Dive Deeper with Leah
I have been through the fire and come out the other side. Now I’m here to walk with you as you do the same.
I will help you take a stand for yourself, your desires, and YOUR PLEASURE.
A few months back, I was pleased to be a guest on the Life After Diets podcast with Sarah Dosanjh and Stefanie Michele. They have kindly allowed me to share that episode with you – and it’s a great one!
We focus on how body image and sex are related – and will losing weight actually help your confidence?
We also talk about topics including:
Book a call with Leah today! – www.leahcarey.com/discoverycall
Classes – www.leahcarey.com/courses
With the additional surgery, Leah has had to postpone the upcoming classes in the Fall In Love With Your Sex Life series. To get updates when the classes are rescheduled, join the mailing list.
In the meantime, you can get access to the six classes from the series that have already happened.
LEAH: Welcome to Good Girls Talk About Sex. I am sex and intimacy coach, Leah Carey. And this is a place to share conversations with all sorts of women about their experience of sexuality. These are unfiltered conversations between adult women talking about sex. If anything about the previous sentence offends you, turn back now! And if you’re looking for a trigger warning, you’re not going to get it from me. I believe that you are stronger than the trauma you have experienced. I have faith in your ability to deal with things that upset you. Sound good? Let’s start the show!
LEAH: Hey, friends. Today, I’m thrilled to be sharing a conversation I recently had with Stefanie and Sarah on the Life After Diets podcast. Stefanie and I became friends a few years ago when we were both beginning our coaching businesses. She works with people who have experienced disordered eating issues, especially binging and restricting cycles. I have been in awe of her and her work from day one. She’s one of the most authentic people I know and she has helped me radically change how I view diets, body image, and our right to exist in our body without apology.
A year and a half ago, Stefanie teamed up with Sarah, a binge eating therapist to create their fantastic podcast, Life After Diets. Here’s the description of their show. “Many people are waking up to the fact that diets don’t work. But if we’re not dieting, now what? How are we supposed to find balance around food and figure out how to act? Join Sarah and Stefanie, a psychotherapist and a health coach, as they talk about all things related to disordered eating, bad body image, and creating a life that’s free from food and body obsession.”
In April 2023, I appeared on their podcast to talk about body shame, why we think our bodies should look a certain way, and why someone loses interest when their partner gains weight. I especially love the moment when Sarah talks about the lifechanging message she heard from her brother when she was a tween. I’m so pleased to share Life After Diets!
SARAH: Hello. And welcome to the Life After Diets podcast. I’m Sarah Dosanjh, psychotherapist and author of the book, I Can’t Stop Eating.
STEFANIE: And I’m Stefanie Michele, binge recovery health coach. If you feel out of control around food, we get it because we’ve been there.
SARAH: Thank you for joining our conversations about how to make peace with food and feel more comfortable in our bodies.
STEFANIE: Now, onto this week’s episode.
STEFANIE: Hi, listeners. We are talking today to Leah Carey who is a sex and intimacy coach and host of the podcast, Good Girls Talk About Sex. Leah is a friend of mine. I met her, gosh, it was during the pandemic when we were both in a business coaching group together. And a lot of our messages had parallels and we’ve just kept up with each other since. And we wanted to have her on the podcast because we have not yet talked about the intersection of body image and sex and intimacy.
SARAH: This podcast is probably going to be particularly helpful if you feel like your body image holds you back from feeling comfortable around intimacy. We answered some questions from listeners around whether your partner still finds you attractive if you’ve gained weight. We’ve kept it relatively PG, but it’s probably not the best episode if there are little ears around. You might want to put the kids to bed first before you come listen to us talking about nakedness.
STEFANIE: Yeah, for various reasons. Yeah, we hope you enjoy this one. Hi, Leah.
LEAH: I’m so happy to be here with the two of you.
STEFANIE: We’re so happy to have you. This topic is one we haven’t even touched, I don’t think. We have a lot of cross themes among our podcast, but we haven’t really gotten into intimacy and sex and how this all is affected by our bodies and our body image and especially for those of us who are feeling as you might predict insecure about being in ourselves with another human being.
LEAH: It’s a huge issue.
SARAH: Leah, this is something that you talk about in your podcast, which is called Good Girls Talk, right?
LEAH: Good Girls Talk About Sex.
SARAH: Oh, Good Girls Talk About Sex. See, there’s the Freudian slip. Why do you think it’s so hard for us to talk about this subject? That’s a big question.
