Asking for a Friend is a weekly Sex and Relationships column hosted by Arts and Culture writer Dana Sparks and fueled by your curiosities. Click here to anonymously submit questions regarding sex, relationships and sex education.
“I want to be physically intimate with someone, but whenever the opportunity presents itself I end up letting my insecurities about my body and my experience level get in the way. How do I get over this?” - Psyched-Out
I identified two “should” situations in your question: you should have a better body and you should be more sexually experienced. It is all too often that we rip ourselves apart by comparing ourselves to others.
If you listen to my podcast with Maria Falzone, you’ll hear us talking about the toxicity of the word “should.” Language of this kind indicates we are wrapped up in unrealistic expectations, not reality. Trying to be something you aren’t and comparing yourself to others will always, as you say, “get in the way.”
And yet, low self-esteem isn’t a hurdle that people can just “get over.” Altering your self-perception requires challenging yourself. We spend so much time trying to shut down negative thoughts as fast as we can, rather than taking the time to honor our feelings and work through them. Prepare for a lot of trial and error. It’s going to take time, practice and discipline to build up confidence.
Adjusting your style, exercising or dieting to feel better about yourself might help. But most of the time, it is a matter of not changing, but rather, accepting yourself.
There are no magical mantras or squats. Treating yourself to clothes and make-up may tend to the surface of the problem, but it doesn’t address what’s happening emotionally. What makes the difference in the relationship you have with your body is believing the good things about yourself for your own sake. This is looking yourself in the mirror and believing that you are stunning — simply because you say that you are.
Trusting the opinion you have of yourself starts with your inner dialogue. When you say something hateful about your body, stop and question it. What evidence do you have — if any — to support it? The way that you talk to yourself is a behavior — a habit — that you have the power to change. But, understand that progress isn’t going to happen overnight.
Sometimes, we need to be able to see just how much we get in our own way before we are motivated to make the change. Writing down the derogatory comments you think about yourself gives you the ability to see the magnitude of your self-hatred by giving your thoughts a tangible way to exist. Try imagining that each time you write out a negative thought, you are removing it from your mind.
The second step is unpacking these feelings. Find out where they come from and what fuels them. Look critically at how your social circle or media consumption direct who or what you compare yourself to. Reject singular ideas of beauty and create your own.
It sounds silly, but you really do have to practice being kind to yourself. I want you to think about two ways that you would argue against each negative thought. For example, if you say that you hate your butt because it has stretch marks, stop and say, “That’s not true. My skin is soft and my butt actually has a nice shape.”
Eventually, finish a statement like, “I like my stretch marks because…” Changing your inner dialogue is learning to be tender with yourself and looking for strengths instead of shortcomings. Be patient — this is going to take time. You have to learn how to believe yourself.
So much of my response relates to your self-esteem because as you resolve the issues there, you will find that the same principles apply to your sex life.
Look at your inexperience as an opportunity, rather than something negative. It sounds like physical intimacy might still be quite a novelty to you — opening a door for so much potential. Experiencing things for the first time can be a blessing, not a curse, if you allow it to be.
It is hard to feel in control of our self-image when we consider how much is working against us — things like Instagram, pornography and white, patriarchal beauty ideals. Don’t underestimate what you can achieve when you are compassionate toward yourself.
P.S. This is the beginning of a transformation. It is okay to not be graceful or happy.