Our various cultural media can fill our heads with exaggerated notions of what it means to be a good lover. The more we hear about the exploits of the young, the glamorous and the sexually-adept the more we may question our own skills and overall desirability. We may be pestered by dozens of internal questions. Am I too old? Am I overweight? Do I really satisfy my partner? Will s/he consider my fantasies a turnoff if I reveal them? How am I to know if I want sex too much – or too little?
Sexual self-esteem is really about being comfortable with ourselves and feeling at home in our own skins. Those concerns that we may have about our appearance and our performance only take us out of the moment when we’re actually making love. We can be distracted by doubts even when everything in the relationship is going perfectly well. To build up sexual self-esteem, we need to learn how to leave our judgments (regarding our histories and fantasies) behind and jump into the experience fully. We also need to be gentle with ourselves as we move through this process. Pressure and guilt will only make us more nervous – and less confident.
The most helpful thing you can do initially is allow yourself a learning curve. Don’t pressure yourself to be an intimacy expert. Every partnership is unique. People bring their own needs, desires and challenges into the picture. What has worked in the past may not work in the here-and-now. Allow yourself to be a beginner sometimes; give yourself permission to learn. This learning can be facilitated if you actually ask for feedback. Knowing what your partner likes and appreciates about your sexual expression will also deepen the rapport between you. Also keep in mind, however, that the response you receive from another will not always reflect upon you. Sometimes people simply value different things, even when they are deeply involved with each other.
This is what makes self-love a crucial component of your overall sexual self-esteem. If you feel comfortable about your body and your desires then you can hold to this even when your partner doesn’t seems to understand. Cultivating a positive body image in your mind’s eye will better your performance and satisfaction as well. Get grounded in your body. Exercising is the best way to achieve this. Changes in diet may also be called for. If you feel good about yourself on a physical level but are still pestered by mental doubts, a practice involving daily affirmations may help.
When you’re free of those detracting inner voices you can more easily focus on pleasure (yours as well as your partner’s). This doesn’t mean that the connection will always be harmonious, however. Sometimes sexual self-esteem requires us to ask for what we want and speak up when something feels off – even if, in doing so, we risk the other’s displeasure. Our sexuality is an expression of the way in which we carry ourselves in all other areas of life. If we compromise ourselves then we open the door to those voices of doubt again.