Believe it or not, I wrote my Master’s thesis on the connection between masturbation (attitudes and practices) and self-esteem and body image. No doubt there are many connections between these parts of our sexuality, and they play out in so many ways in people’s lives.
This week, in preparation for next week’s call about “Sexual Evolution,” I thought I’d take a modern look (that thesis is pretty old now!) at several ways people’s self-esteem impacts their sexuality (and vice versa). At it’s core, self-esteem is about holding ourselves in esteem—liking oneself. Do you wake up each day and love being you? Do you support you? We all have self-esteem needs, in which we desire recognition of our achievements by our peers, we develop a sense of competence and have the respect of others. We feel our own sense of self-worth. Here’s how these needs might play out in your sexuality.
1. Sex for the Right or Wrong Reasons
Most of us are familiar with the idea that low self-esteem can mean poor decisions about sex—or the propensity for good decisions with a healthy self-esteem, for that matter. A sense of powerful self-esteem will generally result in someone making authentic choices about their sexuality, who they want to have sex with, whether to use protection and so on. Yet some people do not have a strong self-esteem and will make poor sexual decisions because they lack belief and strength in themselves, second-guess themselves or do not have a strong internal sense of who they are and what they really want.
Some people literally feel (whether or not they are conscious of it) that sex is all they have to offer. They give it to people they don’t really want to give it to, or who do not appreciate their sharing of their body and sexuality because they want to be liked by them and need to build up their self-esteem. Thoughtful, authentic, healthy sexual decisions hinge on the presence of a fortified self-esteem.
2. Confidence and Sexual Self-Esteem
Self-esteem is about building self-confidence, liking oneself, having a healthy level of achievement in one’s life and gaining the respect of others. A lot of people have some kind of awareness, even if it’s subconscious, that when they feel sexually powerful that confidence shows up in many ways. Confidence is universally considered sexy. Many people feel they are good at sex, even if they are not good at other things and it gives them a sense of self-confidence. People who can consciously nourish their sexual energy can improve their own confidence and use that energy as fuel to their life the way they really want to live it.
By the same token, lack of self-esteem is usually lack of sexual confidence. That can show up deceivingly as exaggerated or arrogant sexual posturing.
3. Sexiness or Over-sexualization?
Women are very conditioned that it is our job to be pretty and sexy and men are very conditioned to be sexually virile and desirable—and to mark their notches on the bedpost when they “achieve” another sexual conquest. There is a big pattern in many women of having sex, over-sexualizing themselves or using their sexiness in order to feel worthy of something or good at (for) something. When your self-esteem is built around your sexiness, sexual ability or sexual prowess, it’s built on a house of cards. Perhaps for some people it works—it can be superficial but if they are good at it and their sexiness becomes their thing, they can really hinge their self-worth here for the better part of their lives. There is so much media emphasis on how we should look, behave, and perform sexually that this idea of sex = self-esteem is really unavoidable. Ultimately, you will need more than just your sexiness to develop your self-worth.
4. Sex for Approval Seekers
People with low self-esteem will constantly seek approval from others, even if they are unaware of it. Certainly for most people who are seeking approval, wanting to know you are desired is important and it gives you a confidence boost. This is of course, based in the ego and it involves you leaving yourself, thinking you need someone else to like you or praise you rather than you giving that praise to yourself. It’s nice to be desired, and to be reminded of your desire. But if you NEED it to feel okay, something is awry.
When we base our esteem on external factors, we are not really in charge of our lives and that makes us vulnerable and easily victimized. It can also lead us to act inauthentically or out of integrity.
5. The Desire to Be Good (at Sex)
Living in a time when we have so much more info about sex is a great challenge for some “sex geeks” who are committed to being the best they can be when it comes to sex. These are people who love a challenge of learning something and learning it well. You go! They will out-perform most people when it comes to sex because they have really taken the time to learn how to be good at sex.
Of course, the flipside of this one is that being “good” might be overly important to you. If you have to be good at everything to be okay, you are probably missing a lot of the fun of your life experience, and it might also indicate some internal self-esteem issues underneath all the high-achievement A+ sex you are having. But hey, at least you are having A+ sex.
This is a peek into one of the 5 levels of sexual need. Tune in with me on Monday to hear the entire 5 levels of sexual need and more about how self-esteem leads into a sexually self-actualized person and what that actually looks like. This is going to be smart sex conversation and I am truly excited for it.