Sexual Self-Worth is About More Than Just Sex. Here’s Why

woman standing alone on deck by lake

The following is intended for readers 18+

We’ve all been there — finally connecting with a person we pined after for months — feeling the exhilaration, the desire, the ravaging. Regardless of the quality of the sex itself, in that moment we feel wanted, desired, and sought after.  But then what?

What happens when they ghost you, or communicate that it’s not the best fit? What if, after you date long term, they desire sex less often?

Our culture feeds us limited ideas about sexual self-worth, often including some sort of objective concept of sex appeal, beauty, attractiveness. There’s the allure of the chase. Yet when sexual advances stop, we perceive it as a reflection of our lack of these traits, low self-worth, desirability, or skills.

This is a common pitfall in relationships: gleaning our sense of sexual self-worth from those indications of others desire for us. If only the person I have a crush on texts me a compliment on the sexy picture I sent, or my partner seeks to have sex with me, then I should feel wanted and valuable. This pattern sets us up for incredible pain when others don’t meet our expectations or hopes. Particularly relative to sex and desire, our inability to control or predict our partner/ lover/ crush’s availability or desire can create distress and negative self-reflections. Am I not attractive enough? Are they currently having sex or pursuing someone else? Am I bad at sex?

The answer to all these questions is no, in part because the reasons someone may not respond in the ways we want may have nothing to do with us. They may be busy, interested in other people, struggling with their own desirability or mental illness, or dealing with past relationship wounds. While we would all prefer clear communication about these reasons, a partner may not be ready to explain.

Feeling out of control is one of the most anxiety-provoking emotions to process, and one which can snowball into a vicious downward spiral of self-criticism, blame, and hate. Yet inherent in engaging in interpersonal relationships is the uncertainty of personal choice, the object of our desire’s right to decide what they want, when and how.

Disconnecting our self-worth as a sexual being from other’s validation starts with finding comfort and confidence in our own sexual self.

This may sound strange, but sexuality exists within you, not just when you’re engaging with others in sexual acts. Before we ever encounter another set of genitals we possess our own unique, sexual self, full of potential pleasure and exploration. How comfortable are you with self touch and exploration? What would it be like to find all the ways that you like to be touched and pleased on your own first?

Stomaching this uncertainty starts with disentangling our self-worth from the actions of others in our lives. From there, we can feel more confident from within. Here’s a few strategies to practice, and reminders to keep in mind.

  1. Remember you are your own best lover, partner, and friend — you are the first source of validation that you are desirable, sexy and worthy of love and affection.This is especially important when you’re having difficulty in dating or struggling with loneliness. A lack of a sexual partner is not reflective of your lack of desirability to sexual self-worth. Practice showing yourself that.
  2. When engaging with others, try to seek partners who are eager to explore and grow with you through sexual expression. Find partners who honor and nourish all the parts of you, who dive in with excitement, eager to understand ways to give you pleasure and learn new ways of creating sexual energy. These kinds of partners are supportive of the person you are, encouraging personal independence and sexual play, while valuing the time you can spend together. Sometimes you may need to reinforce these traits in another person through clear boundaries and communication. For example, this can happen through asserting that your pleasure is important and asking for what you want, continuing self-pleasure time, and teaching them ways you like to be touched.
  3. Remember to identify when sex is being used as a tool to control, harm, belittle or subjugate personal self-worth.While not always intentional, sometimes the language around ownership and fidelity in sex can impact personal liberty and self-worth. When we believe our partner “owns” our sex, due in part to agreements related to monogamy, this exacerbates the idea that they are the gatekeepers of our sexual self. At times partners take advantage of this agreement and can use sex as a tool to manipulate or influence your behavior, or request that you make changes such as shaving certain body hair, losing weight, or trying new sexual practices. These changes aren’t necessarily bad, but when sex is contingent on compliance, it’s harder to feel independently worthy and accepted.

Ultimately, you are more than someone’s desire for you, your ability to access sexual expression with a partner, or the role you play as a sexual partner. Partnered sex is a bonus, the frosting on the cake not the essential component of your sexual self-worth. Practice being in the moment and finding glee in physical connection with others, while holding the internal belief that you are always valuable and worthy of pursuit, pleasure, and affection. Because you are.

Published by

Angela Gunn

Talkspace Therapist