Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Body image issues affect relationship and sexual satisfaction

Dr Sophie Moagi, clinical psychologist in Gaborone says body image issues affect relationships and sexual satisfaction although she does not say it in so many words. Her actual words are :“An individual’s body image is meaningfully associated with his or her own romantic relationship quality through his or her own sexual satisfaction, and this equally applies to both women and men. Women’s body image concerns are more easily identified than men’s because women more openly and frequently discuss these concerns with others. Besides, body image is often seen as a women’s issue and men may be therefore unlikely to disclose distress related to feelings about the appearance of their body. Body image issues can cause women to experience stress and depressive feelings which may affect their partners’ feelings about the quality of the relationship to a greater extent.”

Poor body image refers to body dissatisfaction and preoccupation with bodily flaws. Women dissatisfied with their bodies assume their romantic partners are less attracted to them even when this is not true.

Our Westernised society places a very him premium on  beauty, which it often define as being young and skinny. Definitions and ideals of beauty communicated through, for instance, TV, movies, Instagram, and Facebook are often internalized by people, who then judge themselves harshly for falling short. Not surprisingly, poor body image affects mental health and relationships, including relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction. This is through projection biases, such as the mistaken assumption that others share our negative opinions of ourselves.

For instance, if one feels disgusted by their body’s flaws and imperfections, they might assume the opinion is shared by strangers, friends, and even those closest to them (e.g. boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife). Most women who have a poorer body image perceive their partner to be less attracted to them irrespective of their partner’s actual attraction to them, or how attracted they are to their partner, which, in turn, is associated with lower relationship and sexual satisfaction. Poor body image might be used to describe a variety of feelings, perceptions, and behaviors: the importance of the body’s appearance (e.g., weight, shape) for self-esteem, general body dissatisfaction, and constant checking of perceived body imperfections.

These imperfections include facial proportions, breast size, bone structure, rolls of fat (regardless of the person’s weight), and various skin concerns like cellulite, acne, stretch marks, and wrinkles. Some individuals with poor body image engage in excessive mirror-checking or reassurance-seeking, others engage in avoidance behaviors, like wearing baggy clothes or avoiding going to social places. One’s body image encompasses both psychological and physiological components, including one’s attitude toward his or her body, the body shape and size, and individual, internal appraisals (i.e., my hips are too wide) regarding one’s physical body parts. Body image is a multidimensional construct encompassing self perceptions, attitudes, feelings, and behaviors about one’s physical appearance.

The treatment of women and men as sexual objects by others and in the media, leads to treating oneself as an object to be evaluated based upon bodily appearance – self-objectification. Individuals with a negative self-concept experience low confidence regarding their partners’ acceptance and fear of being rejected, resulting in a lack of confidence in oneself as a partner and the avoidance of relationship-enhancing behaviors. Negative body related evaluations by oneself may cause fear of rejection. This may lead to a person avoiding sexual activity with a partner and not experiencing the satisfaction normally associated with sexual intimacy, consequently resulting in a poorer experience of the relationship in general.

An individual with a positive body image may be less distracted by body concerns during sexual activity and therefore be able to focus more on sexual pleasure, which increases their own sexual satisfaction . Likewise, he or she is likely to be more self-assured, more comfortable with trying new sexual activities and giving the partner sexual pleasure, and to initiate and engage in sex more frequently.

Senior Social Work lecturer at the University of Botswana, Dr Poloko Ntshwarang says, “Negative body image is associated with numerous mental health symptoms (e.g., anxietydepression, low self-esteem). Body image issues are more prevalent in women, particularly those with eating disorders or body dysmorphic disorder. Many factors may contribute to negative body image – factors such as the media, cultural norms, family pressure, and personal mental health issues, including psychological trauma (e.g., major loss, sexual abuse). A high self-esteem can benefit individuals in many ways, including within the context of their romantic relationships. When individuals do not struggle with self-esteem concerns, they may be more inclined than those with low self-esteem to engage in behaviors that are deemed self-expanding.”

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