Q: My husband is a naked kind of guy. I’d rather have the lights out and make love under cover. How can I get comfortable in my own skin?
A: You are not the first woman to confess that she can barely bare it all. We actually live in a fairly frigid culture, and I am not referring to the winters in Iqaluit. Despite the popularly bandied belief that sexualized media and prolific pornography indicate an ease with all things sexual, at heart North America is still more Victorian than Victoria Secret. Sure, fashions and attitudes have changed dramatically; our great grandmothers would have been scandalized if a sister flashed too much ankle, and now our daughters flaunt cleavage, belly-button jewelry, and visible underwear everywhere. However, rapid social change is an external phenomenon. Internally and psychologically, many women have not kept pace. After all, for our generation “thongs” were rubber sandals. We may wish to feel comfortable flaunting our erotic selves, but we still carry some of the old embarrassment in our DNA. In other words, even liberated women can feel pretty uptight.
As a psychologist and sex therapist, I have worked with many women (and men) in your position. They attempt to convince themselves that sex under cover is fine. Here’s the advice I share. Learning to feel good in your skin is important, and you should work at it. At a deep level, discomfort with being seen naked often reflects self doubt and poor body image that translate to a lack of sexual openness. If you learn to relax in the buff it will boost your self-esteem and make you a more confident lover (you will enjoy sex more when you are not worrying about your cellulite). That’s the naked truth.
Remember, being nude is natural. Any toddler will remind you that bare is best by whipping off their diaper the moment you turn your back. To help you recover that unabashed ease with your body, change into a flowing hippie-dress after work and shed the bra and panties, allowing the sensation of fabric on your body to help you feel less constrained and more sensual. The more we avoid something, the more anxious we can become, so practice being naked more often. Walk to and from the shower without a towel. Sleep in the nude. When you are home alone, wander the house without clothes.
I remember visiting a beach in Nice, France, when I was 22. As I mingled with the topless women, my own discomfort evaporated. I watched half-naked moms with their children, friends, and even co-workers. No-one seemed uptight about the bare skin. Simply hanging out with women who are letting it all hang out will help you relax naked. If a trip to a European beach is not in the budget, try a day at a Korean spa (where women without clothes soak in hot pools and receive body scrubs). Heck, the change room at your local pool will do!
As your next stripped-down exercise, stand in front of a full-length mirror completely naked – no accessories, jewelry, or makeup. Slowly look at every part of your body, starting with your feet and moving to the top of your head. Guard against negative thoughts. Don’t criticize, judge, compare or fix. If this is difficult for you, great. It means you have room to improve. Do this every day for a month, increasing the length of time in front of the mirror. This exercise can be challenging, but it is psychologically liberating if you stick with it. Gradually you will develop more ease with your naked body. This ease will translate to more confident, fun lovemaking when you are sharing skin with your sweetie.