How to Feel Sexy When You Just Plain Don't
Some days are bad days. Maybe it was dark and rainy when you woke up. Maybe you hit the wine a little hard last night, and you’re feeling bloated (and, not to mention, headache-y). Maybe you’ve been going through something lately. But no matter the reason, you’ve encountered some kind of bad day and it might make you feel less than in love with your body. And when a bad day comes, you want something, anything, to make you feel better. You want to giggle at something, to feel a little lighter-hearted, to smirk when you look in the mirror, knowing you look pretty damn hot. But in times like these, the thought of feeling sexy — or even knowing how to feel sexy — can seem almost unfathomable.
The truth is, all of us have bad days. Even the most self-confident among us — those of us who are thoroughly convinced we’re the hottest things to step foot on this planet — have days like this. Days when we don’t feel great about ourselves and can’t figure out how to feel better. Days when we’re decidedly not In The Mood. Days when no amount of lingerie, chocolate or wine can close the gap between where we are and where we want to be.
We’ve all been there. And odds are, we’ll be there again. Thankfully, there are many expert-approved ways out of this veritably temporary pit of despair—and the best news of all is that some of them are actually, genuinely fun.
There are plenty of reasons you might not be In The Mood.
Step one is simple: Don’t make yourself feel bad about feeling bad.
There are all kinds of reasons you might not feel particularly hot right now. Maybe you’re stressed, or overcommitted, or absolutely exhausted. Maybe you’ve started taking a new medication, or recently undergone some kind of bodily change. Maybe your routine has gotten too banal for comfort. Or maybe you’re just hitting the part of your menstrual cycle where you feel a little lower than usual.
These are just a number of the many, many reasons you might find yourself feeling down, Jess O’Reilly, Ph.D., host of the @SexWithDrJess podcast, tells SheKnows. And there’s no reason to make guilt the cherry on top of this emotional sundae. You’re human. And humans have off days. There’s no shame in that.
That said, if you’re feeling concerned about a persistent lack of sexual interest, reach out to a professional. Just be sure to measure yourself against yourself—and not against some ideal. “Some people want sex every day and others don’t want it at all, and either of these experiences (as well as the great range in between) can be perfectly healthy,” O’Reilly says. “Low desire in sex is only a problem if you deem it one.”
And it’s perfectly normal for your relationship with your body to affect your feelings about sex (and really, about everything).
“The way you feel about your body can affect the way you feel about yourself in general,” O’Reilly says. Naturally, she says, this can affect the way you experience sex.
“You might avoid sex, nudity, touch and flirtation because you haven’t given yourself permission to enjoy your body,” O’Reilly says. “You might focus on your partner’s pleasure instead of your own, as you don’t feel deserving of pleasure (and orgasm).” You might also be too distracted to enjoy the moment, she adds.
Christine Scott-Hudson, MFT, licensed psychotherapist, notes that feeling bad about your body can be —and often is — about more than just your body. “[Often], it is about feeling unworthy, not good enough, not desirable, not up to snuff,” tells SheKnows. “It is inherently a struggle for worthiness.” And all of these feelings, she says, can keep us from being the confident, vibrant, energetic people we might otherwise be.
Again, low moments are nothing to be ashamed of. Neither are their effects.
In other words? “You’re perfectly normal,” O’Reilly says.
But there are tons of things you can do to get in a more body-positive — and all-around sexier — mental space.
Focus on what makes you feel good.
Give yourself a break from worrying about how you look, Scott-Hudson says. Instead, try to focus on how you feel. Don’t ask yourself whether a dress is flattering. Ask yourself whether it’s comfortable. Can you move around in it? Do you like spending time in it? Do you find it so excessively cozy you could take a full-on nap in it? Strip back the aesthetic layers, and concentrate only on the experiential. Consider how things make you feel and unabashedly chase the things that make you feel good.
