Thursday, February 14, 2008

Obesity and Sex

In this article, I'd like to share some thoughts on the subject of obesity and sex.

I think we have all posted on the subject of how men see women, and how unimportant the fat that terrorizes their wives is to them. It is an ancient piece of neurological circuitry which ensures that men -- though obviously there will be the odd, nasty exception, but this is deliberate nastiness -- don't see the bulges that worry us women. It's a biological aspect, and it's true to say that men are rendered blind.

But the matter does stoke up a lot of misery between a couple because so many women assume their men are lying to be kind, and obviously this only causes more tension. I know someone posted the suggestion recently that a woman gives her husband a pen and pad, with an assurance of no comeback on honesty, and gets the guy to draw you as he sees you. He needn't be an artist -- a rough sketch is quite enough to illustrate that men genuinely see their wives as smaller than the wives see themselves.

The snag is that if a woman hasn't a lot of confidence about her body, has a leaky self-esteem, and is inhibited by the fears that arise from the negative thinking and self talk, then she won't believe the result to be accurate, and she'll not think the posts Helsinki made are true either. Men don't see, and it's not a priority item in the male brain anyway. It's wired differently to the female in this area of concern.

The problem starts to dissolve as you come to accept your body warts and all and relax about it. This is one of the objectives of the mirror exercise. Accept the reality, as is, and then you are in a position to change in, and with a more forward pointing mindset.

There is a clinical psychologist, and this guy encountered a quite unusual approach for advice. Both this and his response were so useful that Helsinki decided that extracts would potentially be useful as a post here, because it hits the button on aspects of what we have been saying on a more general basis and deals with sexual relations between husband and wife, and the way fat intrudes.

The question was put to the psychologist in a group setting and the transcript of this section reads, "Here is the problem. Our spouses won't have sex with us. Oh, maybe once or twice every six months, but certainly not more frequently than that. Most of the time they are not interested. They have a million excuses, but one cannot have sex with an excuse. We don't know what to do and we have tried everything.

"Now, we know that you would probably tell us to communicate and to try and understand their problems. Well, we have tried that one and get the same answers. They think WE are the problem. They believe that we are not attracted to them. They think we hate making love with them because they are overweight. Doc, this is just not true. We don't really care that they are overweight when it comes to making love. Their weight is not a problem in the sex department for us. We would make love regularly, fat or not, if they were willing.

"We love our spouses. We care about them, and we would like to make good love with them on a regular basis. They are unable to believe us. They don't trust us. What can we do about this?"

And from the transcript, here is the psychologist's response: "The sad fact is that many overweight people hate their bodies. There are some pretty self-destructive thoughts about appearance. People tend to look in a mirror and start at the top and criticize everything seen, hair, eyes, cheeks, lips, neck, chest, stomach and so on until they feel sick, and need to eat something.

"They get so convinced that they are unattractive or even ugly that they believe that every single person who meets them thinks the same thing. Spouses are the only people who know how their partners really look. They see them at home, sloppy and naked, without clothing as protection. They see them exposed and vulnerable. They hear them when they have difficulty breathing after a short walk.

"They know that their spouses see them, and they think that they see them through their own eyes, their own very critical eyes. In the 'business' we call this projection. It happens without conscious awareness and it seems very real. It can cause major problems in a relationship, as you are currently aware.

Here are some suggestions that can be printed out, given to your spouses as a reaction from a psychologist and discussed.

  • Tell your spouse that you do not see him or her as they see themselves. You do not hate their bodies.

  • Tell your spouse that you are sexually attracted to him or her... whether they like it or not.

  • Listen compassionately to your spouse's response to these two points. Listen and do not get angry or argue. This is a tender subject for them.

  • Do some soul searching and see if you make negative comments about your spouse's body at any time. Be tough on yourself. Chances are that you do it at least some of the time. STOP IT! Your spouse is hypersensitive about physical criticism and will not forget even the slightest negative remark that you make.

  • Go out of your way to mention things that are positive about your spouses body. And do this daily so you make it a habit.

  • Try following these suggestions for a month and discover how it goes."

This psychologist's approach probably differs in some minor aspects from other approaches, but this isn't a hazard. It opens up the area for discussion, particularly if this applies in your life, and you use it to re-orientate your thinking. The irony is for many women that this is one occasion where the men are right, and they are being genuinely honest.

from The Rea Centre Collection: A Work in Progress edited by Chet Day