The Sex Goddess Blues: The Pressure To Look Perfect

Sex should make all parties involved feel good, physically and emotionally. In order to feel good, we need to relax. But how can we relax if we're preoccupied with the way our thighs look from a certain angle, or if we're wondering if we're making the "right" kinds of sounds, or if we're worried about how our face looks? Maybe you want to try a certain position, but don't want your belly to jiggle or your cellulite to show. It's difficult to focus on what gives us pleasure if we're worried about the little aesthetic details of our sexual experience. Such preoccupation takes us out of the moment in a very major way; this is massively detrimental considering that so much of pleasurable sex is about moment-to-moment sensation.

There's no such thing as objective "perfection" when it comes to physical appearance. And even if there was, that doesn't mean everyone would find this mythical person attractive. We've been conditioned to believe there's such a thing as physical perfection, but there's just not. There's only diversity, a LOT of it. Everyone is attracted to different things. In porn and other types of media, a very specific, narrow definition of physical attractiveness is emphasized. And although we've been conditioned to believe that standard is everyone's ultimate desire, it isn't. There are people out there who will definitely find you super-hot even if you're nowhere close to that arbitrary societal standard of physical perfection. 

To be sure, insecurities about our bodies are pushed right out into the forefront when we're having sex. I mean, we're usually totally naked; there's kind of nowhere to hide. We can, however, begin working through these insecurities and anxieties about our bodies and the way we look. 

 What if I'm a trans woman and I don't have a vulva or breasts at all? How do I deal with not necessarily even having the body parts a partner might expect me to have? Of course, your womanhood is not contingent upon what does or does not reside between your legs; no one deserves invasive, inappropriate questions about their body parts. It is not okay for people to pry, demanding you "prove" something to them. You never, ever deserve that.

You do deserve to be recognized and respected as a woman, because that is what you are. You deserve to be seen and wanted for you.

Deciding how and when to tell potential partners that you're trans is your personal choice. Surely, it takes a lot of strength to trust a person in this way. If you're straightforward and direct about your identity from the get-go, you might avoid wasting your time on someone who refuses to accept you. Waiting until you've established the groundwork of trust with a person certainly has some benefits, but it's also more time for you to stress out about it.

Unfortunately, there are a number of risks involved with disclosing your identity to potential partners, as I'm sure you know. These risks range from rejection to physical violence. I hate that we live in a world where this must be emphasized, but be mindful of your safety; if you don't know a person very well, you can never be entirely sure of the way they will react. It's not fair, but it is a tragic reality that must be kept in mind. Especially, use caution if you are a trans woman dating straight men.

I've collected a few different articles about dating, relationships, hookups, sex, and body image and how they specifically pertain to trans* women.

As the title implies, Getting With Girls Like Us: A Radical Guide to Dating Trans* Women for Cis Women is, well, a guide for cis women dating trans* women. Even if you don't date women, this is a really great article that could perhaps help you articulate some of the trickier, more frustrating stuff about dating. It's even more helpful, of course, if you do indeed date (or want to date!) women.

How Society Shames Men Dating Trans Women and How This Affects Our Lives is an article by the brilliant trans activist and writer, Janet Mock. When you understand the different ways shame manifests itself, you can begin gathering the resources to take it down. Many of this article's undertones echo those in the piece above, but this one specifically emphasizes relationships with straight cis men.

Trans in the Media: Unlearning the 'Trapped' Narrative & Taking Ownership of Our Bodies is another article by Janet Mock. While it's not about dating, relationships, or sex specifically, it does have a lot of great stuff about identity, body image, and insecurity specifically as these issues pertain to trans* women. 

Is my labia normal? It doesn't look like any labia I've seen online or in porn, and I'm concerned. The portrayals we generally see of labia in porn are at best unrealistic. People worry about their labia being too big, too lopsided, too dark, not the right color, not the right texture, not "tight" enough, etcetera. In reality, of course, every labia looks (and feels) very different. That's not what porn would have you believe, however, with its preoccupation with small, pink, perfectly symmetrical labia. Such adjectives describe an extremely tiny percentage of the world's adult population, and it makes women feel somehow inadequate because they don't meet yet another ludicrous, unattainable cosmetic standard. It's important to remember that the porn we see is staged and often digitally enhanced. There is an entire staff of people on any given set, their sole task being to make the actors look as good as possible. Lighting, angles, and digital enhancement are all significant factors. You probably don't have any of these things, but who needs 'em? 

Most of us have no clue about the many ways labia can look. If you've ever wondered or worried about your labia, I would highly suggest you check out The Labia Library and/or The Large Labia Project. There's lots of information on labia, and stories from people who have felt insecure about their labia. There are even photo galleries featuring many different people's vulvas and labia. (It goes without saying, of course, that these are photos of people's genitals. Proceed with this in mind.) Seeing a more diverse array of genitalia may well help you realize that you don't need to worry as much as you thought.

What about my breasts? No one I've seen in movies, magazines, porn, or on TV has breasts that look anything like mine. The same rules apply here. We see variations on the same idea of breasts basically everywhere in the media; it's almost alarming how little variation there is. In reality, however, everyone's breasts are very different. You might not believe it if you rely on the media's representation of breasts, but it's true. There are so, so, so many different ways breasts can look. Some breasts have stretch marks. Some breasts are petite, and some are fuller. Nipples, too, appear in an endless array of colors, shapes, and sizes. Not only are they all normal, but they're all unique and gorgeous to boot. 