In other words? “Engage in practices where you are embodied,” Scott-Hudson says. “From this embodied state, you may re-discover the energy and peace of joyful movement. You may remember how good it feels to let the sun warm your skin. You remain inside of your own skin, not a gazing spectator of your shell.”
Seek out diverse imagery.
As we all know far too well, many of the images we see in our magazines, favorite TV shows, and Instagram feeds represent one particular form of beauty. And we may not see ourselves represented in that homogeneity.
“Fortunately, you have some control over the media and images you consume,” O’Reilly says. And she suggests you take full advantage of that control. Fill your social media feeds with posts you actually like looking at — stuff you feel good about consuming, from people you feel good about following.
Remind yourself of the diversity of beauty that exists in this world. And cut out all the stuff that makes you feel like shit.
“Do what you can to let your body perform for you — dance, hike, climb, shake, stretch, explore,” O’Reilly says.
Sure, physical activity encourages your brain to release feel-good endorphins — and it can make you feel more in control of how you look. But the point of this exercise isn’t to change your appearance. It’s to remind yourself of all the beautiful things your body can do.
“Developing a healthy relationship with your body doesn’t mean that you have to idealize every square inch 24/7,” O’Reilly says. “Positive body image involves seeing your own value and learning to appreciate your body for its many functions.”
Take a moment to celebrate your body’s many abilities and to consider what those many abilities enable you to do each day.
While you’re Kondo-ing your Instagram and filling it with a diverse range of bodies that make you smile, take a moment to celebrate your own body, too. Strip down. Prance around the house. Admire yourself in the mirror. Remind yourself what you look like.
“Real-life nudity may help us to appreciate the diversity of human beauty,” O’Reilly says. So consider this your excuse to spend a day sans clothing. (And to book a trip to that nudist colony you’ve always joked about visiting.)
Make your bed the comfiest place in your house.
“Make your bed inviting,” Scott-Hudson suggests. “Put on some fresh, clean sheets.” Doing so will allow you to indulge in one of the most delightful tactile, embodied experiences there is: climbing into a bed full of luxurious, crisp sheets.
It may also offer you some respite from your concerns. If you’re worried about your ability to feel sexy or get in the mood, fresh sheets can serve as a clean slate. They can help you refocus on the things you love about your bedroom, rather than the things that are stressing you out about it.
Watch sexy movies. Listen to sexy music. Engage with sexy everything.
Put on the sexiest movie you’ve ever watched. Listen to the songs you can’t help but shake your ass to. Revisit that undeniably hot scene in your favorite book — and then reread it again. Look up one of those lists of the hottest sex scenes on Netflix, and watch every single one.
Invite yourself to “daydream, fantasize, and imagine scenarios that make you feel good,” Scott-Hudson says. “Then, focus inward.” Feel the things you’re feeling, and enjoy being in the moment.
And if you want to keep going after that, find another list of the hottest sex scenes on Netflix, and cycle through that one, too.
Keep the body-based complaints to a minimum.
“Stop complaining about your body,” O’Reilly says. “Try it for one day, one week and then one month. It’s a life-changer.”
O’Reilly’s challenge doesn’t just apply to words — it applies to thoughts, too. “If and when the negative thoughts enter your mind, try visualizing them floating away on a leaf or being locked away in a cabinet,” she suggests.
And if you don’t manage to stick to the challenge exactly, don’t sweat it. “Don’t be hard on yourself, but try to offset each negative thought or statement with a positive or neutral one,” she says. “It’s worth the effort.”
Tell your partner exactly what you want.
If you’re in a relationship, it may make sense to discuss your feelings with your partner. If performance pressure is keeping you down, talk to them about it. If you’re harboring resentment over something that’s happened, work through it. If the sex has been a little lackluster, talk to them about what you want.
“Ask for what you want and need. Show them what you would like,” Scott-Hudson says. “Let them know what helps you feel safe and embodied. Let them know what helps you feel sexy and alive.”