LEAH: Because it’s so taboo. We are taught from our very youngest days, “You don’t touch that. You don’t talk about that. That’s dirty. That’s nasty.” And those of us who were brought up as little girls have an even bigger well of shame to draw on because once we go through puberty, we’re told you have to dress in a certain way so that you’re attractive but you’re not too attractive. So, you’re sexy but not too sexy. It’s like we get all of these messages that are so deeply confusing.
And I say that and maybe it sounds like people who were brought up as little boys have it easier, they don’t. They get a whole bunch of messages about how you have to know everything without having to ask and nobody gets out of this whole sexual awakening, puberty, any of it unscathed. And plus, there’s all of the religious overtones that come with it. And then, in a moment, you’re supposed to suddenly be this sexually knowledgeable person who can satisfy your partner who knows how to do all of the things and how to be sexy and look sexy and just satisfy them.
And also, if you’re looking for satisfaction yourself which many of us are taught we’re not supposed to even do, but if you are looking for some satisfaction yourself, you’re supposed to know how to create that for yourself because goodness forbid, you should ask your partner to somehow be involved in that. This is really complicated.
This isn’t just I feel bad about myself and so sex is hard or my body doesn’t look right and so sex is uniquely difficult for me. This is culture wide in the same way that dieting messages are culture wide, so are sex-shaming messages. And so, it makes it really difficult to even open the conversation.
On my podcast, I interview women about their sex lives and I would say 90% of the people on my show do it anonymously so that they don’t have to worry about people hearing them talking about sex because that would be so scary.
STEFANIE: Even as you’re talking, I’m thinking about the time when this came up for me which was as an adolescent, probably earlier actually, to be honest. But I’m thinking about the implicit, it wasn’t the messaging that I remember so much as the non-messaging. I don’t remember feeling invited to talk about this. This was really shameful.
So, when I first started to have questions about my body or interest rather in my body and other people’s bodies, the whole landscape of that time was really like, you’re not supposed to. You’re not supposed to. So, I had a lot of shame about my curiosity.
And this is also the time when my body’s changing and, of course, there’s the whole I was getting curves and gaining weight in places where I thought, oh, no. I’m not supposed to be doing that either. But nobody was talking about this and I don’t blame my parents or anything. I don’t think anybody was talking about it.
And so alongside of puberty and curiosity about the body and getting to know your body differently as it’s changing was also this side-by-side message of like, “No, no, no, no, no. Don’t look there. Don’t look there. Don’t look there,” which is so dissociating, right?
So, how do we come to know our bodies and be familiar with our bodies when we’re taught that’s taboo? So, I feel like it further dissociates us from our bodies in a culture where we’re already learning to feel very separate from our body.
LEAH: I could not agree more. What you just described is so common, common to the point that I think it’s unusual to not have that experience really. And here’s something that I find fascinating. So, one of the questions that I ask on my show is, how old were you when you started masturbating or started discovering your body in that way?
And I have to admit this is very gendered because the people who I talk to almost entirely brought up as little girls, I do also interview transgender women, but the vast majority grew up as little girls. So, I think the cultural messaging would tell you that girls don’t explore their bodies until they’re 15, 16, 18, 25, after marriage, maybe never at all. That is very common, this idea that women just don’t know their bodies and that’s part of the problem.
I can tell you, I haven’t run the numbers lately, but I can tell you that based on the people who have been on my show, the number of people who were masturbating by the age of 5 is something like 20%. The number of people who are masturbating by age 10 is something like 50%.
Little girls are exploring their bodies and getting so many messages about how not okay that is, that there is this huge sense of dissociation, both from your physical body and also your desire and how okay it is for you to have desire. And then, we end up with this idea that women don’t like sex or women don’t want sex. Absolutely not true. But we’ve been told we’re not supposed to want sex. And so, we distance ourselves from our desires believing that they’re not okay.
STEFANIE: Kind of like food too.
LEAH: Very similar.
STEFANIE: We’re not supposed too there as well.
LEAH: Yeah, which, Stefanie, I think is why you and I, there’s so much crossover in the messaging that you and I have really understood each other from day one that we met each other. Yeah.
SARAH: I’m thinking particularly with our listenership and around body image. This is what I hear the most. When you see yourself and your body as so unacceptable and so not being the way that it’s supposed to be, I cannot imagine how anybody else could ever possibly desire your body because you know how you feel about your body. So, you can’t imagine anybody else would feel differently about your body. That I think is where I find people getting really stuck like the worst body images to just assuming that other people or the other person is thinking what you’re thinking.
