Self-Perception & Sex
By Cara Sutra
How I view myself has a big effect on my libido and, consequentially, on my sex life. Self-perception and sexuality is often discussed in sex advice articles, but I find that the majority of these simply focus on increasing your self-confidence in the bedroom so that you can enjoy sex more frequently, in more adventurous ways or just an improved sex life in general. I wanted to explore something beyond a crisis of confidence. How can the ebb and flow of self-perception alter desires towards and actions within masturbation and any shared sexual experiences?
The title of this article is self-perception and sex, so rather than trying to presume how self-perception affects everyone else in a sexual way I want to explore this subject from a very personal point of view. The way I view myself at any time –yes, with regards to my appearance but additionally how I feel about myself as a person- has a direct effect on my libido, specific sexual desires and fantasies, my desire to have sex with a partner, how I’d like to have sex with them, and my relationship with the world of sexuality. The very nature of self-perception is incredibly fluid, which makes an in-depth analysis of each of these separate facets quite challenging. However, I’ll do my best to explain my thoughts on each of the areas I’ve identified.
Self-Perception & My Libido
As my libido is the motivating factor behind whether I want to think about, talk about or do anything sexual, I believe it is the most involved facet in relation to self-perception.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, if I don’t feel that I look sexy, I don’t feel sexy. That is to say, I don’t feel like a sexual being and I also don’t feel like engaging in sexual activities either – whether through masturbation or with another person. My thoughts on my appearance and if it’s sexy, average or just nope can be influenced by a few things: the changing state of my hormones, any (totally irrational, silly yet somewhat unavoidable) comparisons to others, having an off day or going through a longer phase of feeling that I’m unattractive and therefore unsexy in appearance.
I’ve come to understand the relationship between appearance-based self-perception and my libido a lot better as the years have gone on. This has meant I’ve felt more in control of how I deal with negative appearance-based thoughts, and recognising when any internal irrationality and silliness needs to be told to get lost.
Still, it’s very hard to think about or feel like doing anything sexual when my mental negativity rears its own ugly head. My libido is at rock-bottom in those fleeting moments, during those days or over the sometimes longer phases of feeling unattractive and unsexy.
Looking deeper than aesthetics, being confident that I’m a good, decent person who deserves to be able to have sex, do sexual things and indulge myself in sexual fantasies also has an effect on my libido. It’s not solely to do with how I regard myself from an admittedly shallow, appearance-based point of view. When I feel guilty about not doing enough, not being a good enough partner, not being a good enough mother, whatever it may be, this takes its toll on my libido. It’s like my mind and therefore my body don’t feel deserving of sexual desires and activity at those times – not until I feel better about the sort of person I am. Again, those moments could last from a few hours to longer periods of time; days, or weeks even.
Sexual Fantasies & Self-Perception
Using my libido as a starting point, we move into how self-perception affects my sexual desires and fantasies. The realm of sexual fantasies is an interesting one, because by their very nature fantasies are outlandish and not prone to being restrained by such ‘real world’ aspects as confidence issues, emotional baggage, painful past experiences, financial problems, relationship entanglements, inhibitions or fears. Within fantasies we can stream pure selfish desire and shape it however we see fit. We can even change it at will if it’s not quite right or it starts heading down an undesirable path. They are the erotic visuals we create for ourselves, borne out of the darkest, lustiest and filthiest ideas to ever finger our consciousness. Sometimes the sexual fantasies I enjoy contain images or ideas which I wouldn’t dare put into writing – not even secretly, never mind here on the blog. I definitely wouldn’t say them aloud, not even in an empty room. That would mean admitting to myself that I’ve chosen them, instead of the comfort of believing those images and ideas involuntarily enter my mind in those lust-crazed, I-can-see-the-orgasm-light moments. They’re not my fault. They’re involuntary.
It’s not true, of course. My fantasies are entirely voluntary and I call upon them when I want to send my masturbation or sex with a partner into overdrive. That’s the other thing about sexual fantasies. There’s no guilt; not really. You can feel as guilty or as blameless about them as you choose. You might even use your sex fantasy guilt to make them feel even more taboo and orgasm-inducing. It’s the catch-22 you love to grind against.
The sexual fantasies and the thoughts about sexual activities which cross my mind on a day-to-day basis are definitely affected by my self-perception. When I feel more attractive (both externally but also as a person, as a woman, as a partner), my fantasies are definitely more rampant and wild. Perhaps I punish myself in those times I feel like an unattractive person, not allowing my mind to roam through or even touch on my tailored sexual idylls out of guilt.
When I feel confident in myself in whatever way – as a partner, as a sexual partner, as a woman, as a Dominant woman, as a sexually liberated woman who can fantasise about whatever the hell she likes and even do it in reality if she so chooses – then my fantasies reflect that. Although I’m bisexual, I can be wracked with feelings of guilt over desires to fuck women – even though I have fucked other women with my partner’s consent and full encouragement. Still, the mind does like to make you question yourself, and as I’ll explain in more depth later, guilt is a very powerful force when it comes to self-perception and sexuality.
