Are You Feeling too Schlubby to Want to Have Sex?

by | Oct 29, 2021 | Libido | 21 comments

How Body Image Affects Libido

The way we feel about our bodies can cause our libido to crater.

And when you feel schlubby (I love that word!), it’s hard to want to get it on.

I get the best stuff sent to me from readers, and last week a reader passed along an article from the Wall Street Journal about how COVID has accelerated the trend of people feeling to schumpy or schlubby to have sex. We’re out of shape, we’re carrying more where we don’t want to carry more, we’re ashamed of our bodies, and we don’t necessarily want our spouse to see them.

The article explains:

Research shows that when we feel bad about our bodies, we feel less sexual desire and less satisfaction. This is true for men and women. Even thinking about how someone else may negatively assess our body can decrease our own desire. And feeling bad about our body during a sexual encounter can lead to decreased satisfaction.

“Body image has a powerful impact on our sexuality,” says Robin Milhausen, professor in the department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition at the University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada, who studies this issue. “And we’re our own harshest critics.”

In reporting this story, I found people dodging their partner’s overtures, hiding under the covers during sex and faking headaches and backaches, all because they felt schlubby.

Elizabeth Bernstein

Wall Street Journal, Feeling too Schlubby to Have Sex? It's Not Just You

I asked on Facebook this week how this phenomenon affected all of you. Many of you chimed in saying similar things!

I am skinny enough for people who struggle with weight to be annoyed with me for complaining about a pudgy stomache but I freak out when I my husband goes to touch my stomach if I feel bloated or when I need to lose 20 lbs.

I have come a long way and I try to mentally just push past it but it’s so hard.

I do have body image issues. Mostly because my mother had anorexia and put me on my first diet when I was five. I wasn’t fat. But she was afraid I might get fat.

That was compounded by church teaching that a woman owes her husband attractiveness. My parents were afraid I’d never be attractive enough to get married.

After 4 kids, I feel this way often. Like I don’t measure up and my husband could not possibly find me attractive enough to want to see any of that. But he reminds me regularly that I am beautiful just the way I am. Extra skin, fat, stretch marks… all of it! The reminders help get me going, because I know I married someone who genuinely cares about ME as a whole person, not just a body.

So what’s the answer when your body image is making you not want sex? 

Well, according to the Wall Street Journal, it’s to increase touch! But touch of the right kind:

When you feel schlubby, you’re stuck in your head. “You’re distracted by this idea that you are not good enough sexually,” says Barry McCarthy, a retired sex therapist, co-author of “Rekindling Desire,” and professor emeritus at American University, where he taught a human sexuality course for decades. The solution is to get out of your head and let your body take over. That’s where touch, or what psychologists call “responsive sexual desire,” comes in.

Think of touch on a scale of 1 to 10: 1 is affectionate. 2-3 is sensual, say a backrub. 4-5 is playful and flirty, such as a teasing touch. 10 gets you to sex. Too many couples have only affectionate or sexual touch, Dr. McCarthy says. Yet, it’s giving and receiving sensual and erotic touch—actively, not passively—that gives your body a chance to override your worried mind.

Elizabeth Bernstein

Wall Street Journal, Feeling too Schlubby to Have Sex? It's Not Just You

So let’s picture this visually. I’m going to take some liberties here because the article didn’t mention what all of the numbers represent. But here’s the idea that Keith and I were using when we wrote The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex (coming out in March, along with the new edition of The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex!):

Touch More and the Scale of Touch

We tend to gravitate to the least personal parts of touch.

We may hold hands, for instance, and show affection, but you can do that to a child or a dog as well. It’s vitally important, but it’s not enough.

And, ironically, sex doesn’t always feel that personal. Even though you’re joining genitals, it’s easy to avoid touching other parts of you. You can actually feel less vulnerable if it’s only about that one part of the body.

What we need to do when we’re feeling schlubby is to touch and awaken touch, even if we’re hesitant. Let yourself feel that you are still sexual!

So do the backrubs. Flirt a little. Kiss more (that’s the exciting part!). And even start along the road to arousal, touching more erogenous zones, before you just jump to sex.

Here’s a tip: Ask your spouse tonight, how much time do we spend at each of those numbers? Which one would you most like to increase? 

Increase the other types of touch outside the bedroom–and spend more time on foreplay inside the bedroom.

That may sound difficult, but we quoted a study in The Great Sex Rescue that found that getting back in shape was easier when you felt confident about yourself, not when you felt lousy about yourself.

You are allowed to enjoy your body–even if your body isn’t where you’d like it to be.

You can thank your body for getting you through a pandemic. For getting you through your day. For being the vehicle through which you enjoy life.

And it can be the vehicle through which you enjoy your spouse, too!

