Women won’t be the only ones watching their weight this holiday season. Men's waistlines have become quite the concern, too.
Once a mostly female concern, body image issues are all about gender equality these days. Men are feeling a great deal of pressure to achieve the ideal physique. And a major consequence of their increased dissatisfaction with their appearance is that it's affecting them in the bedroom.
Men have not always been as susceptible as females when it comes to body image, and the issue has not always garnered attention. It wasn’t until the 1970s that men began receiving the subtle — and sometimes glaring — messages that they had to look a certain way, namely leaner, more muscular. For example, take a look at the toy action figures that have become popular in the past 25 years.
The media, too, has been exposing men to idealized images of male bodies, which are impossible to achieve. A 2001 article published in the American Journal of Psychiatry reported that men from America, France and Austria indicated, on average, that the ideal body was 28 pounds more muscular than their actual size.
A man can feel worthless if he is unable to live up to cultural ideals. This physical perfectionism can increase his body dissatisfaction and shame. Making matters even worse is the fact that women are being sold on these dream bodies.
Muscular, leaner physiques have been displayed more and more in women’s magazines as the object of their desire over the years. Research published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, which evaluated Playgirl centerfolds, found that, between 1973 and 1997, models had become leaner, but buffer.
All of this contributes to a man’s warped sense of body expectations, with potentially worrisome consequences when it comes to sexual response. The damage can include:
— Reduced sexual arousability;
— Erectile dysfunction;
— Premature ejaculation.
One’s sexual performance may be influenced by a phenomenon that sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson coined as “spectatoring.” By getting wrapped up in one’s appearance, lovers draw their focus away from pleasure, putting it instead on how they look and/or how their bodies are reacting. This greatly impacts one’s ability to let go during lovemaking. Ultimately, men may avoid sex due to body shame, especially if it affects sexual intimacy in making it less pleasurable and satisfying.
Research by Diana Sanchez and Amy Kiefer, in a 2007 issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior, confirmed that body shame strongly predicts greater self-consciousness for both men and women during physical intimacy. Sexual self-consciousness became greater as it related to shame during intimacy. This appeared to lead to lower sexual pleasuring and arousability.
Whether you’re male or female, occasional concern about your appearance is normal. But if self-objectification has become an obsession, as in disordered eating, body shame, lower self-esteem, and/or more appearance-related reasons for exercise, then get professional help. Counter the message you’re getting by taking care of you – by taking care of each other.
This is best achieved with a healthy, balanced diet, regular exercise and nurturing your relationship. Sanchez and Kiefer found that being in a relationship was associated with less difficulty in reaching climax for both men and women. Being involved was further associated with less sexual self-consciousness.
Partners have the power to remind each other of their desirability, whether that is a physical or personality trait. Just like women, men need such reassurances too.
So pay him compliments. Support him with healthy lifestyle efforts. Keep yourself in check when it comes to processing what’s attractive in pop culture. Pamper his body with a sensual bath. Model healthy body image attitudes. The payoff couldn’t be better: It means a hotter sex life for the both of you.
Dr. Yvonne K. Fulbright is a sex educator, relationship expert, columnist and founder of Sexuality Source Inc. She is the author of several books including, "Touch Me There! A Hands-On Guide to Your Orgasmic Hot Spots."