Too ashamed to have sex

Janette is ashamed of her body because of multiple surgeries. Ten years after her husband died, she is in a relationship and wants to take the next step but is struggling. Dr Emmanuella Murray explains how to get past body-shaming and get physical.

Q. Janette
It’s been 10 years since my husband died and I’ve met a man. The issue is that I don’t think I can consider a sexual relationship because I’m ashamed of my body after multiple surgeries. It’s hard to talk about.

A. I’m sorry to hear that your husband died. I can’t imagine how hard that has been for you. You are so brave putting yourself out there again. Meeting someone new isn’t easy and it can be so daunting, especially when making the decision to take the relationship further and become more intimate.

You say you are ashamed of your body after multiple surgeries. Of course, it’s hard to talk about. Shame is not an easy emotion and it often prowls when we place unrealistic expectations on ourselves. Women can be very harsh when giving body appraisals. We think we must have the perfect body all our life and that’s impossible. It doesn’t help with all the body-shaming messages out there, but I do believe we are getting better at appreciating who we are even with our imperfections.

You need to practise more self-compassion. If you can learn to become more loving and compassionate with yourself, you will be more likely to embrace your imperfections.

We all have imperfections! I hate to go all ‘muso’ on you but the song All of Me by John Legend is one that I quote a fair bit in therapy when people present with body shame in a relationship 

When we enter a relationship, we give all of us not just the good parts – that’s what being in a relationship is all about. The more we try to aim for perfection, whether it be with body or mind, shame is always waiting.

I have no doubt those surgeries were necessary to help you live a happy and healthy life, and what a gift that is. To overcome our need to be perfect, we must be able to acknowledge our vulnerabilities, just as you have, and practise self-compassion.

Self-compassion is about being understanding towards ourselves and recognising that we all have insecurities. While we can’t just ignore our insecurities, it’s important that we don’t over-identify with those thoughts and feelings and get swept up with the negativity as this can prevent us from enjoying life’s moments and, in your case, moving forward in a relationship.

This is going to sound clichéd, but I want you to ‘dress to impress’ for yourself. Put on your favourite top or dress and feel good about your body with all its imperfections.

Give self-kindness your full attention and allow yourself to enjoy the next step of your relationship by reminding yourself that your imperfections are only reminders that we are all imperfect humans together.

Dr Emmanuella Murray is a clinical psychologist who has been practising for more than 10 years. She works with children, adolescents, adults and couples and presents to professionals and community groups.

If you have a question for Dr Emmanuella Murray, please send it to [email protected]

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