You’ve slipped on your sexiest lingerie and prepared the perfect playlist to set the mood (shoutout to The Weeknd for some sultry slow-jams). You’re lighting candles and feeling hot when… oh no. The little voice in your head — you know, the one that makes you feel small and unconfident — is getting louder and louder, and it won’t leave you alone. You look ridiculous, it says with a nasty laugh. Who would ever want to sleep with you? it quips. They’ve slept with people who are way better at sex.
It’s just a fact of life that sex can be incredibly daunting. Whether you’re exploring your own sexuality, having sex for the first time, trying things with a different partner or partners, or experimenting with a new toy or position, many of us get in our heads about doing the deed. It’s especially challenging to feel our best when we have insecurities about how we look, since sex can leave us feeling super exposed and vulnerable.
One of the reasons we can get nervous about sex is because we’re too focused on the act as a performance, rather than acknowledging our own pleasure. That sneaky little voice makes us feel unsexy and doubtful, and that’s not entirely our fault — we live in a society that broadcasts unrealistic and sometimes outright negative messages about sex, telling us that it’s shameful or dirty or that we need to orgasm every single time.
Related: Sex Sessions: Unlearning and sex terms to know in 2021.
The fifth episode of our Sex Sessions series, starring sexual health and consent educator Samantha Bitty, is all about the drama. We look at the difference between pleasure and performance and examine ways to get you out of your head so that you can enjoy yourself more. Read on for some useful tips to help psych yourself up before sex.
Act confident (even if you’re really not)
One study found that 79 per cent of women felt insecure about their body image in the bedroom, and more than half were concerned with their sexual performance. With those pressures and perceptions, it’s only normal that we might be tempted to fake an orgasm or give in to negative thoughts — things that can easily kill our confidence.
When you’re simply not feeling good about yourself, sometimes acting as though you are is the key to self-enjoyment. Bitty gives an example of acting as if you’re “fine-ass” even when you feel you’re not. “When we have our gazes on ourselves, we’re seeing ourselves through white supremacy, we’re seeing it through fatphobia, we’re seeing it through ableism,” she says. By realizing that those harmful perceptions don’t define you, you can start to re-evaluate your own mindset to see how truly incredible you are and deserving of an empowering, pleasure-centered experience.
Related: Sex sessions: ending sex shame and rewiring your brain for a good time.
Have your friends hype you up
A study from The Journal of Sex Research revealed that it’s important for individuals to maintain positive self-perceptions of sexual attractiveness, as these self-perceptions are likely to contribute to a person’s well-being, particularly their sexual and relationship well-being. On days when you’re feeling overly self-critical, reach out to your squad for support.
Bitty encourages people to text their friends and have them tell you how hot you are. Sometimes, you just need to hear it from people you trust, plus who better to make you feel attractive than your besties?
Related: Sex sessions: how to find (and explore) common erogenous zones.
Try positive self-talk
One key piece of advice from Bitty is: “Who cares, nothing matters.” It’s funny, because it’s true — none of us will ever know what we look like to other people, so we may as well be concerned solely with our own perceptions. One way to counter your negative, unwelcome thoughts is by practicing positive self-talk.
Self-talk is defined as your inner dialogue, AKA that little voice that always has something to say. It can be negative or positive, which means when bad thoughts are flooding your brain, you can try saying positive affirmations instead.
Related: Improve your self-talk: 8 ways to stop negative language and be kind to yourself.
Some simple things you can say to yourself include:
- My body is my home, it takes care of me and I will cherish it.
- The sex scenes in movies are fake — no one has perfect lighting and angles like that in real life.
- Nobody is perfect, and I love myself anyway.
- I will inhale confidence and exhale doubt.
- I matter.
- My size does not define me; all bodies are beautiful.
- My favourite part of my body is my _____.
- I see the beauty in others and I choose to see beauty in myself.
It’s important to remember that positive self-talk takes practice, and we shouldn’t judge ourselves for having those negative thoughts. But by being a little more kind and patient with yourself, you can improve your attitude to have a better, sexier time in the bedroom.
See also: 11 ways to improve your self-love now.
Be open to therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has proven to be an effective treatment for people struggling with body image and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). If you feel constantly preoccupied with imperfections in how you look and it’s disrupting how you live your life, consider contacting your healthcare provider and getting a clinical assessment.
More homework: reading assignments to support body image and mental health
Samantha Bitty recommends any book, article, podcast etc. that aids in resolving whatever is bothering you, holding you back, or affecting your mental health.