LEAH: Yes. Absolutely true. We can’t get out of our own heads. We can’t see things from any perspective but our own because ours is the only head we live inside. But there’s something even more which is that media landscape.
I joke that women’s bodies are used to sell everything from cars to cheeseburgers. And sometimes, cheeseburgers on top of cars. We use the female form in a very particular female form that has big boobs, teeny tiny waist, a bit of hips, long hair often, often blonde, almost always white, flat stomach. There’s a very particular avatar, if you want to use that word, of what the acceptable body is.
And so, not only do women believe they have to have that body in order to be acceptable because that is until very recently the only body we’ve ever seen, but men believe that that is the only body that they’re allowed to be attracted to. I get men in my DMs with some frequency saying, “Is there something wrong with me? I’m attracted to curvy women. Does that make me somehow wrong or bad?” Because they’ve gotten the message that they’re not supposed to want, that it’s somehow shameful or wrong to want women in larger bodies.
Again, this is a very heterocentric way of looking at this, but the same is true in all gender dynamics that people have been told they’re only supposed to want one body when in fact not only does the human body come in this vast array of sizes and shapes, but our desire for bodies comes in a vast array of sizes and shapes.
And we can go into the story of how I can make this guarantee if you want, I can guarantee you that there are people who want to love you in exactly the body you’re in today, not 10 pounds form now, not 50 pounds from now, not a facelift from now, exactly the body you’re in today. And here’s how I can make that promise.
STEFANIE: I was going to say, how do you know? How do you make such a claim?
LEAH: This is my favorite story. So, okay, I grew up in a home where there were a lot of abusive messages and my response to that was pretty much to shut my sexuality down entirely. So, I only came into my sexual awakening in my early 40s. So, let me also just say, it’s never too late no matter when you’re listening to this, it’s still possible.
So, in my early 40s, I gave myself the permission to go do all of the wild things that I had never allowed myself to do. And I’m in the midst of writing my memoir about this year of sexual journey and sexual healing. But the specific story happens about six or seven months into my year of sexual healing, I booked a trip to go to a sex resort in Jamaica. Yes, I did all of the things.
SARAH: What is a sex resort?
LEAH: Excellent question.
LEAH: So, it’s called Hedonism 2. And it is an all-inclusive resort in Jamaica. It’s basically a swingers’ resort for people who are familiar with that term where people go specifically to have sexual adventures to swap partners, to meet people, and have random sex with random strangers. So, it is specifically a place that people go to to be in a very open sexual environment. Not everyone there is swapping partners or having these crazy adventures.
But when I got there, I very quickly was like these are not my people and this is not my comfort zone. Even now, swingers’ places, not my comfort zone. I’m much more comfortable having connection with people before I take my clothes off with them. But this is a space where literally there are people on the beach having sex or there are people in a hot tub having sex or people in the pool having sex. It’s all around.
STEFANIE: So, it’s pretty open.
LEAH: It’s very, very open. Now, you would expect that the people who go to this resort all have that perfect body, right? They all look like models because the vast majority of the resort is nude. You have to have clothes on to go into the dining area, but basically everything else, people walk around naked.
So, you would think that only people with perfect bodies go. It’s absolutely not the case. I saw people in every body from able to visibly count ribs to infinifat bodies, literally every body was represented at that resort. And I can tell you that every single one of them had somebody looking at them with desire, every single one of them. This is how I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there’s somebody that wants to love you in the body you’re in today.
Now, my challenge going there because I walked in and I was like this is a not place where I want to be having sex, but I’m committed to spending five days here. So, I challenged myself to go to the nude side of the beach and sit in a hammock and I took my books with me. I had a very hermitic experience given that I was in a sex resort, but I laid on the beach in my hammock for five days reading naked. For somebody who had a really terrible body image, I would have told you the words that I used about myself were that I was fat and disgusting and looked like an elephant. I am in a perfectly average size 14 body. But that was the messaging that I had heard and I had accepted.
And I thought if I let myself sit nude on this beach, people are going to tell me to go inside and put my clothes back. Nobody wants to see that. What I actually experienced was people looking at me with desire. People were looking at me with heat in their eyes. And I watched all of the other female bodies go by because they’re the ones that I’m comparing myself to and realizing that not a single one of them had that perfect cheeseburger laying on the hood of a car body that I expected they would all have. People live in real bodies. And we have sex in real bodies and people want us in our real bodies. Does that make sense?
SARAH: I have a much tamer example to maybe also add a bit of fuel to this truth, let’s call it that.
LEAH: Okay, go.
