Self-esteem and a positive body image are key to enjoying sex, experts agreed at Latin America’s major sexual health conference, SLAMS. Good sex and a healthy relationship depend on how attractive you feel and how comfortable you are with your body, not on its size or shape. This was the consensus among the sex specialists at the SLAMS congress, held in Argentina in September. But if you’re overweight, feeling good about your body can be tough in cultures that idealise thin women and muscular men. Being overweight can leave you feeling rejected and discriminated against by society. And this can make your elf-esteem plummet, Argentinean sexologist and gynaecologist Silvina Valente told Love Matters at SLAMS.
Nobody likes me
Self-esteem is vital to healthy sex, especially in adolescents, says Dr Valente, who works with young adults at the University of Buenos Aires hospital. Self-respect and caring for the body are the other pillars of adolescent sexuality, she says.
When overweight adolescents don’t take good care of their bodies, they lose self-respect and this affects self-esteem. If you think ‘nobody will like me, I don’t even like myself’, it can have serious consequences for your relationships and sexuality, Dr Valente says.
Thin, curvy women and well-built men are the standards of beauty in Latin America, says Dr Valente. As in many parts of the world, these body types are most often associated with sexual success.
Meanwhile, adolescents are eating more junk food and fast food than any other age group. And without education on healthy eating habits, many teenagers in Argentina are obese.
Those who don’t fit into the slim and sexy mould can develop complexes about their bodies and have even more self-esteem problems. This can lead to feelings of isolation which can affect their sex lives. Dr Valente has seen the consequences firsthand.
Overweight guys and girls can then develop the tendency look at more internet porn and masturbate more compared to others with a healthy weight, she says. Lacking self-confidence about their bodies, they may give up on looking for physical intimacy and take care of their sexual needs in private.
Low sex drive, anxiety disorders and problems interacting with others can develop in overweight adolescents. But these problems are the consequence of poor self-esteem and body image and are not directly due to being overweight.
Taking care of your body through exercise and healthy eating is linked to boosting self-respect and self-esteem. Finding a sport that inspires and a coach that motivates is the approach that Dr Valente uses with her patients.
Eternal dieting isn’t the answer for overweight teens, she says. What they need is a healthy day-to-day diet, not just calorie counting.
And whatever your shape or size, say the SLAMS sexperts, the keys to good sex are communicating with your partner, understanding sexuality, and learning to enjoy your body the way it is.
Does being overweight affect your sex life? We'd love to hear your story. Leave a comment or contact Love Matters confidentially.