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Half of British Women Avoid Sex Because of Poor Body Image

It's been in the Daily Mail, on Jezebel, and on

From the Daily Mail:

Sex In The Nation, a survey of 4,000 people, found that 29 per cent of women cited feeling that they looked fat as a reason for avoiding sex, with a further 23 per cent blaming embarrassment about their ‘wobbly bits’.

The figures for male respondents were eight per cent and 11 per cent respectively.

The biggest passion-killer of all was tiredness, a reason 72 per cent of women said they had given their partners, followed by feeling unattractive (34 per cent), illness (33 per cent) and stress (32 per cent).

Although this story is a couple of weeks old and is based on a study conducted by a manufacturer of herbal remedies for low libido (yeah, I'm sure it's top of the line science), it seems like a good jumping off point for a discussion of libido, body image, and shame.

The news outlets are framing this as being about weight, but I'm sure that most BFB readers are thinking the same thing I did: it's about negative body image, and negative body image is not really linked to weight. Sure, fat people are encouraged to have poor body image, and that bleeds into the general population as well. Everyone seems to think they're too fat. But being down on yourself because to think you're fat and actually being fat are two different things. Two things that often don't go together.

We fat acceptance people actively fight poor body image. We break down the aesthetics that society tries to force-feed us so that we can see our own beauty. We work on accepting and connecting with our bodies.

But this loss of libido is about something else too: shame. Shame, and perhaps a weird displacement in sexual desire. This study suggests that most women and some men have their libidos linked to (let me try to get this straight) how they perceive their partners perceiving them. Not how attractive they find their partners. How attractive they think they are in light of the societal ideals they've been exposed to.

How did it come to this? And can those of us who've successfully improved our body image and/or have at least partially decoupled it from our sex drives offer some advice and insight to people who are struggling with these issues?

Dieting Kills Army Recruit | The Front Page of Today's New York Times

Viola's picture
March 30th, 2011 | Link | I guess the takeaway from

I guess the takeaway from this is that one probably oughtn't Do It with someone whom one believes to be judging one's body during the act. Margaret Cho said it best, though I can't remember the quote.

I think that's the issue--they aren't! I know couples who stopped having sex mostly because of body changes, weight gain, of course. But I think there are other things that go along with negative body image, usually resentment and mistrust when one's partner is critical. I don't have sex often anymore, mostly because I have a lower libido most of the time, and I'm tired and emotionally wrought from dealing with children, and there isn't time for sex.

DeeLeigh's picture
March 31st, 2011 | Link | I think Erin is right. A

I think Erin is right. A supportive partner is the bare minimum for someone who struggles with body image. An unsupportive partner would kill almost anyone's sex drive. But, poor body image can still affect your sex life even with a partner who is helpful rather than hurtful.

It can be a lot to work through and I think that the first step is seeing poor body image as a problem that can be overcome and not as the inevitable consequence of having a body that's not perfect by society's standards - because really, who does? There are all kinds of strategies for that, and hopefully people will share the ones that have worked for them. (Looking at fat positive fashion images rather than mainstream fashion images, for example.)

But the other thing is (advice to myself and everyone else), stop being so damn self absorbed. You've got this partner who thinks you're hot stuff and wants to get it on with you. Look at how cute they are! What a gorgeous, sexy, deeply attractive person! Aren't you lucky that they think you're attractive too? If they think you're hot, then who are you to say otherwise? Might as well take advantage of the situation, right? I mean, look at him or her! Don't you want to leave the light on so you can look at them? Unless you've got some kind of cheesy 70s setup with a mirror on the ceiling or something, you are not looking at yourself. You (hopefully!) have sexier things to think about than whether or not your butt has cellulite.

Well, okay. Maybe you should take off those fuzzy socks. That just looks silly.

DeeLeigh's picture
March 31st, 2011 | Link | angrygrayrainbows, I can see

angrygrayrainbows, I can see how ""stop being so self-absorbed" could be interpreted as additional shaming, and it wasn't a good way to express what I meant. I meant that shifting our own focus away from our own bodies is a second way to address the problem of reduced libido due to poor body image.

What I was trying to say is that there are actually two problems: the body image thing and the fact that we've been persuaded to objectify ourselves.

Body image, I would argue, generally matters less to straight men than to straight women. If, upon reflection, they think their bodies don't look good, then it doesn't matter much to them in a sexual context. Why? Because they're too busy looking at us. They're not looking at their own bodies or thinking about the appearance of their bodies. They're looking at our bodies and thinking about how their bodies feel.

I think that women are they same way. We would naturally like to enjoy looking at and interacting with our lovers' bodies and enjoying the sensations we're feeling. However, somehow we've been convinced to make the experience of sex secondary to self consciousness about our appearance. If we concentrate on our partner's appearance and our own feelings, then it makes the whole body image thing considerably less important to our sex lives.

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