SARAH: When I was a teenager, I’ve got a brother who is 2 years older than me. I think I would’ve been 13 and he would’ve been 15. And I think his comment came from his frustration at some of the insecurities of teenage girls. Because I remember him saying to me, he said to me, “What girls don’t seem to realize is that guys have a much wider range of what they find attractive than they’re realizing.”
And I remember when he said that because up until that point and I’m really glad I got that message quite young, I had a really narrow, narrow view of what was attractive and then everybody else was just making do of whatever it was the messaging was back then. But hearing that from my brother, I could trust he was saying that because that was just his absolute truth of what he was believing. He had no reason to say that.
LEAH: And he wasn’t trying to get in your pants, which makes it so much more.
SARAH: Exactly. That’s what I was trying to say. It wasn’t some guy going, “Sarah, I have a wide taste.”
STEFANIE: That’s a whole other podcast.
STEFANIE: That reminds of the conversation I had with you, Leah, one time when I first met you where I had reflected that my husband, Mike, had told me that he was attracted to me and I don’t have a cheeseburger on the hood of a car body and I could not believe him. And in fact, every time he told me anything complimentary or even neutral, if he just wanted to see me, I would hide myself in front of him with a towel. And he’d be like, “You don’t have to do that.” And I would say like, “Stop trying.” I was convinced he was just saying it for my benefit. “You don’t have to lie. Stop saying things that aren’t true.” And I remember he got mad. He got upset like, “Stop telling me what I think.”
And I remember having a conversation with you around this time or a little bit later and you saying something like, “That’s a trust issue. You may have an opinion about your body, but you can’t tell someone else what they think about you or that you don’t trust what they’re saying.”
And I just wanted you to speak to that for a second because we do have questions from listeners and from our community members who mostly center around being in a monogamous heterosexual relationship and feeling like they can’t believe in the desire coming from their partner and also what if their partner is not actually into there? So, before we got into that, I just wanted you to speak to that trust element.
LEAH: Yeah. So, since you just named that the questions are primarily from monogamous heterosexual couples, I’m going to just say right now we’re going to use very heterosexual language from here on out. And everything that we talk about is going to also be true across every gender spectrum across every relationship type. This is a way to make the conversation a little less cumbersome but no less inclusive.
Thank you for bringing that up, Stefanie, because it’s such a huge issue that we desperately want, many of us desperately want that validation from our partners. And yet when it comes, we can’t believe it because the voice in our brain is saying, “I know that I’m unacceptable. And if they can’t see that I’m unacceptable, then there must be something wrong with them, so how could I believe anything that they say?”
And I think a lot of the messaging that we get is you need to stand in front of the mirror and stand naked in front of the mirror for 10 minutes a day and tell yourself how much you love yourself. And I’m going to call BS on that because it doesn’t help. Your brain is smarter than that. Your brain knows when it’s being lied to. And regardless of the truth whether you’re acceptable or whether you believe you’re lovable or any of that, your brain knows that you don’t believe that. And so, it’s going to put the brakes on even harder.
For those of who grew up in a way where we didn’t get the kind of validation that we needed in order to have a healthy self-image, there is no voice in our heads that’s saying, “Actually, you’re okay.”
So, to use myself as an example, I grew up with a father who as I’ve started going through puberty told me that Iwas getting fat, that I was unattractive, and that nobody would ever love me. I had no voice in my head that I could fall back onto and say, “I feel badly about myself, but at least there’s somebody else who’s willing to tell me that I’m okay.” And that’s the voice that I can pull up when I look in the mirror. No. When I look in the mirror, all I see is fat and ugly because that’s all I’ve ever been told I am. And so, me trying to convince myself that that’s not true is ridiculous.
What it took for me is I, just like you, Stefanie, could not believe people when they told me I was attractive. I just assumed that they were crazy. And usually, I ran away from them because I thought, who would I want to be with somebody who’s obviously crazy? What it took was a slight mind change for me, which was there’s no way that I can believe that they are telling the truth, that I am going to be willing to believe that they believe it’s the truth. I am going to be willing to believe that they don’t think they’re lying to me. That was the shift that I needed to make to get to a place where I could hear people’s appreciation and admiration and not outright rejected.
I am six or seven years into this journey now and I have had lots of experiences with lots of people. As regularly as possible, I put myself into nude spaces because that’s really good for my body image to be able to see my nude body in a room with all these other nude bodies and remember I’m okay. There’s nothing actually wrong with me. This is all cultural messaging. I fit in here. Nobody’s telling me to put my clothes on. I’ve had lots of positive reinforcement over these last six to seven years. I still don’t look at my body and feel okay about it. But I’m willing to believe that other people are not lying to me.
