Body Image

Body Image and Sexual Health

Body image is an important part of your sexual health. People who feel comfortable in their bodies are more likely than others to make healthy sexual decisions, like protecting their health by using condoms. People who feel comfortable with their sex organs are more likely to be comfortable talking openly about sex with a partner. People who feel ashamed of their bodies, including their sex organs, may not feel confident and strong enough to make healthy sexual decisions.

What Is Body Image?

Body image is how you feel and what you think when you look at yourself. It's also how you imagine other people see you.

How you feel about your body and all of its parts - your build and your legs, nose, stomach, the color of your skin, and the color or texture of your hair, for example - plays a role in your body image. This also includes your sex organs - the vagina and vulva, breasts, or penis.

What Can I Do to Improve My Body Image?

There is a lot you can do to improve your body image, even without changing your body. Remember, body image is not about how you look, but how you feel about the way you look.

Some people choose to change the way they feel about their bodies. Many times, talking with a person you trust, such as a friend or family member, about the way you feel can help. Professional help from a therapist may also be useful. Talking about your negative feelings and developing new ways to think about your body and your self-worth is a good way to address a negative body image.

Think differently about your body. Pay attention to the times when you feel bad about your body. Did you just weigh yourself? Did you just read a magazine? Did you just talk to a friend or family member who is negative about her or his body?

Tips for a Positive Body Image

In a world that is constantly showing you narrow definitions of beauty, how can you maintain a healthy body image? Here are some tips:

  • Remember that health and appearance are two different things.

  • Accept and value your genes - you probably inherited a lot of traits from your family members, so love those traits as you love your family.

  • Keep a list of your positive qualities that have nothing to do with your appearance.

  • Surround yourself with people who are supportive and who make you feel good about yourself.

  • Treat your body with respect and kindness.

People may choose to change their appearance in many ways, for a variety of reasons. If you want to change the way you look, be sure to have realistic expectations. If you have a negative body image, it is important to deal with the mental and emotional aspects of it in order for any physical changes to be truly successful.

Some people choose to make lifestyle changes, such as adopting a specific diet and an exercise program, or change their bodies in other ways. Often, this can be a healthy choice. If you are planning to make a considerable change in your lifestyle, it can be a good idea to talk with a health care provider who can advise you about the healthiest way to do so.

People also change their looks in other ways, such as coloring or processing their hair, or using products to change the appearance of their skin. Some changes can boost your self-esteem and body image, and some changes may not be as effective. The key is to have realistic expectations about how much changing your appearance can change how you feel about yourself.

FURTHER READING

Anatomy and Physiology of Sexual Function

Masters, William H., M.D., and Virginia E. Johnson.Human Sexual Response.Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1966. This one's a classic. Some of the details have been disputed in recent years, but it's still about the best overall reference for this subject.

Masters, William H., M.D., Virginia E. Johnson and Robert C. Kolodny.Human Sexuality, 2nd ed.Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1985. More of the same, with some later information.

Sex and Disabilities

Heslinga, K. with A.M. Schellen and A. Verkuyl.Not Made of Stone.Springfield,Ill.: Charles C. Thomas, 1974.

Kroll, Ken and Erica Levy Klein.Enabling Romance: A Guide to Love, Sex, and Relationships for the Disabled (and the People Who Care About Them).Bethesda,Md.: Woodbine House, 1995. Written by a married couple. Kroll has a neuromuscular disorder.

Male Sexual Dysfunction and its Treatment

Goldstein, Irwin, M.D., and Larry Rothstein.The Potent Male: Facts, Fiction, Future.Los Angeles: Price Stern Sloan, 1990. Lots of material on causes, prevention and treatment of male impotence. Written for the general public.

Medication Effects and Side Effects

The PDR Family Guide to Prescription Drugs.Montvale,N.J.: Medical Economics Data, 1993. A layman's version of the PDR(Physician's Desk Reference), which is used by doctors.

Griffith, Winter, M.D.Complete Guide to Prescription and Nonprescription Drugs.New York: Berkley Publishing Group, 1996. Frequently updated.

For Children Approaching Puberty

Madaras, Lynda.The What's Happening to My Body Book for Girls(andfor Boys).New York:NewmarketPress, 1988. Separate books for girls, boys. Suitable for teenagers and older children.

Psychology, Spirituality and Humor

Reynolds, David K., Ph.D.Playing Ball on Running Water.New York: Quill, 1984. A psychotherapist's perspective on modern neurotic problems. Uses principles of Japanese psychotherapy to guide readers.

Norris, Kathleen.The Cloister Walk.New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons (Riverhead Books), 1996. Life in a Benedictine monastery, through the eyes of a woman poet.

Callahan, John.Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot.New York: Random House (Vintage), 1989. A humorous, excruciatingly truthful account of a young man's struggle to recover his equilibrium after a spinal cord injury.