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How Sex Can Increase Your Body Esteem (AKA ‘Learning to Love Your Fat, Older or Non-Gym Body’)

Are you hot enough to have sex? That’s the question lurking behind so much of the media we consume, the ads that are shoved in our face and the porn that we watch. Entire industries are built on the premise that we need to get our bodies ready at the gym, the mall and the dentist in order to have sex. Looking good and feeling good is the path to sex, we’re told. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, it’s completely backwards: Sex is your path toward self-love and greater body esteem.

Yoga, hiking, meditation and green juices are all seen as legit ways to improve yourself, but sex is rarely part of that conversation, except for that perennial cliché article about the benefits of masturbation.  

Sex is actually an extraordinarily meaningful act with benefits that go far beyond just getting off. Every hookup, gangbang and exhibitionistic locker room flash is a transformative event for your psyche and body esteem.  

And for those with bodies that are looked down upon in society as “non-normative” — bodies that fitness calls unhealthy, fashion calls fat, beauty calls old and media calls ugly — sex is a powerful tool for healing and increasing self- and body esteem.  

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Our brains are social organs. Each interaction with another human being moves our self-esteem and body esteem either closer towards feeling more desirable and confident or away from a sense of worth and value. So every time you fuck, your brain is neurologically reorganized, and as one brain system changes, those connected to it are changed as well.  

That’s why its never just sex.  

Body shame is what holds many of us back, and it is an especially powerful deterrent to sex for those who don’t fit into the young, white, fit, ablebodied, hung, masc images reinforced as primarily desirable by the media, advertising, fitness, pornography, beauty and fashion industries.  

But the idea that this is what is naturally desirable over anything else is a lie!

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For generations now we’ve been peddled a cookie-cutter mold for what the general population finds to be of a high sexual value. But there are many spaces where culturally non-normative bodies are eroticized and prioritized.

So go where your desirability and market value is highest, and socialize with those who value your body type, too. Having your fuckability reflected back to you heals and increases sense of worth. Don’t exclusively hang out at bars or other social events where you are marginalized erotically.

But, more powerfully, seek out sex. Sexual arousal makes inhibitions disappear, so the arousal from sex can reduce the anxiety of being naked with another, while also reinforcing that you are desirable.

And doing it over and over will reduce the anxiety accompanying new behaviors and partners.  

Remember to also check in on your jerking off, too. Our arousal is plastic — we have some control over what we find arousing based on what we pair with our orgasms. That means masturbating to porn has a huge impact on what we view as arousing, including our own bodies. Watching hung steroided bodies bang does little to enhance esteem for diverse bodies.

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So what you choose to watch in your solo sex life matters just as much as your partner choice and social dynamics for your body-esteem. Seek out porn that shows your body type so you can see it eroticized and giving and getting pleasure.

Until there is a cultural shift around what we reinforce as attractive and socialize as hot, which your sex habits and porn-watching contribute to, and become inclusive of all bodies as erotic, the work falls on each of us to use sexuality as part of our healing, and not against ourselves.

Sex is your path to self-love.


Dr. Chris Donaghue is a lecturer, therapist and host of the LoveLine podcast, a weekly expert on The Amber Rose Show, and a frequent co-host on TV series The Doctors. He previously hosted WE tv’s Sex Box and Logo’s Bad Sex. He authored the book Sex Outside the Lines: Authentic Sexuality in a Sexually Dysfunctional Culture and has been published in various professional journals and top magazines, from The New York Times and Newsweek to Cosmo and National Geographic. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.