Intimacy Only Gets Better When You Change The Way You Think About One Thing

How we feel about our bodies directly impacts how we feel in bed, says Dr. Cortney Warren.

woman accepting her body image in the mirror alongside being hugged by her partner StylishDesignStudio,  pixelshot, Danik Prihodko from Pexels

"To lose confidence in one’s body is to lose confidence in oneself." —Simone de Beauvoir

Most of us probably already know intuitively that body image affects our satisfaction and enjoyment of intimate experiences. For many people, putting on a pair of pants that feel too tight, seeing a less-than-ideal number on a scale, or just thinking they’re not looking good on a given day can be a serious turn-off in the bedroom.


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For those who chronically experience poor body image, it’s common to report lower satisfaction in bed, more difficulty talking about intercourse, and even avoiding intimacy altogether.


Body image is a complex construct that describes how we feel, think about, and relate to our physical appearance. In addition to being a central feature of preoccupation in people with eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, being dissatisfied with one’s physical appearance is pervasive in the United States to the degree that it has been considered normative in community samples since the mid-1980s.

Emerging research highlights how intimate body image — the emotions, thoughts, and evaluations we make about our body in the context of intimate experiences or activities — can enhance or harm our romantic experiences.

In a recent study of 11,620 US adults, Frederick and colleagues (2022) examined the degree to which people (1) perceived their body as sexually appealing, (2) were satisfied with their appearance when naked, (3) believed their body image affected their enjoyment in bed, and (4) felt sexually acceptable as a partner.

As predicted, data revealed that men and women with more positive intimate body image engaged in intimacy more frequently. Demographic differences emerged such that people with lower body image tended to have larger physical bodies (as measured by body mass index) and were less likely to be in romantic relationships.


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Furthermore, women reported significantly less nude appearance satisfaction, intimate acceptability, and enjoyment than men; white individuals reported less positive intimate-related body image compared to Black individuals; and gay men reported less positive body image compared to heterosexual men.

Given how important intimate-related body image is to satisfaction in bed and general well-being, developing a positive body image is an important part of sexual health and the prevention of eating disorders.

Some things we can all do to develop a more positive body image include the following:

Appreciate your unique beauty. 

Remind yourself of your distinct appearance features—that make you look like you. Try to love all of your body! This includes any areas that you don’t like or that aren’t consistent with idealized images of beauty promoted by mainstream culture.


Value what your body can do. 

Focus on the positive things your body does for you—it’s the amazing vessel in which you experience life.

Critically think about body-related information. 

When you catch yourself being self-critical, refocus on your body’s assets rather than the imperfections. Remember that cultural messages that market beauty products and diets are designed to make you feel bad about your appearance so you will spend money buying their services. Critically analyze information about beauty and reject negative information.

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Embrace a body-loving attitude. 

So much of feeling attractive and sexy is being confident and comfortable in your own skin. The better you feel about yourself as a person, the easier it is to love your body exactly as it is.


Find ways to feel good naked. 

If you struggle with being naked in front of romantic partners, start by spending some time alone naked. Getting comfortable looking at yourself in a mirror—and saying self-affirming, loving, noncritical things to yourself while you do—is a great way to get more comfortable. If that seems too hard, using a mirror exposure exercise when you aren’t naked is a great way to start.

The naked truth is this: The way we feel about our physical appearance is centrally important to our intimate experiences, as well as the prevention of eating pathology.

Appreciating the unique beauty of your body, valuing what your body can do, critically thinking about body-related information, embracing a body-loving attitude, and getting comfortable naked can help enhance your intimacy-related body image.


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Cortney Warren, Ph.D., ABPP, is a clinical psychologist and adjunct professor of psychiatry at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV). She is also the author of Letting Go of Your Ex and Lies We Tell Ourselves.