“Be clear about what they can say and do to make you feel good about your body,” O’Reilly adds. “What words and phrases make you feel confident? Are there any words that make you feel uncomfortable? Show they where and how you like to be touched.”
And if there’s an area you’re particularly uncomfortable with, try turning down the lights and inviting your partner to caress it for non-sexual pleasure, O’Reilly recommends. “You might slowly recondition yourself to associate it with positive sensations,” she says.
Start a gratitude journal.
Buy a journal, and fill it with all the things you’re grateful for. You can keep it body-centric, and use it as a celebration of life’s many beautiful, embodied experiences. “Notice how good the crisp air feels on your skin after the rain,” Scott-Hudson says. “Notice how delicious the bite of pie felt as you shared it, laughing together with your good friends after dinner.”
But it’s just as useful if you keep things general, O’Reilly says. “Keeping a list of the people, experiences and things for which you are grateful is great way to help generate positive affirmations about yourself and others,” she says. “Broad-based self confidence is essential to positive body image, as the way you feel about yourself as a whole person is intrinsically related to how you feel about your body.”
Get a good night’s sleep.
If you’re feeling tired, exhausted, stressed out, or overcommitted, give yourself a break. Carve out eight or more hours to get a solid, uninterrupted night’s sleep, and maybe snag a few more hours for a nap here and there.
“A good night’s rest can be good for your health, memory, cognitive functioning and your relationship,” O’Reilly says. Feeling better really could be that simple.
Because of course we’re encouraging you to embrace self-love in its most literal form by masturbating. “Self-pleasure and self-esteem are positively correlated,” O’Reilly says. “So reach down there and soothe yourself into a frenzy of warm, fuzzy feelings.”
Remember, keeping the focus on the things your body can do invites you to view it through a more favorable lens. “When your body performs for you — whether through daily tasks, sports, or sexual pleasure — you tend to feel better about its appearance and function,” O’Reilly notes.
Change up your routine.
Think about your daily routine — are there are aspects of it that might be contributing to how you currently feel? Are you cultivating non-erotic habits in the bedroom, for instance? “If you tend to distract yourself in bed by watching shows or scrolling through social media, this techno-ference can dampen your desire for sex,” O’Reilly says.
Or maybe you’ve gotten situated in a sexual routine, whether on your own or with a partner. “Your brain is wired to respond with excitement to change,” O’Reilly says, so familiarity and boredom often commingle. Put simply, it’s time to switch things up. Vary the way you touch yourself or your partner. Change the way you initiate sex. “Other small changes might relate to timing, location, positions, outfits, props, toys, pet-names, eye contact or language,” O’Reilly says.
And, she notes, many of these changes may take place outside the bedroom. “Non-sexual interactions can have a considerable impact on intimate connections,” O’Reilly says. “As you make tiny alterations to your daily interactions, the anticipation of the unknown will not only build sexual tension, but will encourage you both to uncover new elements of your sexual [identity or] identities worth exploring.”
Give yourself permission to disconnect.
“When you’re stressed…you may find that your body responds with the fight-or-flight response,” O’Reilly says. “This response can interfere with sexual desire.” So cut yourself some slack. If you don’t have the energy to do anything, invite yourself to do nothing. Give yourself a break. Order pizza. Watch movies all night. Be the rebel you never let yourself be.
“You had a long day, and you just want to put on your comfiest sweatpants and devour some] some Ben and Jerry’s?” Scott-Hudson says. Do it. “Zoning out can help you get some distance on your terrible day,” she adds.
And remember, you’re not the only one experiencing this.
“You are not alone,” Scott-Hudson says. Our relationships with our bodies are complicated, and there’s no shame in that. “[Remember], you don’t have to learn to love everything,” O’Reilly says. “So give yourself permission to feel what you feel without shame or apology.”
“[Ask yourself], what does your body need?” Scott-Hudson says. And ask yourself what you need, too. What would feel best to you right now? What do you want most? Chase those things. You deserve them.
A version of this story was published December 2019.
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