Enjoy your body, and you’ll care for it better, and you’ll enjoy life more.

And I want to end with this comment from Facebook, which was lovely: 


After reading a bunch of the comments- one thing is standing out to me. How many of us have super husbands ! There are so many comments about husbands that don’t see the negative that we see, that love all of it, that SAY so! It’s really encouraging. After the last months of discussions of women’s sexuality being second to the mans and the ways the Church and believing authors have messed things up and missed the mark. Look how many of us have good men. They aren’t all messed up! There IS hope. They definitely aren’t perfect but then – isn’t that the point here too? They seem to give us WAY more physical grace than we give ourselves. Refreshing. I am happy for so many of these ladies!

Amen! May we all encourage our spouses like this.


How Body Image Affects Libido

Okay, that’s my pep talk.

But I know it can still be difficult. So let’s talk in the comments about how to overcome this “schlubby” feeling and just find confidence again!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

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Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Meghan

    I’ve done a ton of work healing from disordered eating and body hatred.

    Growing up, I was told I would be so pretty if… (fill in the blank with anything from not being so fat to wearing makeup). I was put on my first diet at age 11. In high school my male classmates used to flirt with me as a way to make fun of me. In college and beyond, men never seemed to notice that I was actually a woman and not the perpetual kid sister. Talk about a recipe for hating your body! And of course I blamed my fatness, and I punished myself with extreme calorie deficits and overexercise. From age 11, people. I should have been focused on being a kid.

    Nothing changed until I found out I was pregnant with a little girl. It was like a lightbulb went off. I found online resources and groups and got help. Things are a lot better now, although I still struggle with eating enough to adequately fuel my activity level. But I swear with every breath in my lungs that my daughter will never hear her mother utter a negative word about my body or hers. The cycle ends with me.

    I highly recommend the books More Than a Body and The Body is Not an Apology. And for me, as an athlete, I also deeply resonated with Mirna Valerio’s A Beautiful Work in Progress.

    • Cathy

      I have three daughters and, because I was told I was big as a kid/teenager, I never had weight scales and never mentioned weight to my girls while they were growing up. They have a healthy view of their bodies to this day.

    • CMT

      Meghan, you and your little girl are blessed that you are doing the work to heal from the cruelty people showed you.

      I had a very similar experience around my daughter’s birth, although not directly about body image. Something about becoming the mother of a little girl and knowing in your bones how the world is going to treat her as she grows up, changes the way you look at yourself. That (and therapy!) opened me up to a new level of compassion for myself and even for my own mom.

      The cycle ends with us! 💕

  2. Anon

    I struggled with body issues from age 12/13 (ironically, after some well-meaning person decided to teach us how to feel positive about aspects of our appearance that we didn’t like – until I was told I ‘should’ feel bad about some bits of me, I didn’t even think about it!), but it’s not been an issue since I got married. My husband not only tells me I’m beautiful, he looks at me as if I’m beautiful. If it were just words, I’d think he was being kind or polite or just trying to ‘be a good husband’. But the expression on his face is far more convincing than words could ever be. And I’ve gradually learned to believe him.

    Yes, I’m carrying far more weight than I was 2 years ago. But it doesn’t make a difference to me because it hasn’t made a difference to him.

    • Meghan

      My husband makes that same face at me all the time! It’s the best, isn’t it?

  3. A2bbethany

    I felt my worst, after having medical issues and not liking my reflection. But my husband never did anything but show my body love, and that lead to my healing, of how I thought of myself. Because of him, I didn’t spend much time dwelling on my flaws. Instead I saw myself as a mature body that’s gone through trauma.
    This all hung on one very vulnerable choice: i chose to believe that he saw the true me, while I saw a imbalanced negative view. It’s scary to be that open, but I had experienced hardships that proved his trustworthiness. Otherwise I wouldn’t have yet decided that.

    • Amy

      Wow, what a powerful choice to trust your (loving) husband that his view was more balanced. Love it, and borrowing it! Thank you for sharing!

  4. A2bbethany

    I guess I could also mention my verbally abusive sister, who’s given most of us(siblings) body image issues. She’s always had a harsh word for everyone, whether or not you were dieting. Regardless of your current exercise habits, she can make you feel worse.
    My parents are great, but she’s been their kryptonite for so many issues. Parents, there’s got to be something you can do, if you have an older child who knit picks everyone else! I personally always thought therapy would’ve been good.

  5. Laura

    When pastors talk about having “smoking hot wives” and tell women they need to look attractive for their husbands who are visual, that is NOT helpful when many women already struggle with body image issues and eating disorders. It also makes things worse when husbands (I can speak for my ex) look at porn. Most of these women that are being objectified in porn have “perfect bodies” that most of us cannot achieve unless we have the money to get breast implants, liposuction, etc., have enough time in the day to work out for several hours, and follow strict diets all the time.

