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January 22, 2021

How the Search for the “Perfect Body” can Kill Your Sex Life.

*Editor’s Note: Elephant is not your doctor or hospital. Our lawyers would say “this web site is not designed to, and should not be construed to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, or treatment to you or any other individual, and is not intended as a substitute for medical or professional care and treatment. Always consult a health professional before trying out new home therapies or changing your diet.” But we can’t afford lawyers, and you knew all that.

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That hot body won’t get very hot…

It’s kind of ironic: millions of men and women strive for the perfect body, something we could show off to a significant other (or others) in the sack—only the pursuit of that perfect body might very well lead us to not even want to jump into the sack at all.

According to a Healthline article by Melissa A. Fabello, “Starvation’s effect on physiological health includes hypogonadism, or the failure of the ovaries to function properly. Reduced levels of hormones related to sexual functioning—including estrogen and progesterone, which the ovaries produce—can affect your sex drive.”

But this issue doesn’t just lie with those who are underweight or anorexic. If you are restricting your calories, meaning anything less than what your height and weight dictates and certainly no less than 1,200 calories per day, you are setting yourself up for the same reduction of hormones and the same slide in sex drive.

I was under 1,000 calories a day for years, and, in my early 30s, I discovered I had a benign tumor on my adrenal gland that was preventing me from conceiving until it was removed. Coincidence? I don’t know—during all those years with my eating disorder, I could have been really screwing with my hormones. But that’s a different personal journey for a different day.

My first client, Arianna* was perhaps a few pounds underweight, but no one would call her anorexic. Still, the heavy caloric restrictions she had put on her body squashed any intimacy she had with her boyfriend, Charlie.* “As I lost the weight,” she explained, “I actually became more afraid to take my clothes off. I wanted the lights off. I didn’t want him touching certain parts of my body, like my thighs. [The dieting] was having the opposite effect I thought it would, and I was frustrated. I just wanted to love my body.”

Even if you’re taking in an appropriate number of calories, if you are exhibiting signs of excessive exercise, otherwise known as exercise bulimia, you could be taxing yourself in the same way. Exercise bulimia can potentially lead to amenorrhea, which is when a woman stops menstruating. If too much exercise can mess with your hormones enough to stop a menstrual cycle, it’s not a stretch to believe that taxing your reproductive hormones would affect your sex drive, too.

Courney Horan, founder of the blog Sweet Tooth Sweet Life, chronicled her very vulnerable journey when she was diagnosed with hypothalamic amenorrhea, which is when menstruation stops from issues occurring in the brain’s hypothalamus. She was trying to start a family but could not get pregnant because of HA. Luckily, the condition is typically reversible, but hearing her story, and seeing that it could potentially affect my ability to have a family one day, scared college-me enough to want to start doing something about my condition. That was the moment I realized I needed to fight, tooth and nail, toward my eventual recovery.

Sex drive is linked to body confidence more than your body.

It’s not your body that’s making you feel not confident; it’s your mind. No matter how skinny you get or how much you tone your muscles or whatever your physical goals are, it’s never going to repair how you feel about yourself. You may even be experiencing body dysmorphic disorder, which is defined as “a mental health disorder in which you can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance.” What you might see in the mirror might not even be what’s really there.

Even when I was 100 pounds, I still saw a stomach I wanted to change. It wasn’t toned enough, small enough, or flat enough, in my eyes. To everyone else, my frame had gotten frighteningly small, and my face was suffering, its features looking too big for it now. I didn’t see what everyone else saw; I could only see what I wanted to change.

Actress Portia de Rossi discusses something similar in her memoir, Unbearable Lightness. She writes that no matter how thin she got, her thighs still looked huge to her. It’s a cruel joke that our mind and not our body plays on us when we turn to disordered habits around food, fitness, and weight.

You’re focusing on the wrong thing if you’re drastically trying to change and manipulate your body. Until you heal your relationship with yourself on the inside, you’ll never enjoy what you look like on the outside, no matter how skinny or muscular you are. All the dieting and working out in the world won’t matter. It’ll be time wasted that you could be using for other things that feed your soul: self-care, hobbies, volunteering, and/or time with family and friends.

“Not everybody likes you; you’re not tequila.” And even then…

You might have seen some version of that quote as a meme on social media, but it’s more than just a funny quip. Think about it. Take something you believe to be universally loved. Wine. Chocolate. Puppy dogs. There’s undoubtedly someone who isn’t into it. In fact, probably a lot of people are not into it.

The same goes for bodies. Think of someone who, to you, has the perfect body. There are undoubtedly plenty of people who would disagree; some like curvy bodies, some like big butts, small butts, long legs, etc. That body you’re killing yourself (and your sex drive) for isn’t even the perfect body because perfection is relative. It’s different for everybody (pun intended).

Not convinced? Think about flowers. Roses, sunflowers, and lilacs are drastically different in shape, color, size, and texture, but do we see one as inferior to the other because of any of those attributes?

Our bodies are simply the vehicles we use so we can kick ass in the things that matter: our family lives, our social circle, our work, our communities. They were made to be enjoyed and shared with others we want to invite in sexually. They weren’t made to criticize, scrutinize, and manipulate into just one version of perfection.

Your body has already reached a version of perfection—because it is uniquely yours.

*Names have been changed to protect client confidentiality.

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