On Body Image, Sex + Relationships

January 09, 2010

Learning to stop using sex as a ruler against which your relationship is constantly measured.

When thinking about body image, for me one of the most pressing issues is the way in which my body image and confidence are directly correlated to my sexual identity and satisfaction.  As I’ve disclosed on this blog several times, I’ve had a complicated sexual history, wrought with trauma, bliss, confusion, and ultimately with me learning the hard lesson of trusting and loving myself in order to stop making such terrible sexual choices.

I was reckless because I sought validation from every outlet available to me, like a chubby awkward fourteen year old in draw string cargo pants and an uncomfortably low cut shirt with straightened curls and hopeful makeup looking around everywhere for someone to love her.

I didn’t find someone to love me during that time.  I found boys who had real girlfriends that they paraded around but emailed me in secret, boys who wanted to grope me in closets, girls who would tire of my incessant self doubt and trade me in for someone else but continue to sleep with me in secret, boys who pressured me to give more than I had to offer, and most of all, I had secrets.

What I wanted, best and most of all, was someone who would hold my hand in the sunlit quad. Someone who would proudly proclaim their love for me in public, tell their friends, bring me home to meet their parents. I wanted to be treasured and adored.  I wanted to be special to someone.

Since then, I have been special and not special to many people in equal measure.  I: went through a period of self imposed celibacy to get my shit together, then suddenly decided to have sex with my gay boyfriend (problematic), fell in love (several times), went through a period of brilliant self esteem where I smooched everyone I could get my hands on and became very daring, and then fell in love, ultimately, with C, with whom I have the most wonderful and sparkly life.

One would think that everything was perfect, right? I found someone who loves me, holds my hand, takes me on dates, introduces me to her family, and adores me unendingly.

But – if I have gotten everything I’ve ever wanted, why do I still feel inadequate?

When you are a person who learned, during your formative years or later, to receive the majority of your external validation through your repeated performance as a sexual object, those feelings and brain patterns DO NOT just magically recede into the abyss of your brain when you fall in love.  As a matter of fact, I have found that if those detrimental patterns do exist in your sexual history, falling in love and becoming truly intimate with someone (perhaps for the first time ever) will do little more than exacerbate your deepest fears and feelings of inadequacy.  It is THIS that still catches up to me after all this time. And it is this that forces me to dissolve into a puddle at the hint of an argument, misunderstanding, or honey I’m so tired.

Now, if my brain functioned normally I would laugh and think to myself thank god, I am exhausted and since we really have the rest of time, there’s no rush… Instead of: FUCK. What did I do?! I’m ugly. Am I ugly? Does she think I’m fat? Is she bored? Does she not want to be my girlfriend anymore? Are we falling out of love? I’m not good enough for her anyway. Am I not worthy of her continued love? Which, as you can imagine, is not the sexiest of emotional patterns, even when I have the conversation completely in my head (rare), I’m sure that my face gives me away, every time.

The problem with using sex as a way to validate your self worth, and ultimately the success of your relationship, is that it is not going to work for you in the long run.

Relationships ebb and flow, and if you are with someone long enough, you are going to have periods where you have tons of sex and periods where you feel like doing anything but.  It is important to remind yourself that this does not reflect on you as a person and while, in some cases it may be a symptom of a relationship that’s run its course, if you are with someone that you truly love and trust, you are safe.

The facts are: You are more than the sum of your parts. You are more than just a sex object, regardless of how you felt in the past. Sex is not the reason why your significant other fell in love with you.  You have more to offer.

Because everyone needs a reminder every now and again..