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.
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.
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!):
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.
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
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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