STEFANIE: I love that. I want to go to a nude beach. No, I don’t. Actually, I don’t.
LEAH: Yeah, you do.
LEAH: I know. It’s a thing that most people are not going to do, but there are ways to start to make that little shift. And, Stefanie, because I happen to be intimately familiar with your Instagram, I’m going to reference it. You post pictures pretty much every day of what we would say are non-normative bodies or what a ridiculous thing to say but of people in different sizes and shaped bodies. This is what we need to see.
And I’m sure you’ve talked about this, about clearing out your social media feeds of all of the aspirational images so that you’re looking at real images of real people. That is a way to start that same journey that I took without having to take your clothes off in public.
STEFANIE: It’s a baby step.
LEAH: Yes, but it’s an important one.
LEAH: Do you wish your partner would touch you differently, but you’re not sure how to bring it up or what to say? I get it. Until a few years ago, I couldn’t imagine asking for anything I wanted. I thought I wasn’t allowed to have wants or needs. I thought good girls laid back and accepted what they got. I thought if I asked for something outside the regular repertoire, it would make my partner think I was open for anything. And then, they’d start pressuring me for extreme things I definitely didn’t want.
I built it up in my head to the point where it was hard for me to communicate at all during sex. Instead, I played the dead fish game, laying on my back and waiting for it to be over. Even those times when someone said, “What do you want?” I was so used to not speaking that I didn’t know how to ask for anything. And I’m pretty sure they wanted an answer that could be done for 30 seconds before they got on to whatever they wanted to do, which made it even more unappealing to build up the courage to ask for what I wanted.
All of that changed when I started learning that I was allowed to have a voice during sex, that I wasn’t doomed to a lifetime of whatever anyone else wanted to do to me just because I was born female. I can help you take the same journey to finding your voice because you deserve a deeply fulfilling intimate life and you can have it. I would be honored to be your coach on the journey. I am queer, kinky, and non-monogamy friendly. To find out if we’re good match, visit www.leahcarey.com/coaching. Again, that’s www.leahcarey.com/coaching to book your free discovery call. And that link is in the episode description on the app you’re listening in now.
SARAH: Before we get onto the questions, you’ve both referenced cheeseburger on a car bonnet. What’s that?
STEFANIE: It’s very American maybe.
LEAH: It’s very American, yeah.
SARAH: But I didn’t get the analogy. What does it mean?
LEAH: So, it’s a very common marketing thing or maybe it was in the 90s, maybe it’s not so much now, but it’s very much a picture that I hold in my head of this model laid out on the hood of a car as a sales message for the car and women in teeny tiny little tops and eating the cheeseburger with the juices dripping down her chest into her cleavage.
SARAH: I was just imaging just the cheeseburger on its own on a car bonnet and I didn’t get it. There’s a woman eating it. Got it. Yeah.
STEFANIE: They don’t have that in The Daily Mail?
SARAH: Not so much.
LEAH: Thank you for clarifying.
SARAH: If you want connection and support around any of the topics we talk about on the podcast, we would love for you to join our membership community.
STEFANIE: Members have access to monthly online support groups, a private Facebook group, live recordings, and member-only Q&As.
SARAH: If you would like to join us, please head to www.lifeafterdietspodcast.com/community.
STEFANIE: Now, let’s get back to the episode.
STEFANIE: So, I feel like we could sit with this information in and of itself and just marinate in that for a while. But I also want to bring in the conversation some of the questions that we’ve gotten from our community who have said, I’m going to read the question actually out loud, “What if my partner is not as interested because my body is bigger now than it used to be? How do I manage that other than talking that out together? What about my internal talk and what are internal messages I should say to myself?”
LEAH: That’s a big question that a lot of us sit with. And I just first of all want to acknowledge the bravery that it takes to even ask the question. So, I’m going to say something that might be hard to believe. It might even be hard to hear. The issue with whatever’s going in your sex life is not about your body.
The body, the way that people talk about, you gained weight, so I’m no longer attracted to you, that is a symptom 99.9% of the time of something else going on in the relationship. The way that a relationship happens, the way that a sexual relationship happens is that we meet somebody and we get all up into that, they’re amazing. It’s the heart eyes part of the cartoon where the eyes turn into hearts and they radiate.
There’s a term for that. It’s called new relationship energy. During that time, your brain is literally being flooded with chemicals, serotonin, and just dopamine and all of the yummy chemicals flood your brain. There’s a reason for this. Our chemical systems are saying, this is somebody who I want to make a life with. And so, I want to bond with them, so I’m going to flood my brain with these bonding chemicals, which one of my clients referred to this recently as the pink fuzzy stupid stage.
