Body image simply refers to the way you see your body. Body image involves your emotions, thoughts, beliefs, and expectations over your physical self. Depending on the perception you have of your body, your body image can be negative, positive, or a combination of both. If you have negative thoughts and emotions about your appearance and experiencing sexual problems, there might be a link between these conditions.

There are four aspects of body image which are perceptual, affective, cognitive, and behavioral. The perceptual aspect is about your general perception of your body. Your perception of your physique may not always align with reality. For example, you might perceive yourself as overweight when in reality you can be underweight. The affective aspect refers to your emotions and the satisfaction level you have over your body. On the other hand, the thoughts and beliefs you have about your appearance are related to the cognitive aspect of body image. Such as you might think you could look better with more muscles. Lastly, behavioral body image means what you do regarding the way you look. If you are not satisfied with your appearance, behaviors you engage in to make yourself look better are examples of this aspect.

Having a negative body image is known to be associated with different kinds of sexual problems. Being dissatisfied with your appearance can result in decreased levels of sexual desire and arousal. You can find yourself being less interested in sex and having trouble being aroused. Both women and men who are ashamed about their bodies can be more self-conscious during sex and this can cause them to enjoy sex less. Sexual performance anxiety can be linked with poor body image too. When you have a negative view of your appearance, you can get anxious about the way other people perceive you. Being occupied with such thoughts during sex is one of the reasons that you might experience lower sexual pleasure.  

Body image dissatisfaction can also cause orgasmic dysfunctions such as having difficulties having an orgasm both with your partner and while masturbating. Even though there is no one to worry about their perception of your appearance while masturbating, imagining the way you look from someone else’s perspective can be triggering. Having orgasmic dysfunction during masturbation can be especially difficult for individuals with negative genital body image. Eventually, all these problems can even lead to the avoidance of sex.

It was shown by research that LGBTQ+ communities experience higher levels of dissatisfaction about their body than heterosexual individuals. In a study, gay and bisexual men who had higher levels of body dissatisfaction showed increased levels of sexual anxiety in the future. Bullying, stigmatization, and rejection that LGBTQ+ individuals experience because of their sexual orientation and the way they look can be triggering factors to develop negative body image.

Regardless of your sexual orientation, you might experience sexual dysfunctions as a result of poor body image. Working on your body image problems through therapy can enhance your sex life and make you feel better about yourself.

If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.

Başak Turan is an intern at Willingness. She is a psychology graduate and currently a Clinical Psychology master’s student at the University of Bergamo, Italy.


 Blashill AJ, Tomassilli J, Biello K, O’Cleirigh C, Safren SA, Mayer KH. Body Dissatisfaction Among Sexual Minority Men: Psychological and Sexual Health Outcomes. Arch Sex Behav. 2016 Jul 8;45(5):1241–7. 

Horvath, Z., Smith, B. H., Sal, D., Hevesi, K., & Rowland, D. L. (2020). Body Image, Orgasmic Response, and Sexual Relationship Satisfaction: Understanding Relationships and Establishing Typologies Based on Body Image Satisfaction. Sexual medicine8(4), 740-751.

Quinn-Nilas, C., Benson, L., Milhausen, R. R., Buchholz, A. C., & Goncalves, M. (2016). The Relationship Between Body Image and Domains of Sexual Functioning Among Heterosexual, Emerging Adult Women. Sexual medicine, 4(3), e182–e189. Sanchez, D.T., Kiefer, A.K. Body Concerns In and Out of the Bedroom: Implications for Sexual Pleasure and Problems. Arch Sex Behav 36, 808–820 (2007).