing. You're obviously attractive, overweight or not.

More importantly your boyfriend, whom you love, is attracted to you. If he says you're attractive, you bloody well are.

So it comes down to how you can get yourself to believe it. And I know it's hard. It'll take time. Some of the self-help books the others recommend may help. I haven't yet read Ironmouth's recommendation Intimate Connections, but I really like the author's work - his name is David D. Burns, and he gives very concrete and logical advice based on cognitive therapy. Central to all of it is this list of cognitive distortions, which I find invaluable - and using it to persistently confront and refute the negative thoughts in your head. Until they shut up, or at least quieten down enough to stop getting in your way. And they will.

Others things worth mentioning: do you surround yourself with or only focus on people or images of people you believe are more physically attractive, and constantly beat yourself up with them by comparison? Do you have clarity over where you are in the whole human spectrum of weight and attractiveness? What about all the people who are, by your standards, more overweight and/or less attractive, who are still considered attractive by others, loved, and have great sex?

Also, looks is not the only thing that makes someone sexually attractive or good in bed, I'm sure you'd agree. So what about all the other things? All the other great things about you that turn your boyfriend on?

Anyway, I wish you all the best - Intimate Connections would be a good place to start, I think. And trusting your boyfriend enough to believe him!
posted by Ira.metafilter at 11:15 PM on October 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

i don't have advice, and it's okay if this gets deleted as noise, i'll understand but--i just wanted to say too i commend you for asking this question. because the truth is, whatever the hang up, this plagues lots of people. i have similar feelings as you (i have massive scarring on my torso from a violent injury that happened forever ago and the ensuing surgery, and i feel like i'll NEVER EVER be able to feel sexy naked, and exposing my body to partners brings on a wave of terror and self loathing that doesn't ebb no matter how long i've been with the person or how into me they seem anyway), and they fuck up my relationships in the long run, and it sucks. so i'm really hoping someone swoops in here with a solid answer, because i hate it too.

so, thank you so much for asking this question. i too long for answers besides "get over it; you have head issues" and "make the physical issue disappear" (when it can't). kudos, and i feel for you.
posted by ifjuly at 11:34 PM on October 24, 2006

I second bellydancing and yoga. Even things like taking a long bath, slowly soaping up your legs, langorously applying body moisturiser after a bath... these are all things that put you back in touch with your body.

I'm only 20lbs overweight, but I get the "oh shit" feeling when I look in the mirror too. The only way to feel comfortable with your body is to *get* comfortable with it.

Try and think about your body as a functional machine, too. You may hate your thighs, but those legs get to you to work and back. They're good legs! I bet you can stir a mean casserole with your right hand, too, etc. Once you can start thinking about your body in that way, the "argh, I'm a whale" feeling dissipates.

Also, explain things to your partner if you haven't already. If you're mystified as to what he likes about you, ask him what turns him on. Ask what he likes about you. Chances are that when you're freaking out about your jiggly bits he's probably thinking "wow, I love the way the candlelight plays on her arm" or "the way her hair curls just under her ear is soooo beautiful". Ask him.

Blindfolds for both are a good idea too. Just keep naked flames/heavy furniture out of the way.

Finally, therapy is good for this kind of thing. It helps you realise that your perception of yourself is JUST YOUR OPINION, and you should give it as much heed as you would someone who likes pickles in a jelly sandwich.

Good luck! You're onto a good thing. Try to like yourself :)
posted by unmusic at 2:46 AM on October 26, 2006

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