How Self-Perception Affects Sex With A Partner
Here’s where self-perception makes a difference to actions outside of myself, outside of my mind. How I feel about myself can and does have a direct impact on not just the frequency and style of sex with my partner, but also how he experiences sex with me. I have the admitted comfort of being in a long-term relationship, and my partner and I have been together for some years now. Not only have we been together and had our share of relationship and emotional turbulence during that time, due to personal and external factors, but we’ve weathered the challenges pregnancy and the addition of a child together can have on a relationship. There’s all sorts of complex female sexuality & body-image issues which arise when it comes to pregnancy, as well as the challenges (as well as the obvious joy) of welcoming a child into the relationship you have with your partner. You’re not just partners any more, but now need to relate to each other as the other parent of that child. I am not only my partner’s girlfriend now, but I am the mother of his child – he watched & supported as I grew his child in me -and I grew with it, and watched as I gave birth. Then again as I breastfed our child. Hopefully it’s understandable that you as people, and that specific relationship itself, needs to be flexible and adapt to envelop another type of bond between you. Not a replacement bond – you’re still romantic, sexual, in love partners – but another bond which runs concurrent to the existing one.
As a woman, the relationship with my own body – and that body as not only motherly and not only sexual but somehow both – has been intensely difficult to deal with. The changes in self-perception you encounter as a woman who has grown a baby/given birth/become a mother/breastfeed (whatever your personal choices may be), as well as the effects those actions have on body-image, a relationship, libido and a sex life, is such a huge topic that I don’t have room to cover it adequately here.
Suffice to say, my relationship with myself as not only a sexual woman but also a mother, and balancing being a partner to my partner as well as the other parent of his child has been a roller-coaster of complex emotions. In one day I can go from feeling like the most unsexy, unsightly, saggy, droopy-boobed, stretch marked nappy-changing washer-woman to a glorious Dominant goddess of such confidence in her sexual prowess that I leap astride him snarling as he grins and goes with it. Hey, goodness knows when that sort of sex will happen again. Tomorrow it might be tender reassuring embracing in the dark because the thought of making love with the lights on leaves me terrified and on the verge of tears.
You’ll notice I headed this area ‘sex with a partner’. Not ‘with my partner’. As I’ve already mentioned, I’m a bisexual woman who happily and gratefully has the freedom in her relationship to explore not just fantasies about fucking other women but the reality, too. When it comes to sexual activity with other women, I find that my self-perception needs to be even higher on the positive side of the scale than it does to decide to engage in and enjoy sex with my long-term partner. We’re comfortable together, he knows me, he knows my insecurities and to be brutally honest, I don’t feel guilty if I have to say (even mid-fuckery), “sorry, I can’t do this. I have to stop now.” I shouldn’t feel guilty saying that any time, with any sexual partner of course. No-one, in an ideal world, feels guilty about saying NO. With any other sexual partner than my partner though, I would. I’d feel like I’d let them down, that I was stopping them from having the fun that was promised. That wouldn’t stop me saying the all-important NO; consent is everything. But my mind would absolutely pounce on that chance to beat me up about doing it, telling me that I’d been a total let-down. That’s why I tend not to continue any flirtations with women which are likely to lead to actual sex unless I feel pretty damn good about myself. As my self-perception is so fluid, this doesn’t make planning girl-on-girl sex easy – not that it’s ever easy anyway, of course.
Altered Sexual Preferences Due To Self-Perception
Following on from the last segment, self-perception has a direct impact on my sexual preferences. I’m more likely to want what I have labelled for myself as the ‘wilder’ sexual experiences and actions if I’m feeling good about myself as a person (looks and otherwise). On the heavily self-doubting days? I’ll be restrained and cautious.
Just like my fantasies are free and wide-ranging when I’m upbeat and positive about myself, I’m more likely to engage in anal sex or bedroom submissive adventures with my partner when the self-doubts are at their quietest.
PiV sex just feels a comfortable area of sex to fall into (excuse the pun) with my partner if I’m horny but in need of a gentler session, and reassurance. We can spoon and he can slip inside… of course we could spoon, use the lube and he could slip inside my bottom but this does feel more edgy and exciting than ‘regular’ PiV sex, and so requires me to feel positive about myself and deserving of such a taboo-for-a-lot-of-other-people sex session.
I feel silly about this, but having anal sex makes me feel like a porn star. Anal is still seen by so many as this holy grail that all guys want and all women only do if they are a) just that sexually adventurous and b) willing to allow it if they really love their man. Complete crap obviously, because plenty of women love anal whether they’re with a sexual partner at the time (not necessarily a long-term, romantic partner) or using anal sex toys to get that specific type of stimulation.
