Battling the Sex-Life Hobgoblins of Negative Body Image and Performance Anxiety

Who’s the worst cock-block or clam-jam to your snag game? It isn’t the ripped firefighter on Scruff or the hot bitch holding court at Wax Club Lounge. It’s your own damn self, and you know I’m right. Nothing fucks up our ability to pull like our own internal dialogue.

What’s body image, anyway? What you think you look like. Not what other people think you look like, not the empirical truth of the physical presentation of your meat-covered skeleton. Body image is just your internal dialogue about your external self. It is not reality.

Most of the past research around body image has focused on girls and women. This made sense, as advertising has traditionally targeted female self-image and, statistically speaking, most individuals affected by eating disorders are women. But newer research is showing a huge increase in men struggling with body image issues, as well, and thinking that their bodies are more of an impediment to relationships than is likely. Media reinforces this message. Because advertisers want your low self-esteem to grab hold of your wallet and start buying shake weights, self-tanner and Spanx. And when that doesn’t help? It’s time to double down on a five-gallon tub of strawberry ice cream. Because fuck it, right?

And what happens when we succumb to the body image bullshit messages the world tries to feed us? Performance anxiety. Duh, when you think about it. Because what is performance anxiety? Hell, what is anxiety in general? Anxiety is an over-compensatory stress response in the body. Literally. Your body goes into freak-out mode and starts producing the stress hormone cortisol, along with neurotransmitters like adrenaline. Your body is preparing the fight, flight, or freeze response.

So many people freak out before they even make their first move. And if you manage to get yourself to the naked-with-another-person portion of the program, your erectile tissue response (dick or clit, as the case may be) is less than optimal because stress hormones constrict blood flow. Less blood flow means less erect. Boom, we just scienced the shit out of your softie.

Okay, Dr. Fancypants … well played. But how do we fix it?

Summer is all about LGBT Pride, right? Not pride as a wicked fun party replete with rainbow bunting. And not pride as a false sense of self. Pride is often misrepresented as an unearned sense of self-inflation. But, in reality, pride is way quieter emotion. It’s contentment. It’s an attachment to, and sense of, comfort with our actions, our choices, ourselves and our relationships. Pride says, “Fuck fear. Fuck the social messages that tell me I’m not enough.” Pride says, “This is it. This is who I am, where I am and what I am.”

And please don’t ever mistake pride as a mechanism for staying stagnant. Pride allows you to make positive changes in your life. And pride means caring about yourself enough in this moment to do good things for yourself and your relationships. Enjoying your intimate relationships is a huge part of that.

So how do we talk back to all of these messages? The ones that begin outside our heads and start creeping in and taking over? The message that we are not enough? My doctoral program mentor, Thelma Duffey, is an amazing clinician and researcher right here at the University of Texas at San Antonio, who has spent years studying the use of music as a counseling intervention. She will likely roll her eyes at me for applying her research to physical intimacy work, but I can’t think of a cooler way to reconnect to your sense of self, your sense of pride, as an embodied, sexual being.

I want you to sit with the idea that music has healing properties for the human spirit, most often when our own efforts at positive self-talk fail. I want you to pay attention to what songs immediately come to mind when I ask you to connect to the following aspects of your:

Grounded Self

Strong Self

Playful Self

Joyful Self

Sexy Self

So, what are your songs? What helps you reconnect to your sense of attachment to, and comfort with, who you are right now? You may not have the physique that you wish you had, but you still have the ability to enjoy your body and the body of your partner. You have as much right to sexual pleasure as the 19-year-old paragon of gorgeousness that the media tells you to emulate. As silly as it sounds, I want you to create a mini playlist that will operate as a battlebot against the hobgoblins that keep impeding your game. Listen, hum, sing and dance to remind yourself that you are awesome in the here-and-now moment.

I’d love to hear how it works for you. Shoot me an email at [email protected] and share the details!

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