by Maureen Matthews
Q: I’m a larger lad than I was a few years ago. Even though my boyfriend still says he finds me attractive and wants to sleep with me, I no longer have any interest. How can I learn to be confident in the bedroom?
A: Carrying extra weight can dent a person’s sexual self-confidence, regardless of their gender and sexual orientation, but the precise nature of the negative self-talk can vary from person to person.
Melbourne sex therapist Dr Christopher Fox (sexlifetherapy.com.au) says gay men are often confronted with cultural images of svelte, muscular, hairless young men. “This is not the only image in the gay community. ‘Bears’ [hairy, and often larger men] also feature. Yet, like the straight community, youth and beauty is still a focus.”
When we carry a mental template of what a “sexy” person looks like, even if we know, intellectually, that it is an unrealistic and unachievable ideal, we cannot help feeling we fall short by comparison, which causes us to feel ashamed of our bodies.
Carrying weight can impact on your self-esteem, Dr Fox says. “The self is an important aspect of us feeling sexy. The way we view our bodies also impacts on our feeling sexy. When our sense of self [esteem] and our body are both challenged, our levels of desire, and of feeling sexy, are also challenged.”
Once low self-esteem and negative self-talk have become entrenched, they can lead to a general feeling of ennui, and a shutting down of the senses. That sluggish, dulled mindset makes it difficult to truly enjoy all of life’s pleasure, but it particularly affects the libido. One of the first challenges you face is to find the motivation to make any changes, no matter how small. So make yourself move your body.
I am not talking about going to the gym, taking up yoga, or doing anything with a view to losing weight. Simply get your system turning over, like warming up the engine of your car. Research has shown that physical activity, even merely going for a walk, releases the feel-good hormones, endorphins. You will start to feel a little more positive, which will help you to take another step.
Fox warns that learning to accept our bodies and ourselves is not an easy process. “It is an achievable process though,” he says. “On an immediate level I think it is important for you to challenge your thinking about yourself. Your boyfriend says he finds you attractive and he wants to sleep with you. Consider how he looks at you. Maybe he sees something you don’t. This is important to consider.”
When we feel bad about ourselves we often react to compliments with “deflection”. We challenge every compliment, or counter a positive observation by drawing attention to a perceived flaw, “but what about my gut!”. This can feel like rejection to your partner, and, if you do it too often, he might either give up, or start to agree with you.
Practise accepting compliments and endearments graciously, with a simple “thank you”, even if that inner voice is screaming out objections. Let the positive words land, and allow yourself to enjoy them.
It can be difficult to make changes without support, and another good way to begin would be to seek professional assistance. Fox suggests finding someone who has experience in working with gay men, body image and sexuality.
“Through therapy we would explore how your changing body impacts on your sense of self and your body image,” he says. “We would explore how you could develop tools and strategies to challenge your own perceptions.”
Remember that although sex and arousal involve elements of fantasy, the true enjoyment comes from the lived experience in the moment. Car lovers might drool over images of unattainable Ferraris and Bugattis, but the pleasure of enjoying the car that belongs to them, that they can drive, and polish, and experience, is the real pleasure.
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