Our Breasts is a great site run by the same folks as The Large Labia Project. There, you can scroll through many different non-sexual photos of people's breasts, read stories from people who have felt insecure, and get an idea of the true range of what breasts can actually look like. (Again, this site contains photos of naked bodies, just in case I wasn't clear.)

How should I look when I come? Is my actual "orgasm face" ugly? Having an orgasm is a pretty visceral experience; that might be the understatement of the century. The last thing on your mind when you're coming or about to come should be the way your face looks. Your partner will probably be thrilled that you're having an orgasm right there in front of them -- in this moment, they probably won't be thinking, "Wow, she looks kind of weird right now." And hey, maybe you do look a little odd: they probably do, too. But that is okay. Orgasms often do all kinds of peculiar things to our bodies: our legs tremble, our muscles clench, our breathing gets ragged, we sweat in unexpected places. Coming usually feels awesome, though; when we're having an orgasm, we want to be as present as possible. All of the "weirdness" that sometimes accompanies orgasms is just part of the experience. Try to relish it rather than run from it. Sex is weird in a lot of ways, and that's okay.

What sounds are sexy? Moaning? Screaming? What?! Again, there's nothing that's universally attractive to everyone. The "hottest" sounds you can make while you're having sex are the ones you're naturally inclined to make. If you try to do anything else, it will probably come across as contrived. Sex is not mechanical; there's no script. There's no formula. If you want to make a certain sound, you should. But if you're not that vocal or you're trying to mimic something you've seen in porn, it's probably not going to work out all that well.

I can't stand this one body part and/or my body in general. This makes me uncomfortable and stressed during sex. Most of us have at least one body part that we're incredibly insecure about. Often, we'll go to great lengths to hide these parts in our daily lives. When we're having sex, however, that's not usually possible. Sometimes, a sexual partner may even try to touch, squeeze, or caress the body parts we're most insecure about. Clearly, this indicates that this partner is into you and your body, but it's difficult to let go of these insecurities anyway.

I would never imply that moving past hangups with our bodies is easy. Women are taught from a very early age that we will never be physically perfect enough no matter what we do, but we damn well better try our hardest to be perfect all the same. You may have family members who have made cruel remarks about your body. You may have a history of abuse, or maybe a history of disordered eating. Maybe you were bullied in school, or maybe body image has just generally been a major point of contention for you. With all of this in mind, it is totally understandable that you have issues loving or even just accepting your body. 

Just know that your body is so much more than the way your belly looks or the shape of your legs. It is capable of incredible things. Heck, in and of itself, it is an incredible thing. When it comes to sex, there are whole worlds available for you to explore in terms of both physical pleasure and emotional intimacy. I understand that many of us have disliked or even outright hated our bodies for a really long time -- however, good sex with good, supportive partners can do wonders for us. You deserve that if you want it. The current state of your body does not define or dictate the kinds of sex you’re allowed to enjoy. Period. 

So, how do I begin working through my insecurities about my body? Try getting acquainted with your whole body, especially the parts you’re most insecure about. If you deem your belly a “problem area,” find ways to engage it that have nothing to do with its aesthetics. Some sort of exercise or dance that engages this area without attempting to change it, or focus on how it looks, could be great. It can help you get comfortable with it, and it can also help you say, “Hey! Look what my body can do. This is awesome. My body is awesome. I will respect it, and I want any sexual partners to do the same.” 

You can spend some time naked, getting to know what your body feels like to you and you alone. (Also, your definition of "naked" can include underwear if it makes you more comfortable.) You don't even have to look in the mirror. Do the dishes naked. Watch TV naked. Do a DIY project naked. Read naked. Sleep naked. Doing so can help you begin to feel more comfortable in your own skin. Beginning this process with nobody watching can help prepare you for times where you'll be naked with someone else. 

Take a million selfies just for your own eyes. Take them when you’re laying down, in front of a mirror, at all kinds of different angles, with makeup, without, with clothes and without them. This can help you get to know what your body looks like through a lens you define for yourself, and you don't have to do it when you don't want to. This is about you, and the way you see yourself. 

Using a phrase as a form of daily motivation can help, too. Basically, you can find a quote or a phrase that you find encouraging, and you can repeat it to yourself in the morning, before bed, or anytime throughout the day when you find yourself struggling. Writing it on a piece of paper and sticking it somewhere in your room or on your mirror can work as well. You can write out a simple phrase  yourself, choose a quotation or piece of poetry, or select something pertaining to your spirituality. It might sound a little hokey, but having a great, positive message to repeat to yourself when things get rough can ground you and remind you what you're working toward.

For more thoughts on learning to love and work with your body, you can check this and this out as well. Additionally, Stop Hating Your Body is a really fantastic and super-inclusive blog. They post frequently, so you can scroll on through at your leisure for your daily dose of body positivity. 

At the end of the day, good partners are attracted to us as whole people. Even if it's just a one-time hookup, you should seek sexual partners who are into you. When someone is feeling your whole vibe and not just, say, your cup size, they will likely be into all you've got going on. Of course, a hookup isn't going to get to know you as well as a more consistent partner will, but they should still be attracted to you generally and treat you with respect. No matter the context of your sexual encounters, you and your body deserve respect.

This is a section of a larger piece, The Sex Goddess Blues: Building Sexual Confidence, Busting Perfectionism. To read the whole piece or another section, click here! Illustrations: copyright 2014, Isabella Rotman.