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Sex heals

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Sex heals

It can be a positive self-care tool for loving your own body.

By Emmeline Peaches

26 February to 4 March marks Eating Disorder Awareness Week, as headed by Beat: The UK’s Eating Disorder Charity. While most people think of Anorexia and the typical ‘stick thin’ look when it comes to eating disorders, the truth is that anorexia is the rarest eating disorder – making up only 10% of UK diagnosis. With over 1.25 million people in the UK alone diagnosed (and many more suffering without a diagnosis) it’s important to recognise that eating disorders are an illness of the mind and not something that can be determined (or diagnosed) by appearance alone.


Where Body Does Play a Part

Although physical features are, in truth, irrelevant to whether or not someone is struggling with an eating disorder, a large part of that mental battle for many sufferers is appearance. This focus on the body is known as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD for short).

BDD is an anxiety disorder that is related to body image. Those struggling with BDD will often find that they worry obsessively about perceived flaws in their appearance or certain physical features that they possess.

Someone with BDD might subsequently pick at or check the perceived flaws in a mirror while worrying about and scrutinizing their body and self-image.

This continual negative self-talk fosters an increased sense of distress, leading to low self-esteem and an inclination towards unhealthy coping tactics, typically relating to food, exercise, or other forms of deprivation and/or purging. Overall, it can be a very distressing situation for anyone who is suffering and, if we’re being honest, is likely not helped by the huge focus that people do put on eating disorders and appearance.


The Impact of BDD

In addition to potentially leading to the development of an eating disorder, BDD, can also trigger other bouts of poor mental health, including anxiety and depression, and can lead to alcohol and other forms of substance abuse.

People with BDD might also engage in self-harm, have suicidal thoughts, isolate themselves, and feel a deep sense of guilt, shame, or loneliness.

As many people do feel shame or isolation, many do not seek help, quietly fostering and struggling with their feelings.

BDD and Sex

As you can imagine, BDD can also have a huge impact on a person’s sexual well-being and confidence too, which can lead to its own increased sense of low self-esteem and low satisfaction in life.

Sex and a sense of sexual confidence are often overlooked in society (especially when it comes to those who are in poor mental health) but these two elements of life are part of the fundamental aspects of our biological wiring.

All species seek sex, and humans derive a great deal of empowerment, love, and self-confidence from the act of sex and feeling sexy.

Sex in itself also releases a lot of feel good hormones which, although not a remedy for poor mental health themselves, can act as a supplemental part of recovery. In short, sex is a positive self-care tool which BDD too often robs people of, due to their perceived lack of physical desirability.


What It’s Like Having Sex With BDD

Sex when struggling with BDD might cause the person involved great distress, leading to them hiding or avoiding the body part they see as flawed completely.

It can also lead to them avoiding certain sexual positions (or sex in general) in order to avoid exposing that body parts to others.

Sex in the dark might be something else that people with BDD favour. Incidentally, this is also why the Weight Watcher’s ‘mood lightbulbs’ from 2016 were considered so controversial (and rightly so, we believe).


Confronting BDD

If you suffer from any of these behaviours during (or outside of) sex then it might be time to look further in to BDD and the recovery options available to you. If you feel like your loved one/s engage in these behaviours then try and find a calm time to discuss this with them gently and compassionately in a safe space. Your loved one/s might react aggressively or in a panic at first. Don’t push the point or argue back. Eating disorders and BDD are so secretive by nature that having someone bring attention to them can feel intrusive or like an attack. Simply voice your worry and leave it there, offering your support in any way you can and making it clear that you expect nothing from them in return.


Moving Forward Sexually

Just because BDD is brought up and, hopefully, addressed doesn’t mean that recovery is a fast process, neither will it instantly improve one’s sex life or sense of sexual confidence.

However, recognising that BDD causes an unhealthy perspective of the body can do a lot to help people notice and challenge and critical body thoughts when they emerge.

This is an important step in eventually reclaiming sexual happiness as a BDD sufferer, but here are some other tools that might help in recovery.

  • If, at first, certain clothing, position, or lighting situations do help you increase your sexual activity then permit them at first, but only if you feel they are helping you transition to wellness rather than being the only way or a necessity for sexual acts.
  • Eventually work your way to having sexual encounters in ways that challenge your body perceptions. Plan these in your head but don’t feel the need to absolutely follow through, or even to tell your partner of your plan if you feel it will cause undue pressure. Simply allow it to happen as a quiet and personal achievement.
  • Take time to explore your body solo. Close your eyes during and focus on the sensations rather than your appearance. Try touching and tending to parts of your body that you know you love, then parts of your body that you’ve yet to explore, before incorporating difficult or challenging parts in. Make this exploration holistic, noticing how touching one part of the body can trigger sensations in other parts. Realize that you are never a single part of your body but, rather, a complete and complex entity, mind, body and emotions intertwined.
  • Reclaim power and sexiness in anything that remotely triggers it and celebrate those moments. Heck yeah, you can do great things with a vibe. OMG your body felt AMAZING during that clitoral/coronal ridge session and wowsa did you feel like a sexual boss when dancing the other night. By recognising your sexiness and praising it, no matter how small or infrequently at first, you will eventually grow a sense of sexual confidence and wellbeing.


The Takeaway

BDD is scary and can have a very tangible impact on people’s lives. But, remember that the taught thoughts and behaviour that cause BDD are just that: Behaviours, thoughts, and habits. Habits that seriously suck, but ones that can be changed and replaced with more helpful and healthful ones over time.

If you suffer with BDD then you are already a master at setting habits (hence the BDD is so ingrained) so trust us when we say that you can take those habit-building skills and apply them to behaviours, thoughts and habits that allow for self-love, empowerment, and recovery.


Emmeline Peaches 



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