Skip to main content

Of Bums and Bellies: When Body Image is Down and Out, Should Sex Be Up and Running?

Share |
Vee17 asks:

My boyfriend and I have recently discussed trying anal for the first time together. I'm perfectly happy to try it apart from a few concerns, most of which I've found answers and explanations to in response to questions already asked by other users. But there's one issue I've not come across: it's quite personal and frankly I've never spoken to anyone about it, ever, not even my partner. I know that pubic hair grows to quite far down past the vagina, but I seem to have quite a lot of hair around my anus. It's something I've tried getting rid of by shaving but I can't reach it all. I've never waxed, but I'm considering it because I wouldn't want to have a hairy bum while trying anal. I don't know if anyone else has this or if it's even safe to wax around there, but I'd really like a solution because then I think I'd be more comfortable not only about anal sex but also about my body image anyway.

Onionpie replies:

theinsidelife asks:

Hi, I'm a girl who is very insecure about her body. But there's another thing... I have a boyfriend. I feel like it's time to go farther, but at the same time I don't want to because of my weight. What should I do?

I'm answering your questions together because although they're different questions on the surface, what they come down to is the same thing; an underlying feeling of needing to change your body to be able to participate in sexual activities.

I don't have easy solutions for you two. But I'm not going to give you advice on the best way to wax, or whatever super-quick-weight-loss diet that's trending right now. That's not because I just feel like being mean and don't want to answer your questions; it's because I just don't think those are actually real answers, or good answers, to these kinds of issues.

Vee17: you could absolutely wax the hair around your anus if you so desire. The somewhat-infamous Brazilian wax includes the hair in question. But, I'll tell you what. I'll give you a much cheaper option. It's also a lot less painful! And you can even do it from the comfort of your own home!

Your Body

First, some facts! Despite what images or narratives in contemporary media may lead us to believe, it's very common for pubic hair to include the anus area. Most people have at least some there. In Not Everything You Wanted To Know About Puberty (But Pretty Darn Close), it is made clear that pubic hair "usually covers the mons, outer labia, the area between the buttocks and some of the inner thighs". If you have the idea that you're the only woman in the world with a hairy butt-crack, I can guarantee you that you're wrong.

Also remember that when you say you wouldn't want a hairy bum during anal sex -- or feel like you shouldn't or can't participate in sex because of your weight -- there are plenty of people who do just that. People have anal sex with hairy bums all the time! (And we can also be very sure that historically, most people of all genders who have engaged in anal sex have done so with hairy bottoms.) There are also people who are (or are perceived to be) overweight, chubby, fat, or whatever else they identify their weight as, who participate in whatever kinds of sex they want and they -- and their partners -- don't mind one bit. In fact, they find it enjoyable and awesome! As enjoyable and awesome as someone who doesn't have a hairy bum might, or someone who is seen as slim or of average weight!

I'm not going to dictate what you should or shouldn't want to do with your body hair. We are all absolutely allowed to have our own preferences around our body hair maintenance, but it's also important to dig into and question why we might feel the "need" to perform a certain kind of body hair maintenance -- and from the way you stated your concerns here, it sounds like you may be thinking about hair removal as a "need", a requirement, instead of as just a "want".

theinsidelife: it sounds like you may similarly be thinking of your current weight and sexual activity to be mutually exclusive. What I mean by this (and as I said, the reason I linked these two questions together) is that you both seem to be approaching your respective sexual wants as unable to happen with the way your bodies currently are. With the mindset that changing your body is a "need" instead of a "want".

If you find yourself feeling like, to be able to participate in a certain activity, you need to change something about your body, it's time to stop and delve into those feelings. Because changing your body isn't going to be the answer, especially if sex is something we do to express ourselves and where we are being ourselves.

The only answer in that framework is to change the way you feel about your body. Improving your body image is a hard thing to do, and can take a lot of time, but I promise you that it will be much more worthwhile than doling out oodles of cash to "fix" any flaw you think you have. Changing how to see and think about your body from negative to more positive will also improve a lot more than just your sex life.

There are many things that can bring us to feeling like looking a certain way is a necessity rather than just one way of looking that we can choose if we so desire. We are often bombarded with images of people who fit a very particular and narrow ideal of beauty, and the diet and "beauty" industry make an awful lot of money out of convincing us we "need" to look a certain way. That may be the first, most obvious influence on body image that comes to mind. But there are also other things that can come into play that it's important to consider.

Expectations

Is part of your insecurity based around the expectations of your partners? Has a partner said something to you about the body part in question or about your body in general, like requesting that you change it in some way, or making a negative comment? Honestly, partners who are good for us really won't mind what we do with our body hair or what our bodies look like. A good partner who respects us and is attracted to us as a whole person, respects us and is attracted to us as a whole person. Just the way we are. Mind, soul, and body. And chances are usually good that someone who likes us as a person, and is also interested in us sexually already thinks our bodies are sexy and great, just as they are.

