Yes, Sexual Self-Esteem Is A Thing: How To Boost It, From A Sex Therapist
While many people can recognize when they're struggling with their confidence, people often neglect to consider their feelings around their sexual self.
As humans, we are sexual beings, regardless of how we feel about sex or sexuality. You are a whole person made up of many parts, and your sexual self is an important piece of who you are.
It's important to integrate your sexual self into your whole self. Yet many people struggle with connecting with this area of themselves because of their low sexual self-esteem.
What is sexual self-esteem?
Your sexual self-esteem refers to:
- feelings about your body
- your confidence in your sexual self
- your feelings of worth and what you contribute or do not contribute during sex
- how you intimately connect with yourself and others
- your view of your sexuality
Your sexual self-esteem starts with how you feel about yourself. It's affected by past and current experiences, and it is an essential part of you as a whole person.
Regardless of how you feel about sex, your sexual self-esteem matters. It's just as important as your overall self-esteem. Your overall confidence affects every area of your life, and your sexual self-esteem does the same.
Sexual self-esteem can make you feel more connected or disconnected in your relationships. When you lack sexual self-esteem, it affects how you view yourself and how connected you feel to the intimate aspects of your relationship. Not only can it cause problems with sexual disconnection, but it can also negatively affect the emotional connection in a relationship as well.
What affects sexual self-esteem?
Several factors affect how you view your sexual self. Some are within your control, and others aren't—they're due to experiences that happen to you.
For example, messages you heard about sex growing up can affect your sexual self-talk. Depending on the environment you grew up in, your family's view on sex, or other factors, you may have heard some of the following things about sex:
- Sex is dirty.
- Sex is private and never to be spoken about.
- Sex is only between a man and a woman.
- Don't have sex before marriage.
- If you have sex, you'll get a bad reputation.
Those negative messages can turn into your own internal message. Maybe they've become your self-talk about your sexuality or sexual self. Take those plus any things you've been told about your performance or actions with sex at any point in your life, and you can end up with plenty of negative things in your inner narrative.
For example, your current or past partner may have told you:
- That none of their past partners had any complaints about sex with them, so something must be wrong with you
- That something must be wrong with you because you don't like or don't enjoy sex
- That you're broken because you never have an orgasm
- That you want too much from them
- That your expectations are too high or unrealistic
- That you want sex too much and they don't, so something must be wrong with you
Experiences with your current or past partners stick with you, especially the negative ones. These negative narratives become your inner narrative. Your inner critic loves these experiences because it can turn up the volume and remind you of all the things "wrong" with your sexual self.
Even though the person may not be around, their negativity is—because it has turned into your self-talk. Your self-worth or how you value your sexual self plummets to a low, making you feel worse than you did before.
How to improve your sexual self-esteem.
When your sexual self-esteem is not in a good place, how in the heck can you expect to have a pleasurable and fulfilling sexual experience with someone when you feel bad about yourself?
Your sexual self-esteem deserves a boost. If you are focused on personal growth and want to see improvements in your relationships, there's no time like the present to focus on nurturing your sexual self.
Here are three steps to get started:
Scale your sexual self-esteem.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 very low and 10 very high, rank how you view your sexual self at this time. Write down the number you picked and label it as current.
Then think about how you want to feel about your sexual self in the future. Write down the number you want to represent your sexual self-esteem and label it as the future.
Reframe your negative self-talk.
Make a list of your thoughts, beliefs, and things you say to yourself about your sexual self—even if some of these came from others, and you've since adopted them into your own narrative. Try to identify at least five.
Next, rewrite each of these to be more realistic and forgiving of yourself. For example, if you wrote, "I'm not comfortable with my body during sex," reframe it with "I want to learn to feel more comfortable in my body during sex." Go through each item and reframe it, which will help you begin to improve how you see your sexual self.
(Here are some positive self-talk mantras for more inspo.)
Identify barriers to your sexual self-esteem.
On a sheet of paper, brainstorm all of the possible thoughts, things, people, experiences, narratives, or anything that keeps you from feeling confident about your sexual self. For example, a past partner may have told you that you're not good at sex, and you can't stop this from going through your head.
This self-talk causes you not to feel good about your sexual self. Write out any barrier you can think of. After you've listed them out, write one small action you can take to overcome each barrier.
There are many things you can do today to improve your view of your sexual self. Once you know about your sexual self, what affects it, and how you can improve it, you're ready to take action. You deserve to feel confident, and working on your sexual self is a big step in the right direction.
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Kristie Overstreet, Ph.D., LPCC, LMHC, CST, is a clinical sexologist and psychotherapist with 12 years of clinical experience. She is a licensed counselor in California, Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana. She is also a certified sex therapist, certified addiction professional, and president of the Therapy Department, a private practice in Orange County that provides counseling, coaching, training, speaking, and consulting services throughout the United States.
Overstreet holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Sexology and a master's degree in Professional Counseling. Known as the real-world relationship expert, she teaches people to improve their connection with themselves and others. She has given a TEDx talk on healthcare and also serves as a national contributor to CNN, Psychology Today, Readers Digest, Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and various other media.