LEAH: We go into this pink fuzzy stupid stage and I ignore all of the red flags and everything looks amazing. And nothing they could do could possibly make me feel differently about them. And all of that is wonderful and it feels great. And then, our brains are not equipped to handle that. We can’t maintain that level of literally being high. It’s like you’re flooding your brain with ecstasy or whatever your drug of choice is.
And so over time, those chemicals begin to decrease. For some people, it might happen over the course of a month. For some people, it might be six months. For some people, it might be two years, whatever. At some point, those chemicals begin to decrease and we’re left with, okay, here’s the actual person in front of me.
At this point, cultural messaging comes into play. Does this person look like what I think I’m supposed to be with? Does this person look like what I have in my brain of who I’m supposed to be with? Is this the person I think that I want to walk out into the world and claim as my own? And all of that is based on what is culture telling you is appropriate.
One of the things that I think about is if somebody is only interested in that perfect body that they see in media, they have a serious lack of imagination because they’re accepting at face value this message that there’s only one acceptable body. And if that’s the only body that they’re willing to be attracted to, wow, that’s really disturbing that they’re not willing to think beyond any message that they’re being fed by the media. I would become seriously concerned about whether that person has any critical thinking skills at all.
And so, this body thing becomes a great cover for lots of other issues in the relationship, here’s a common narrative. They get together. They’re so excited. They’ve been married for a year or two. Their sex life has been great. They get pregnant. She has the baby.
And in those first two years of the baby’s life, she’s significantly less interested in sex because she is now a feeding station and a jungle gym. And her body is being used in all these other ways. And so, she has far less energy and attention and excitement to put toward her partner for sex. Her partner starts to feel ignored, maybe a little bit jealous of the baby and the relationship with the baby and resentful. So, he becomes more resentful. He starts asking for more sex. She feels even more rundown by like, “Why don’t you please stop asking me for the sex?” And so, he gets more annoyed. It’s like this terrible feedback loop where everybody becomes even more resentful over time.
And so, the baby is now school age and there’s maybe a little more time and a little bit more space for them to actually have sex and reconnect. The baby doesn’t need 24/7 attention, but there’s such a level of resentment in the relationship over what happened when the baby was a baby that never got dealt with because we don’t know how to talk about it and mom has potentially not lost the baby weight because, Jesus Christ, and forgive me, but really that’s such a ridiculous thing.
Our bodies go through changes when we create life and the idea that we hold that the body then just magically pop back into a shape that signals that we have not created life is ridiculous. So, mom hasn’t lost the weight. There’s all of this resentment that has been built up and never spoken about.
And the way that that comes out is, “I’m no longer attracted to your body.” It’s not about her body at all. It’s about all of the jealousy and resentment and fear and lack of connection that has happened over those eight or ten years that never got addressed. But the only way that we know how to talk about it is, “You’ve gained weight.”
SARAH: Another scenario that I sometimes see is that somebody has gained weight and that’s really affected their confidence and how they feel about their body, which has made them less likely to want to be intimate, to feel comfortable being intimate, and then the partner, like the person who’s probably gained the weight, is blaming the weight gain on the lack of intimacy, the lack of physical connection as well.
And that one as well I see in a loop. And they’re just hearing it. My partner’s telling me I need to lose weight and they’re not attracted to me anymore. But I guess it can change depending on how we feel about our bodies and how we feel about our body’s changes for the worse. That can really affect how we’re showing up and even our personalities to some degree.
STEFANIE: Yeah. And that I want to say because a lot of people echoed with this question, I want to read parts of it because it speaks to this. So, this member set the scene by saying, “I’m larger, less confident, and in conflict with myself more than we met 20 years ago.”
And I thought it was interesting “larger” was one of the things, but “I was also less confident and in conflict with myself,” these are important disclaimers. And that the issue is again where the partner is saying, “I’m not as attracted to you in this body.” And the voice in her head is, “I’m such a worthless, disgusting, weak woman. He’s going to divorce me if he can’t stop this behavior, lose weight, and be more like the person I was when we got together. Who can blame him? Why would he want to touch me? I must change.”
And this whole idea of how these two things are almost presented as one. It’s an issue of weight gain, but it’s also very much an issue of I’ve lost myself. I no longer feel like myself. I’m not the person I was when we married and somehow the onus is on the woman in this scenario and in our minds. But through disconnection with self that that is somehow thrown into, I’m bigger and I have to lose weight rather than the issue being, I don’t even feel like myself anymore. And is that the reason? You know what I mean? Is that more of what’s going on?