    It also does not help that we live in a youthful obsessed culture and nearly every movie that shows sex scenes, the actors have perfect bodies. In the secular romance novels (ex. Harlequin), the main characters tend to have perfect bodies (just look at the book covers). So, I wonder if maybe that’s why we think we have to look a certain way in order to feel sexually attractive.

    I’ve struggled with body image issues since my teen years and bulimia in my first marriage while I was in my 20’s. During my 30’s, I was thinner thanks to IBS issues and thought I was at my most attractive but there wasn’t any man of interest around and I sure didn’t get noticed. What’s weird is that now I’m 45, I look normal-sized (except according to those height and weight charts, I’m considered overweight) but would like to be a bit thinner. I have dated more than I ever did in my 30’s. I used to think that men preferred thinner women, but I don’t think that’s true at all.

    In spite of being celibate for almost 20 years and dealing with the occasional sexual frustrations, it’s kind of a relief to not have to have anyone see me naked. I am just not comfortable with nudity. Yet, I still want to look good, not only for myself, but in case I ever marry.

  6. Wild Honey

    Numbers 4-8 sound suspiciously like foreplay 🙂

  7. Cathy

    My husband and I have been married for 40 years. It came out almost a year ago that he was approaching young women and telling them how gorgeous they were. One woman ratted him out to me. I have not been able to have sex since then and I am ashamed of my body. I cannot compete with a 20 something. I have episodes of depression and crying and feel horribly betrayed.

  8. This is a Pseudonym

    Sheila, I’m disappointed that you’re still promoting The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex. I’m sure your updated version will be much better, but the original version is quite damaging. It’s worse than 31 Days. Here are some of the worst parts:

    You don’t give the caveat that this book isn’t for abusive marriages, and you discuss how to overcome a porn addiction.

    You relate an anecdote about a woman (Anna) who discovered that her husband was using porn. The conclusion? The wife says, “Through this experience, I have learned more about the importance of meeting my husband’s physical needs (which are so different than mine)! I have a different attitude toward sex now than I did before. I still struggle with having the desire for intimacy as often as he does, but that’s something I continue to pray about.” (page 153)

    You also compare getting over a pornography addiction to trying to lose weight: “Be aware, too, that your husband likely will fall in the initial period. It’s very hard to break an addiction, and he’ll be moody, twitchy, and angry. He can’t become perfect overnight. Occasionally he’s going to fall, whether it’s at work where he still has Internet access or when he’s in a hotel. When he does fall, he’s going to feel even more like slime.
    Have you ever tried really hard to lose weight? Do you recall how awful you felt when you scarfed down a forbidden donut? Giving in to the temptation of porn feels much worse.” (page 157)

    You also put responsibility on a wife to help their husband get over his porn addiction: “To help your husband escape that cycle so that his physical desire is channeled toward you again is often a very long process. This is not going to be an easy road, but it is one you can travel together.
    First, you have to give your husband the freedom to be honest with you. If you want to rebuild intimacy, he needs to be free to tell you when he’s just not able to banish the images while you’re making love.”

    Talking about the woman in the anecdote above: “Paul reports that it took three to four months before he could be intimate with Anna without those images intruding.
    Help you husband get reacquainted with true intimacy.” (page 158)

    • Anon

      To be fair, Sheila is rewriting “The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex” and has grown as a sex counselor since the book was first published. She could be rewriting the very passages you’re quoting. She has even admitted that she used to recommend and promote other Christian resources (such as “Love and Respect”) but has since changed her stance on them as her research has improved and her experiences/beliefs on marriage and sex have changed and grown. Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt rather than accuse her of victim-blaming or promoting abuse.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      All of it has been completely rewritten (I mean completely. I don’t even know if there’s a single sentence left after doing the big deep dive we did). And I am promoting the one that is coming out in the spring. I will be doing a series of Fixed it for Yous then.

      I’d appreciate some consideration. These things do not happen overnight. I am trying. I think your attention is better spent to the authors who aren’t trying at all.

      • This is a Pseudonym

        If you’re not promoting the old version, then why are you linking to it on your landing page for The Good Girl’s Guide? Why did you say on a podcast that you don’t think The Good Girl’s Guide is bad, you would just have worded some things differently? [Editor’s note: we are in process of changing the landing pages and updating the site. This takes time, especially as our staff are dealing with a variety of personal and professional messes (and Sheila’s daughter Rebecca who does this side of the blog is due with a new baby… today!) Sheila is doing everything in her power to address poorly worded or harmful messages she has included in the past *including pulling two books*. However, we hope that you can appreciate that these things take time.]

