Impact on Body Image and Sex


The way we feel about our bodies in any given moment can range from “ugh” to “meh” to “Lookin’ good!” — sometimes all within a single day. Body image is related to our own perceptions, thoughts, and feelings (which can change from minute to minute), including how we think we measure up to others, whether it’s someone in our spin class or people we see in our social media feed. But it also affects how we see ourselves as sexual beings.

People face many pressures to look a certain way, says Tracey Wade, PhD, professor in the college of education, psychology, and social work at Finders University in Adelaide, South Australia, who has published a paper on body neutrality.

“Unfortunately, society and mediums such as social media (TikTok, Facebook, Instagram) may treat people differently if they don’t conform to a narrowly defined accepted body,” says Dr. Wade.

According to her research, that pressure and constant comparison to some “perfect” ideal can contribute to poor body image. Feeling dissatisfied with our bodies — especially if you’re a woman — often starts in childhood and continues throughout our lifetime, and is considered so common, the concept is referred to as “normative discontent.”

But even though having a poor body image is a common experience, it’s still a harmful one — and it’s associated with depression, eating disorders, and sexual dysfunction.

When it comes to sex, “we’re somehow supposed to just drop all of those expectations or feelings of inadequacy and just have joyful, abandoned sexual encounters,” says Karen Adams, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford Healthcare in Palo Alto, California, who diagnoses and treats women with sexual dysfunction.


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