LEAH: Yeah. I want to pick up one thing that you just said separate from the question, and then we’ll go back to the question, which is somehow that gets all put on the woman to lose weight. I’m going to make that an even broader statement, which is that when it comes to our sex life, somehow the onus is always put on the woman to make things better, to make things change.
And it goes back to how we’re brought up as little girls. We are taught to be pretty, probably be quiet. Maybe that’s changing a little bit now, but to be pretty, sit with our legs together, to be the first one who gets up from the table to clear the dishes, to take care of everybody else’s needs before we take care of our own.
This is incredibly common messaging for little girls, even little girls who live in houses where they’re like, “Girls can do anything. Girl power.” But they’re still getting the messaging culturally and just the norms often in the house of girls do these things. Take care of everybody else before they take care of themselves and many of us grew up not even knowing that we were allowed to have needs at all because we were so busy taking care of everybody else’s needs instead.
So, when there’s a problem in the bedroom, whether it’s size-related or not, it is almost always on the woman to fix it and that’s not fair. It’s not right. But it’s also not true. Men have just as many issues. Men have just as many insecurities as women do. But the cultural messaging that they grew up with was, I have to be strong. I have to never ask a question. That’s why they don’t ask for directions when they get lost in the car because men are just supposed to know the answers to things without having to ask, which means they’re also supposed to know what to do in the bedroom without having to ask. So, just that one tiny little phrase speaks for so much. Okay. Now, back to the actual question.
LEAH: So, this issue of I gained weight. And therefore I am less confident and therefore I am less attractive and no wonder he doesn’t want me. And it’s my fault and my problem to deal with. The weight gain because of the diet culture we live in signals to us I should be less confident in who I am. There is something inherently less attractively, less desirable about me.
I imagine that most of us have a celebrity that we can look at who is a larger woman who we think, she’s hella sexy. For me, it’s Queen Latifah. That woman can do now wrong in my body. I think she is so sexy. I want to ask the two of you, do you have somebody who you can look at and be like, “Yes, they live in a larger body and, oh, yeah?”
STEFANIE: For me, it’s Ashley Graham. She’s not a larger, larger body, but I identify with her, her shape, and her body. And I think she’s awesome.
LEAH: Yes, awesome. Yes, Sarah?
SARAH: It’s going to sound really basic, but Lizzo is the one who comes to mind.
LEAH: Yes, yes, yes. Thank you. Love it. Love it. So, most of us have a large-ish, larger, very large woman who we can look at and say, she’s got it going on. So, the issue is not actually our size. The issue is our confidence. We know this. This is a talking point. Okay. Great. What do I do about that?
SARAH: Are you going to say go to a sex resort in Jamaica?
LEAH: If you want to, sure.
STEFANIE: That’s probably the most direct path.
SARAH: Yeah. Just join a naturist club, right? Just get naked with a bunch of people.
LEAH: Let’s look at what the progression is because I don’t think that what happens is you gain weight, and then your partner is less interested in you. I think what happens is you gain weight, and then you think my partner will be less interested in me or should be less interested in me. And therefore, I’m going to cover up. Therefore, I’m going to be very careful at which angle I let them see me because this is my skinniest angle, so this is the only way that I’m going to let them see me. Never mind that I can’t breathe and I’m not comfortable.
Whether it’s mental contortions or physical contortions, we do all of these things to make ourselves look what we think is acceptable. When we do that, we’re not present in our body. We’re not present emotionally. We’re not present with our partner because you cannot do two things at once. Your brain cannot grok two concepts at the same time. And so, it cannot be thinking, I am unacceptable and I need to be in this very particular position at the same time that it’s focusing on the pleasure that it’s receiving. You cannot be thinking about how your body looks at the same time that you’re thinking about how your body feels.
And the messaging around how our body looks is so much stronger than the messaging about whether we are allowed to experience pleasure. And so, that voice gets so much louder. And so, what happens is we experience less and less pleasure over time because we’re so focused on how we look which then becomes disconnecting from our partner because our partner knows there was a time 20 years ago when it felt like our sex was really connected, when it felt like we were really in the same room doing the same thing, really feeding off each other. And it doesn’t feel that way anymore.
And so, the partner starts to disconnect and be less excited and less involved, which makes us feel like it’s my body. They’re less attracted to my body. But that’s not it. They’re responding to the lack of connection that has resulted from you believing that your body is not acceptable. Okay. Are you with me so far? I see you both nodding.
