"I'm Too Fat to Have Sex!" Women, Body Image, and Low Desire
I just came across a non-scientific study sponsored by the "passion pill" Fembido, which found that over 52% of its female participants avoided partner sex because of body image concerns. The Sex in the Nation study was conducted in England and included over 4,000 people. Not surprisingly, very few men avoided sex because of an extra spare tire or two. Less than 20% of male participants voiced such worries.
Not true for the ladies - twenty-nine percent of women stated that they felt too fat to get busy, and twenty-three percent thought their extra wobbles were way to embarrassing to be shag worthy. The figures for men were eight percent and eleven percent respectively. The women also reported that when sex did occur their lack of body positivity decreased sexual enjoyment by hampering experimentation. Many women reported being too uncomfortable with their bodies to try new positions, or even to have sex with the lights on. Sadly, six percent only did the deed out of a sense of duty.
I am not sure this was a particularly "scientific" survey however, it does echo research in the professional journals. In a study of 307 women in the Journal of Sex Research, scientists found that poor body image had a more of a negative impact on female sexual response than menopause. The participants were between the ages of 35 and 55 and the majority reported that, regardless of their age or menopausal status, they thought they were more attractive ten years earlier. (Oh, to be ten years younger and ten pounds thinner - the self-hating, reality defying mantra of the modern woman, sigh, been there).
Women who thought they were less attractive also reported less interest in sex. Conversely, feeling cuter led to an increase in desire. Body dissatisfaction was common among the participants, and a full 21% couldn’t identify one single attractive feature on their bodies. The women were particularly dissatisfied with the body parts that accumulate fat with age (belly, hips, legs, butt etc.).
Worrying about the size of your ass tends to lead to major issues with distraction, anxiety, and self-consciousness. All of which are gigantic buzz kills for women sexually. In order for a woman, to even consider getting turned on her brain has to feel safe. When scientists look at the female brain "on" orgasm using positron-emission tomography (PET scans) they see areas associated with anxiety literally close down for the holidays. Parts of the brain associated with self control (the left lateral orbitofrontal cortex), moral reasoning/social judgment, (the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex), and fear/anxiety (the amygdala) showed decreased activity to the point of deactivation.
Indeed, according to Dutch researcher Gert Holstege, “Fear and anxiety need to be avoided at all costs if a woman wishes to have an orgasm..."
I think these studies point to the overwhelming impact of body image on female sexuality. But it goes further than that. In the late 90s, researchers Barbara Fredrickson and Tomi-Ann Roberts pointed out that women's preoccupation with body image impacts their overall level of well-being. Women who obsess over their appearance are more likely to feel out of control, experience more shame, and are more prone to depression. Plus, the habitually self-conscious have less body awareness and are more distractible during performance tasks. As they put it:
…in a culture that objectifies the female body, whatever girls and women do, the potential always exists for their thoughts and actions to be interrupted by images of how their bodies appear. This habitual body monitoring…may be essential to understanding the psychology of women.
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