If you're not sure if you believe me deep down in your heart (or, you know, at all!) try reversing the scenario: Is there something about your partner's body that you think "needs" to change so you will find them attractive, or something "needs" to be changed for you to be willing to participate in a certain kind of sex with them? Would you tell them to change something about their body to fit your standard of attractiveness? Hopefully the answer to that is no. Your partner's answer to that should be no different and probably is no different. If you genuinely think your partner would mind your body hair or your body shape or size, and wants you to look differently than you do, that's a problem. It's a big indicator that they're not really ready to have sex yet, or aren't sexually interested in or attracted to you, and so maybe they're just not someone who you should be having any kind of sex with, period.

Or, is it that they haven't said anything that would even hint at it, but you think a partner might be critical of your body? If that's the case, then really it's not about your partner's expectations; it's about your own feelings around yourself. Sometimes when we're really insecure about something, we'll project those fears onto other people; when we're scared of being vulnerable around them, when we're scared that they'll make the same judgements of us that we have made ourselves. But it's important we own that; it's not about our partners, it's about us and our insecurities. So, what we need to focus on is dealing with that ourselves, and dealing with it in a way where we build up our esteem by working to better accept and care for ourselves, not break it down more by continuing to reject ourselves or focus on everything we think is wrong with us.

Checking Up

Another common factor that can influence our body image and amplify our insecurities is when we are insecure about our relationship as a whole. When we are feeling uncertain or bad about a relationship, it can often be projected onto other things, such as our bodies. If either of you feel like this might be the case for you, take a step back and check up on your relationship. Are you getting everything you want and need out of it? Is your partner treating you with respect? Is your relationship healthy? If you want to check up on your relationship, Does Your Relationship Need a Checkup? is the perfect article just for that.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Very commonly, we find that people's insecurities around their bodies in situations like this are stemming from deeper uneasiness around the sex they're considering taking part in. They often feel that things are moving too fast for them but they may not know how to express that, or they might feel like they should feel ready for it so they project their feelings elsewhere. But a sexual relationship really does, and should, progress gradually, and at a pace that feels right for you, which will include whatever time and intimacy development you need to feel safe and pretty secure about your body, alone and with a partner, before getting sexual with them. A sexual relationship, like any other relationship, often tends to more gradually progresses instead of just BAM there's every kind of sex all at once!

As partners begin to get comfortable with each other, get to know each other's sexualities better, and sometimes get to know their own sexualities better, we build trust and security so that being sexual or naked together doesn't feel so terrifying. Over time, partners will gradually learn what things work together and what doesn't, what things they haven't tried but feel they may enjoy with a partner, and what everyone involved needs to build trust and feel safe being vulnerable rather than like they're hurling themselves headfirst into oncoming traffic.

When a sexual relationship develops gradually, we will also get a sense of how a partner will react to our body from gauging how they have been with other forms of intimacy or sexual activity that they have participated in with us. That's one of the ways we can get a good idea about if partners or potential partners find us attractive as we are or not, and if they may or may not be someone who it's emotionally safe for us to be sexual with when it comes to our body image.

If you feel like you haven't really built up a good impression on how your partner would feel about your body, that's a good indicator that the relationship needs to progress more slowly for you to be comfortable, so you can get to know your partner better first.

Not feeling ready for any kind of sex you think you "should" feel ready for, is totally normal and A-Okay. We all feel ready for different kinds of sex at different times, so rushing yourself -- or your partner trying to rush you -- into sex you're not really feeling so good about, isn't going to be so great for your self-esteem and general emotional well-being. It's important to really check in with yourself to make sure that this is something you actually want and really feel ready for. It may well be that rather than changing your body what you need to do is change your pacing, maybe by waiting a little longer to be sexual with a partner altogether, or by taking more time to get to activities that you want to try, but don't yet feel secure enough trying just yet.

Communication

It's said an awful lot here at Scarleteen that communication is important to creating and maintaining healthy relationships. When we're interested in starting a sexual relationship, or when our relationship is already sexual, part of that communication has to be around sex and sexuality. We need to be able to talk about safer sex and sexual health, about our boundaries, what we like and don't like, what kinds of sex we feel we need to have included in our sexual relationships to feel satisfied, how often we might want to participate in sex, the list goes on forever. The list also includes our insecurities around sex.

When we're thinking about taking part in a certain kind or kinds of sex with a partner, if we have some insecurities around that, it can be pretty beneficial to discuss them. For starters, it continues or can start that healthy ongoing sexual communication that we need. It can lead to discussing other aspects of sex or our sexuality, helping us improve our communication with our partner. Sharing insecurities with a partner can also open the discussion up to them sharing theirs, which can be a reassuring, reaffirming, and bonding experience for both of you. In fact, sometimes just saying what you're feeling like this out loud can get you most of the way, if not all the way, to feeling a lot better without changing anything else at all.

