Many of us can probably attest to this truth personally: The way a person feels about their body can directly impact how they feel about sex. When you’re not feeling good about yourself, it can be hard to get into a sexy mindset, be in the moment, and focus on enjoying sexual experiences. And if you’ve got a partner who feels self-conscious in bed, those feelings might just get in the way of both of you really having a good time.
Unfortunately, body image issues are unnervingly common, and they cut across gender. At least one in every three men and women deals with body dissatisfaction, with some research even saying it’s actually up to 84% of women and up to 90% of men. Insecurities in the bedroom, in particular, are also common: In an informal 2018 survey of 1,000 men and women, 79% of women said their biggest bedroom insecurity is their body, and 67% of men said it’s their sexual “performance.”
While confidence must be internally sourced at the end of the day, a partner’s support and validation can certainly help — especially when it comes to sex. One 2019 study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy found that women who believe their partners like their body tended to have better sexual functioning (i.e. more frequent desire, more lubrication, more orgasms, and overall sexual satisfaction).
So, whether you’ve got a partner who has just had a baby and isn’t feeling their body right now, or they’re someone who generally struggles with body image, here are a few ways to support your partner’s confidence in and out of bed.
1. Compliment them in bed.
First, the obvious: Shower them with compliments during sex. Be specific about the actions or parts of their body that turn you on, like their juicy thighs, how good they look when they’re riding you, or the way they arch their back when they’re cumming. Vocalize and affirm when they’re doing something that looks or feels great for you, so they know they’re rocking your world. It’s hard to feel self-conscious about your body or performance when your partner keeps moaning about how sexy you are and how good you’re making them feel.
2. Make them feel desired.
Find moments to tell your partner how hot you think they are, even outside the bedroom. Walk into the kitchen while they’re doing something mundane, look them in the eye, and give them a genuine, specific compliment about the way they look and make you feel. Brag about what a babe they are to your friends when they’re sitting right there to hear you. You can even share with your partner some sexy memories you have of them with specific details about how you visually recall the moment. Send them a text in the middle of the work day if you really want to emphasize your point (ex. “I can’t stop thinking about how good your ass looked last night”). Give them a window into how you see them and think about them, even when they’re not around.
3. Remove the expectation of “performance.”
Real-life sex doesn’t look like what it looks like in porn and movies, and yet so many of us use those visuals as a standard for what we think we’re supposed to do and look like during the act. We can get into our heads that we need to perform a certain ideal of masculine or feminine sexuality, and we focus more on trying to fill that role instead of just doing what feels good.
Release the expectation that you and your partner are supposed to follow any sort of sexual script. Let yourselves laugh when something funny happens in bed. Take breaks if one of you gets tired in the middle of things. Deprioritize things like orgasms and penetration — often the two most heralded aspects of sex—in favor of just aimlessly, leisurely exploring each other’s bodies and seeing what types of touch feel good. When you focus on sensation and connection instead of performance, sex usually ends up being a lot more fun and stress-free.
4. Find out what makes your partner feel confident.
What brings out your partner’s bolder side? Some women, for example, feel particularly sexy and confident with a bold red lip and heels on. Some people feel most attractive after spending time in a social situation with people who clearly think highly of them. Others tend to be really feeling themselves after a trip to the gym. Whatever it might be, get to know what situations boost your partner’s confidence and try to have those elements involved in your sexual experiences.
If you two are into it, you could even try roleplaying a creative storyline that helps your partner step into a role that makes them feel powerful — like a hot-shot CEO or a tempting mistress.
5. Don’t criticize any people’s bodies, period.
The truth is, most people’s negative stories about their own body originate externally. We internalize the way people talk about each other’s bodies, both positive and negative, and begin to apply those stories to ourselves. When you make a joke about a friend or celebrity’s weight gain, you’re communicating that you think big bodies are shameful. When you express your disapproval of a politician by making assumptions about how small their penis must be, you’re telling everyone—including your partner—that you think certain penis sizes are laughable.
Your words have impact, and they shape the way you and other people interpret the world. So, ditch the body negativity and stop criticizing other people’s bodies, including your own.
6. Support your partner in healing their relationship to their body.
Body image is a tricky, nuanced thing. While external validation can certainly help, true confidence will always come from within—meaning, your partner will need to do some of this work on their own.
Find an appropriate moment, like while hanging out on the couch on a Saturday night, to ask your partner about how they think about their body and why. If your partner does struggle with poor body image in general, you may want to gently encourage them to consider looking into more intentional ways to heal their relationship to their body. That could look like seeing a therapist or coach who specializes in confidence or body image issues, reading a book about body liberation (The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor and Sensual Self by Ev’Yan Whitney are two powerful options), or starting a body love practice like meditating with affirmations or engaging in some solo masturbation time.
Of course, only your partner can decide the right path forward for them — but you can certainly be the cheerleader in their corner as they embark on the journey.