Sunday, July 21

Ashe about your health: Linking sex and self-image

Psychologist from UCLA CAPS addresses the link between self-image and a healthy sex life

From time to time, Dr. David Baron, executive director at the Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center, will ask other health experts at the Ashe Center to host the column and answer student questions.

Let’s talk about sex. Sex can feel great and sex can feel awful, both physically and emotionally. Sex can impact how we feel about ourselves. Sex under the right circumstances can make us feel secure, happy and connected. Sex under the wrong circumstances can make us doubt ourselves, feel isolated and lonely.

Here are some ways to ensure that you feel good about sex both physically and emotionally.

Make sure you feel good about you. Take some time to understand yourself and what needs your sexual relationship or sex life is serving. All of us have emotional and intimacy needs that are normal and healthy, and sex can be a key part of meeting these needs. However, if you are using sex to escape, distract, cope with or avoid other parts of your life, this can be problematic and can put you at risk for problems – like sexually transmitted infections, abusive relationships and feelings of shame and doubt. Take a moment to consider, “What need am I trying to meet and what am I trying to feel?” Then ask yourself whether sex is the best way to meet this need.

Make sure you are having sex for the right reason – because you want to. Learn to express your needs and set boundaries. Make sure you are having sex in ways that are not just physically safe, but also emotionally safe for you. If you feel coerced or emotionally or physically forced to engage in sex, this is a sign that you may be in an abusive relationship. This has serious emotional consequences including feeling numb, angry, sad, ashamed, depressed or very anxious. You are likely to begin to feel very bad about yourself and stop trusting others. If you feel any of these feelings, it is important to get help as soon as possible.

Accept who you are. Understanding and asserting sexual desires can be especially hard when you are struggling with your sexual orientation or identity. If you are struggling with this aspect of your identity, you are not alone and it is okay to talk about it with someone safe. All parts of our identities develop over time and this includes sexual identities, orientations and desires. Becoming comfortable with you is a key aspect to a satisfying sexual life.

Finally, address past traumas. Coping with past sexual traumas is a major concern when learning to have an emotionally healthy sex life.

Sexual trauma or abuse affects about one in four women and about one in six men. It is hard to have a healthy relationship with sex when you have a history of sexual trauma. Seek help when you can because you can heal. Many people are able to recover from sexual trauma and go on to lead healthy sex lives.

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is a great place to start. To address any or all of these concerns, please contact CAPS at (310) 825-0768.

Nicole Green holds a doctorate in counseling psychology. She is the director of Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE) and Prevention Programs at CAPS.

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