If you don't feel like you can share your insecurities around the sex you're considering engaging in, that's okay; but it's also a pretty good indicator that you may not be 100% ready for that kind of sex with that partner right now. Doing things with our bodies is just as intimate, and as potentially emotionally and physically risky, as talking about those things and our bodies. I think we really need to be able to talk about them before we are able to do them. And as I said, if you're not there right now, that's absolutely fine, but it's important to recognize that fact and think about taking whatever kind of sex it is you're considering off the table for the time being.

Ready, Set, Go

A really big part of feeling ready for ANY kind of sex is being able to feel good about yourself and your body. It means that you can be relaxed and be yourself, and thus have an overall more positive experience. So, going into a relationship, or going into making a relationship into a sexual one, we need to really be able to be pretty comfortable with our own body first. Having sex can make us feel pretty vulnerable: it's important to feel good enough about ourselves to be comfortable with that vulnerability.

It's also important that we not rest our self-esteem on what a partner thinks of our bodies, just for our own emotional well-being. In relationships both partners need to be able to stand by themselves; we can't rely on our partners "giving" us self-esteem. If we do rely entirely on them to feel good about ourselves, it runs the risk of, whenever something in the relationship goes south, making us feel not-so-great about ourselves. It also creates a level of emotional dependency that isn't going to make anyone feel good in the long-run. When we place our feelings of self-worth on being desired by someone, without them our self-esteem is non-existent again. So it's important to have enough self-esteem going into a relationship with someone to ensure that we don't become emotionally dependent upon them.

Trust is another thing that's an integral part of a healthy relationship. But trust is something that is earned, not automatically gained upon entry into a relationship. It's wise when we don't trust people fully right away; we don't know them yet! It's built gradually, and sometimes people expect it to build faster than it really will for them. Trust is part of what will make us feel okay with the vulnerability of being sexual with someone. I know that a lot of people have a sort of electric-shock reaction to even thinking someone is suggesting they don't trust their partner. But seriously. It really is 100% -- nay, 323.75% -- okay to not feel ready to be vulnerable with someone yet. We all take different amounts of time to feel comfortable with that vulnerability. But it is necessary to be comfortable with and trust your partner before starting a sexual relationship with them, so for your own emotional well-being, I really suggest that you avoid trying to rush yourself into something you don't feel ready for.

In Conclusion

It's your body! Contrary to some people's opinions, you can in fact do whatever YOU want to do with it! But what's important here is that you check in with yourself and be real about whether this is about what you want, not what anyone else might want from you. One of the best things about sex is that it's all about personal expression. It's about being yourself and having fun as yourself, in your own body. It's important for both partners to recognize that it's not a performance or a show. It's all about doing what you are comfortable with, as yourselves, in ways that you are comfortable doing, and excited about, those things.

So, you might be saying to yourself, Oh Great and Wise Pie of the Onions, what are some ways I can start to feel more comfortable with my body?

Well, since you asked! First off,keep in mind that our body image isn't really so much about how our bodies look; thus, it's not usually going to change in big ways when we try to -- or even do! -- change our bodies. With that in mind, one big way to feel good about your body is to do things that make you feel good in your body! Things that are about what it does, not just how it looks. Forms of exercise (especially the kind that's mostly about having fun, not changing how you look), gardening or being outdoors in other ways, and other activities that really involve and connect us with our bodies on the earth are big contributors to feeling good. And on the other side of the spectrum, there are those things that are relaxing, for both body and mind. Self-care moments like having a bubble bath, playing with a pet, or cooking something you love can make you feel more connected with and comfortable in your body. It can also help to do things where we use our bodies to live the parts of our lives that make us feel good as a whole person. For instance, you can and do use your body to do volunteer work to help someone in need, to engage in whatever unique talents you've got, or to work towards life goals and dreams.

Finally, silence that nasty voice in your head: just tell it to STFU. When you look at yourself in the mirror, find things to compliment yourself about instead of criticizing. Make sure to also compliment yourself on things that aren't about the way your body looks; maybe you're really awesome at tennis, or you're an ace speller, or man do you rock the drum kit. You need to feel awesome about your whole self, and your body image will go hand in hand with that. It will be hard, I know. Those diet pills or waxing strips sound kinda easier than doing all that. It takes time to learn to stop criticizing yourself, and to learn to start loving instead. But it is so worth it!

And it doesn't grow in all itchy and red!

Resources for your consideration:

written 22 Jan 2013 . updated 13 Mar 2013

More like This

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about the specifics of what it is we do here, about how it is I define what our aims are, and about what it means to be a comprehensive, feminist sex...

Information on this site is provided for educational purposes. It is not meant to and cannot substitute for advice or care provided by an in-person medical professional. The information contained herein is not meant to be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease, or for prescribing any medication. You should always consult your own healthcare provider if you have a health problem or medical condition.