        Last year when you re-released 31 Days, I was excited to read it! I wanted to read a book that talked about sexuality in a healthy way. I didn’t get very far in, and it felt off. So I stopped. If I hadn’t already done some deconstructing, it could have been harmful to me. Since it’s coming from you, it could be especially confusing or harmful to people trying to find a better way! [editor’s note: Sheila is working on rewording a few portions of 31 days but again this takes time given that we are working with a publisher’s timetable. Furthermore, we stand by 31 days and wrote it *using the rubric we developed to evaluate other books.* She also reworked it after writing Great Sex Rescue to ensure it was as healthy as possible.]

        When I saw you promoting 31 Days recently, I remembered how it made me feel when I tried to read it last year. So I decided to read the whole thing and found that it was pretty bad. Then I read The Good Girl’s Guide and I was shocked. [Editor’s note: again, Sheila is reworking this. She has acknowledged past mistakes and is working to rectify them as quickly as possible. Once again, this will take time.]

        Sheila, I am so thankful for you because you have helped me to reject the horribly damaging Christian teachings about marriage. I’m just sad that you’re not willing to stop selling your previous books! [Editor’s note: Sheila has pulled two books and has entirely reworked Good Girl’s Guide. It is being edited now and will be re-released next year. Again, this takes time and we’re on it. Genuinely, I recognize that you are feeling really crummy right now but I am unsure about why you are continuing to direct your ire at Sheila when she has proved herself repeatedly to be an advocate and to be teachable. Please see how she apologized on twitter a few weeks ago compared to Gary Thomas’ recent behavior. Why are you choosing to direct your frustration at someone who is pursuing health and healing at great cost? This kind of behavior is very demoralizing for all of us to deal with. We get a LOT of flack from the other side and are really trying to be responsible and healthy. However, it feels a lot like many are straining a gnat and swallowing a camel]

        [Editor’s note: this comment has been let through with annotations written by Joanna Sawatsky]

        • Anon

          To Joanna: you rock for making the edits explaining everything. Keep on rocking with your defenses and assuring us that your work is healthy!

      • Anon

        Thank you for confirming my thoughts, Sheila! I know you’ve been working to rewrite your previous books and I am so looking forward to the revamped “Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex!”

  9. Lisa M

    I am doing brain spotting therapy and it’s helping me so much with past traumas. One trauma is that I was taught at a young age that I had to “be careful” to stay thin and I couldn’t trust myself to know how much I needed to eat. I started hating food and hating that I needed food and hating that I enjoyed food while hating it. My mom meant well, she never thought to analyze the culture that says women must constantly watch what they eat and watch their weight. She just accepted it as true. She thought she was teaching me what I needed to know. At various times I was so severely underweight that I stopped menstruating for months and lost a lot of hair. At other times I ate normally but abused exercise to “earn” my food. What a mess.

    In brain spotting I go back to various times in my life and I smile at my younger self and tell her I hope she enjoys her food and her body.

    I work in the fitness industry now and I work to help people rehabilitate their bodies and their relationships with their bodies. It’s good to be strong and to enjoy the delicious food that fuels our amazing bodies.

    • M

      What’s brain spotting?

  10. Stefanie

    I don’t know if people weren’t getting it on during the pandemic, schlubby or not, because in my church circle there were 7 babies born this past spring and summer, and then in my family circle there were 4 babies born. And then there was my COVID baby born in March. So that’s 12 babies?

  11. Stefanie

    My comment related to feeling schlubby and its effect on feeling confident: I feel like it’s complicated. Wearing leggings and no bra doesn’t make me feel schlubby, as long as I’ve showered. I need a shower every day to feel not schlubby (what’s the word for the opposite of schlubby?). If I’m leaving the house I’ll put on a bra and jeans, but maybe not makeup because I have a 4yo, a 2yo and my COVID baby, and getting us all out the door is a production in itself. I just turned 40 this year. So sometimes I feel like the lame 40yo mom-of-three driving the minivan with my hair in a messy ponytail and no makeup. But does it affect my sexual confidence with my husband? I don’t know. We’re working on fixing 10 years of one-sided sex, and I don’t think me wearing makeup or not is the thing that’s the biggest hindrance to our progress.

    I don’t have the body I used to have before kids. I’m not liking the sagging, and I have to be more picky about finding pants that flatter my bum. Wearing Spanx is a thing now for me, when it wasn’t in my 20s. And I find I have to spend more time and money on my appearance – dying my hair to cover grays, spending more on higher quality anti-aging facial serums and eye creams. I discovered glycolic acid facial peels, so I’d like to make it a yearly treat.

    My husband still thinks I’m beautiful, and I’m not getting any pressure from him about my appearance. I think I feel pressure from society in general, but I can’t tell if it has an impact on my libido. I’d say having 3 young kids is a bigger obstacle to finding time and energy to work on our sex life.


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