Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
If you’ve ever struggled to orgasm, you’re not alone. Despite being a natural part of sexual health and wellness, only 10 percent of women easily climax from vaginal sex, according to research from the Cleveland Clinic, and almost half of all women report regular orgasmic difficulty. An inability to reach the big O impacts more than just sexual pleasure—orgasms offer many benefits, including relieving stress, increasing happiness levels, and improving immunity.
A number of factors can affect a woman’s ability to orgasm, including medication, hormonal deficiency, medical issues, sleeping programs, and partner issues. But there’s something else that can play a substantial role in a women’s ability to orgasm—body image.
A 2020 study conducted by researchers at Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary and Valparaiso University in Indiana found that women who self-reported higher levels of dissatisfaction in their body image were more likely to have difficulty orgasming. (As if you needed another reason to put that body-shaming self-talk to bed—for good.)
Can’t orgasm? Here’s how body image plays a role
This study surveyed 257 women on their body image and sex life. Researchers asked the women to rate their body image satisfaction through a four-item questionnaire. Participants were also asked to respond to 13 questions from the Female Sexual Function Index, a questionnaire designed to assess sexual function. Using this data, researchers looked for patterns between the two.
Unsurprisingly, the researchers found that women with low body image had more difficulty achieving orgasm during partnered sex. But they also had more difficulty climaxing during masturbation, as well, proving that body image concerns are deeply engrained—and go well beyond worries about how others view your body.
The link between body image and sex is well established. A 2010 study found that concerns about weight, physical condition, and sexual attractiveness negatively impacted women’s overall sexual satisfaction. Women with lower self-esteem are also less likely to initiate sex with their partner.
These findings make sense—the better your feel about yourself and your body, the more likely you are to seek out and enjoy intimate connections. And without that loop of negative self-talk playing in your head, the more pleasurable your sexual encounters may be.
4 ways to build a positive body image—and have better orgasms
There’s no quick or easy fix for improving one’s body image. It takes time, energy, and a lot of internal work. However, if you want to cultivate a positive body image, these strategies can help:
Focus on observing your body—instead of judging it
Instead of engaging in the typical cycle of self-criticism, Jennifer Kreatsoulas, a yoga therapist, recommends maintaining an observational perspective on and off your mat. To practice this concept, she advises practicing one of your go-to poses. While in the pose, she says to take note of your senses and feelings. By simply observing your body in this state, you’ll work toward appreciating your body—rather than judging it.
Use a self-affirming mantra
Whether you say affirming statements to yourself in the mirror or during your practice, take the time to tap into yourself. Kreatsoulas recommends this practice for those times when you find yourself comparing your body to others. Some options? “I am enough.” “I am strong.” However, it’s not enough to just say it. Focus on the words themselves—and let them sink in.
Examine your relationship with social media
It’s no surprise that scrolling through posts of others makes you more critical of yourself—and your body. Instead of spending hours online, opt to set limits for yourself on the time you spend on social media, Kreatsoulas says. And remember: You have control of what you’re consuming in your feed. The unfollow and mute buttons are there for a reason—use them on any accounts that are particularly triggering.
Engage in movement
Your yoga practice does more than calm you down and tone your body. A regular exercise routine has been proven to help bolster self esteem. A 2017 scientific study found engaging in just 30 minutes of regular movement has a positive impact on body image. (Plus, yoga itself can improve sexual function in women.)
So, are you ready to leave that negative self-talk behind? If you’re looking to reconnect with your sexuality, this sexual meditation app may be a great place to start.