Hopefully it’s obvious why my self-perception needs to be on the positive side of the scale to indulge in submissive adventures with him in the bedroom. BDSM is about trust in your partner but not just that… I need to trust myself to make the right decisions for myself, to not use the power exchange as an extension of self-abuse (unfair to both myself and my partner) and I want it to be fun, not simply therapy and especially not without his knowledge of & consent to that aspect.
Self-Perception & The World Of Sexuality
Positive self-perception makes me more likely to get involved with the wider world of sexuality. I’m talking about watching porn films (alone or with a partner), attending sex clubs, fetish events, burlesque shows, taking part in sexy photoshoots and being an active part of the sexually liberated community.
The way I feel about myself and how that impacts on my relationship with the world of sexuality is mainly appearance-based, I’m afraid. Again, it shouldn’t matter, but it does – to me. Let’s take watching porn. If I feel like an unattractive blob I am unlikely to decide to watch porn for fun, whether alone and definitely not with a partner, because porn is all about the visuals. Porn stars are caricatures of the visual, person elements of common sexual attractions, especially when it comes to women. Pouting and welcoming shiny red lips, large, firm breasts, tight vaginas, tidy vulvas, slim, tanned and unmarked bodies, lithe, muscular legs helped out by those 6 inch heels -oh yeah, the heels she’s expertly balancing on while having sex in the shower, anal of course, and another guy has blinded her with his thick ribbons of cum. It’s just not what I fancy watching for fun when I’m at my lowest appearance-based ebb.
Similarly, I have no desire to attend sex or fetish clubs when I’m in that mood or phase, and the thought of organising a sexy photoshoot becomes laughable. A bitter, internal laugh, of course.
But- I have and do watch porn (ok, so my porn taste is never going to be for the blonde getting bukkaked, mainstream type of porn, but still). I have and do attend sex and fetish clubs. I have and will arrange sexy photoshoots. It just goes to show that my self-perception dramatically influences whether I enjoy these offerings from the world of sexuality with a happy, open mind – or if I’m more likely to pretend they don’t exist until I feel a whole lot better about myself.
I used to be heavily influenced when it came to my opinions about myself – both superficial appearances and how much merit I had as a person – from external sources. I hated that fact; I knew it was wrong that these external sources has such power over me. That they had the ability to make me doubt myself whether for five minutes or much longer and drawn-out crises of self-belief. It started early, in childhood. I’ve discussed the negativity sent my way by, in particular, my mother, in previous articles – and people who know me know that I have struggled for years to undo the damage caused by the decisions both my parents made when I was young. As I grew into a young woman, my self-perception was influenced not only by what I’d learned from my parents in those formative years but also by so-called friends, then work colleagues, and of course the all-enveloping judgements from media such as TV shows and glossy magazines.
These days, I’ve noticed that when my self-perception turns more towards the negative side of the scale, it’s from within me rather than from the outside. Also, these times are not as frequent as they used to be. I’ve learned coping mechanisms, and I’m also able to believe that I am, actually, a decent person. I rely less on my external appearance to derive a sense of worth in the world and more on being a trustworthy, hardworking, dependable and likable person. Of course I get my days where I feel like the ugliest blob on the face of the planet, but I don’t know anyone who feels attractive and sexy 100% of the time (but if you do, please get in touch asap and let me know the secret).
One very powerful force when it comes to denting a positive self-perception is guilt. I find that the sense of guilt, whether it’s deserved or entirely irrational, affects my libido and sexual decisions and desires more than other negative emotions like, say, anger or sadness. When I feel guilt, I feel like I don’t deserve anything sexual. I don’t feel like I deserve to think about masturbating, or to reflect on enjoyable sexual fantasies, or to engage in sex with my partner or another partner.
Guilt negatively affects my sex life much more than anger or sadness. If I feel angry or sad (which I often confuse with each other in any case) I find that I can still feel sexually aroused or interested. Sex can be a good way to dispel the bad feeling that anger and sadness evoke in me, and masturbation or shared sexual experiences becomes a type of catharsis. The type of sex I’m interested in on those occasions is usually sex with my partner rather than masturbation, although a quick wank is a great way for me to distract my mind from being angry or sad. Masturbation eases the tensions in my body as well, which leads to a calmer frame of mind for me. If sex with my partner isn’t readily available when I’m angry/sad, then I’ll try to make myself have an orgasm which helps me on the path back towards a completely positive self-perception.
How does the way you view yourself – your appearance or on a deeper basis – affect your sex life? Having had time to properly reflect on that question while writing this article, I can safely say that it affects my personal sex life a lot. My self-styled challenge is to continue my work on not letting external factors negatively impact my self-perception, and therefore my sex life with it. This, while still letting through and believing the positive external influences. There will always be times when I believe the worst about myself, whether the cause of that negativity is from the outside or from deep within my own traitorous mind. But I think recognising these blips as being simply temporary, and learning to move through negative self-perception into an overall strong self-belief, will bring not only deep and long-lasting improvements to my sex life but all other aspects of my mental and physical health.
And that’s got to be worth the daily battle, right?
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