Monday, October 15, 2012

Accept and Embrace Your Body For Better Sex

Jeannine Gailey says fat women reported better sexual experiences after embodying the ideals of fat acceptance, a social movement dedicated to ending size discrimination and embracing all bodies.

Some women Gailey surveyed reported being sexually used, fetishized as objects or disrespected by men who, for example, refused to use condoms. But contrary to the stereotype that all fat women are either nonsexual or sexually desperate, most reported having satisfying sexual relationships.

For decades, self-identified fat activists have pushed back against a society that sees them as inherently undesirable and unhealthy, rejecting beauty standards they say are harmful to all women, even skinny ones.

"Even women who are read socially as thin are afraid of becoming fat, or believe that they are fat, or believe they have some kind of fat deposit that is going to become exposed during sex or something like that," said Virgie Tovar, fat activist and editor of the fat-positive anthology "Hot and Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion," available online now and in bookstores on Nov. 1.
What activists call "fatphobia" affects people of all sizes and social positions, as Gaga's confession shows. But fat women bear the brunt of the stigma, and that stigma can profoundly impact their sex lives, Tovar said.

"There is no way to overstate how important fatphobia is in terms of women having a positive sex life," Tovar said.

Tovar added that in her own case, the physical sensation of sex improved dramatically after she began to embrace her body, allowing her to become more present in the moment. "Fatphobia can take up 99 percent of your brain power. When you can turn down the noise, you can hear all the things that you actually want."

Gailey conducted phone interviews with a self-selected group of 36 North American women who were involved to some degree with size acceptance organizations. Of the 36 women, 34 reported "a life of ridicule, body shame and numerous attempts to lose weight" that negatively impacted their sex lives and relationships. Three identified themselves as African American, the remaining 33 as white. They ranged in weight from 215 to 500 pounds.

Most of the women in Gailey's study reported a positive shift after embodying fat pride; 26 of the women, or 72 percent, said they felt less shame, were more self-confident and had better sexual experiences.

In addition, Gailey interviewed two fat-identified women who, against the odds, reported always having had a positive body image and positive sex lives. One woman reported an extremely negative view of her body, but a highly gratifying sex life.

In many cases, fat acceptance helped women gain the confidence to ditch abusive partners. For example, a 26-year-old participant with the pseudonym "Rachel" described her initial acceptance of a partner whom she says didn't respect her and refused to use condoms:

"It first started like, OK I can deal with that, and then as I started getting a little more confident, I was like well, no, why should I deal with that?"

Gailey suggests that her work seems to extend far beyond the three dozen women she surveyed. In a society where all women are taught to fixate on their bodies, Gailey notes fat women may be making political strides simply by accepting themselves for who they are. In a sense, they may be doing all women a favor.

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