How working out naked changed my sex life



Let’s get physical.

Sexercise. Hearing this word my mind instantly goes to Olivia Newton-John’s ‘Physical’ music video and a colourful blend of lycra and terrible fake tan. But this term actually refers to exercise that improves sexual performance and function.

Those devoted to sexercise tend to focus mostly on how specific types of exercise can impact sexual performance. These types can be divided into three categories:

  1. Aerobic exercises (swimming, running, walking): Helps with stamina by boosting overall fitness.
  2. Pelvic floor exercise (kegels): Helps to strengthen the pelvic floor which are the muscles that contract during orgasm.
  3. Strength and flexibility training (yoga and Pilates): Helps to make certain sex positions easier and more comfortable.

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Evidently, sexercise can be highly beneficial when used in this way, however, I wanted to find out about the other advantages of this concept. Namely, can sexercise be used to bolster your body image?

To answer this question, I must first explain how body image and sexual wellbeing are connected through the dual control model of sexual response. The dual control model of sexual response was developed in the 1990s at the Kinsey Institute by Erick Janssen and John Bancroft. As the name implies, the dual control model is made up of two parts: an accelerator and a brake.

The accelerator is known as the sexual excitation system (SES) which examines your context for things that may seem sexually relevant. The brake is known as the sexual inhibition system (SIS) which examines your context for reasons not to be aroused. So, the idea is that to become aroused one needs to take the foot off the brake and instead place it on the accelerator.

While we all have a brake and an accelerator, the degree of sensitivity of each control can vary between persons. For example, if you have a sensitive accelerator but an insensitive break you are likely to readily respond to sexual stimuli (someone’s hand on your thigh) but not to potential threats (when did this person last get checked for STIs?).

Research has shown, however, that no matter how hard you are pressing down on the accelerator, if the brake is on, you’re not going to be getting anywhere anytime soon. So, how does this relate to body image? Well, the more time we spend criticising our bodies means the more stressed we become resulting in that brake pedal being hit hard and fast.

If we can work on reducing critical self-talk about our bodies, it could revolutionise our sexual wellbeing. Understandably, this is easier said than done. Most of us have grown up in a sex-negative world where we’ve had cultural permission to criticise ourselves, yet not to praise ourselves. One way to improve body acceptance is through cognitive dissonance.

This exercise requires you to stand in front of a mirror, naked. It then asks you to study yourself and list ten things you like about yourself. The aim of this intervention is to make us become aware of the good things (because we tend to focus on the ‘negative’ things). By doing this exercise every day the research shows that it will soon become easier to celebrate your body.

Now, the idea of just standing naked in front of a mirror every day wasn’t something I thought I’d be able to add to my daily to-do list. I knew it wouldn’t stick and would end up as one of those self-care things I tried once but inevitably dropped.

So instead, I decided to incorporate it into a current habit: my Pilates routine. I began squatting, thrusting, and crunching naked in front of a mirror. I know, it doesn’t sound like the most flattering environment to be looking at yourself naked. You’re sweaty, red-faced, your heart is pumping, and you’re doing movements that make things jiggle (it sounds like another form of exercise we all know very well).

Nonetheless, as I incorporated this new practice into my Pilates routine it really worked. I began to see my body as more than just an object that I dressed. Watching as my muscles tensed and relaxed with each movement made me appreciate how well this body of mine can work. Seeing how my body fluctuated each day depending on when I ate and if I was on my menstrual cycle allowed me to detach from the pressure I had originally placed on myself to look the same every day.

This translated to my sex life. It enabled me to show up fully in the moment to experience the pleasure of sex, rather than being consumed by thoughts about how I was looking in each specific position. In fact, I even started wanting to have sex in front of a mirror. It was an incredible boost to my self-esteem seeing my partner’s facial expressions in real-time being turned on by me.

Hacking the dual control model of sexual response by reducing critical thoughts about my body through naked Pilates has changed my relationship to sex. While there are of course days when I still nit-pick at my body, this continuous form of self-practice helps me to reset. It reminds me that I deserve to fully experience the pleasure that my body creates, and I believe that you deserve that too.

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