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‘I feel like I have to lose weight before having sex with my boyfriend’

Ask Roe: A woman wonders whether it's ok to make her boyfriend wait until she's comfortable

Thanks to the oppressive, inescapable force of patriarchal beauty standards, most women, at some stage, have wanted to be skinnier or prettier or younger.

Dear Roe, I’m a 23-year-old woman and my boyfriend is 25. I’ve never had a serious relationship before, though he’s had a couple of girls who were drop-dead gorgeous. I put on a lot of weight a couple of years ago, and since we got together I’ve felt even more self-conscious about it, especially because my boyfriend is really good-looking. I don’t want to have sex until I’ve lost some weight, but we’ve been together three months now and I know he’s getting impatient. I don’t want to annoy him, but is it okay for me to ask him to wait until I’m more comfortable?

Is it okay to ask your boyfriend to wait until you’re comfortable for sex? Yes.

Do I think your boyfriend wanting to have sex is the issue here? No.

Thanks to the oppressive, inescapable force of patriarchal beauty standards, most women, at some stage, have wanted to be skinnier or prettier or younger.

But there’s a huge difference between want and need. You don’t just want to change your body, you feel like you need to change your body in order to have sex – and through sex, a more fulfilling, honest and intimate relationship. But your body isn’t the problem. The problem is that you’re centering all your self-worth in your weight, believing that you don’t deserve affection, pleasure or acceptance until your body is smaller. And that’s simply not true. You deserve it all. Because we all do.

Your boyfriend knows that already. He may have dated women who you think were drop-dead gorgeous, but he obviously thinks you are, too. He’s with you though you’re not having sex, so he obviously values your mind and humour and kindness and the myriad other things that make you wonderful. Don’t undermine him by thinking that he only values women for their thigh-gap.

If you don’t fully believe me, reverse the scenario. Do you believe your boyfriend “needs” to change something about his body in order for you to be willing to have sex with him? Is there something about his body that would make you demand that he change his physical appearance to fit your standard of attractiveness, or else you would leave him?

Scared

I doubt it. You’re just scared. Both the physical intimacy of sex and the emotional intimacy of a relationship requires vulnerability; it requires that we reveal ourselves to a partner and ask them to accept and appreciate who we are, right now. But you can’t do that unless you can accept and appreciate yourself.

So you have to realise that losing weight will only make your body smaller, and keep your self-worth dependent and unstable, whereas losing your shame around your body will make your life more free. You have to work on loving what your body lets you do – which is everything. That body you’re so ashamed of lets you move, lets you feel, lets you touch, lets you be touched, lets you reach towards people and experiences and beauty and sex and affection. It lets you reach towards your life. So let it.

Work on your self-esteem, so that you can inhabit your body and enact your deepest desires. Work on being kinder to yourself, and braver, so that you can claim the life and love you deserve.

  • If you have a question for Roe, email magazine@irishtimes.com with “Dear Roe” in the subject line. Names will not be published.