SARAH: Still with you. Yeah.
LEAH: Okay. So, what is the answer to that? I wish I could give you a magic bullet. There’s not one. But the answer over a period of time and through engagement, I’ve got lots of exercises and lots of stuff that I take clients through and the goal of them is to focus on what your body is feeling, to focus on the feel of their touch on your skin, to focus on how it feels.
I don’t want to get too graphic, so I’m going to keep this fairly PG and tame. But to experience the pleasure of them kissing you, to experience the pleasure of them running their hand down your arm, getting back in touch with literally how does this feel? As opposed to what are my stories about how this is supposed to feel? What are my stories about what they’re thinking while they touch me? Your stories about what your grocery list is supposed to look like? A lot of us run grocery lists because we’re so disconnected from our bodies that it’s easier to think about our grocery list than it is to think about am I actually feeling this touch? Am I actually allowing myself to experience this pleasure?
The more that you get back in touch with that experience of pleasure, the more connected you become with your partner. And I’m not going to say it goes away entirely. This is something I live with. Okay. So, I have so many thoughts there. There are so many things I want to say. I’m trying to just grab on one thought at a time.
STEFANIE: I know what that’s like.
LEAH: So, something that I do with my partner because I absolutely go through cycles, when he and I met, I was in a really good place with my body image because I was going into these naked spaces all the time, I was getting lots of positive feedback. I was feeling really okay. And we were together.
After we had been together for a year, life starts to happen. You start to see what the issues are. We started dealing with those issues. And then, the pandemic happened. And then, I gained weight during the pandemic. Both of our sex drives plummeted, so we weren’t having very much sex. And my body image cratered. I got into a really not great place.
And so, now I’m just starting to go back into the naked spaces that are so good for me and I’m starting to have some of that feedback again. But for a long time, I didn’t have that. And so, I had to start developing ways to get that messaging form my partner in a way that didn’t feel to me like, “Tell me how much you love me because that wasn’t going to feel good to me.”
And so, I would periodically have to go to him and say, “I’m having a hard time right now. I need you to tell me why you love me, not just that you love me, not just that you love my body, but why? What do you love about my body? What are the things about our relationship that make you want to be in our relationship?” And that’s hard for him. He does not like having to come up with words on the spur of the moment. He feels very pressured by that.
And so, a couple of months ago, I sent him some scripts like literally, I sat down and wrote out like, “Here’s what I’d like to hear. Here’s the words that you can say that will fill the need that I have without you having to come up with them on the spot.” And that’s been incredibly helpful for us because I’m hearing the messaging that is particularly going to work for my brain and he’s not having to come up with the words on the spot.
STEFANIE: Did it feel authentic when he says that?
LEAH: They do because I know he believes them. It’s just that he has a hard time coming up with them on his own. And some of them were very specific, but things that I already know that he feels. I know that he likes my ass. So, I can write a script for him that says, “I really love you ass. And I love, whatever, how spankable it is or whatever.”
STEFANIE: How do you know that he loves your ass?
LEAH: Because it’s something that he has told me.
STEFANIE: Okay, yeah.
LEAH: Usually, it only really comes up when I engage the conversation and there are conversations that because of the work I do, I’m comfortable bringing up in a way that probably a lot of people aren’t. But it’s something that he has let me know.
STEFANIE: Yeah, because I was thinking of the way that we communicate that non-verbally even. I feel like my husband feels the same. He does say it with words, but I would know it anyway. It’s like where are we picking up on the messages we are getting about how we are attracted to our partner and how we are loved that we’re maybe minimizing or thinking because they didn’t say it outright, it can’t be true. But really, there are other ways of knowing.
LEAH: Absolutely. That’s such a good point. Yeah. And then, there were other things where I was like, I gave him fill in the blank. “I really love your blank because blank.” And then, he can fill that in, but it at least gives him a structure that I know will work for my brain.
STEFANIE: Yeah, and that’s also fun. That sounds like it could just get silly. Yeah.
LEAH: Yeah, absolutely. I’m all for laughter. I had so much bad, boring, awful, painful sex that I am no longer willing for sex to be anything other than fun, so I turn everything into a game.
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LEAH: So, I mentioned a minute ago that I have lots of exercises to help you get in touch with your touch feels to help you reconnect. And if it’s okay with you, I will offer your listeners a link so that they can go download one of them. It’s at www.leahcarey.com/threeminutes. It’s called the three-minute game and I’ll just give you a very brief introduction to how it works.
And I’m going to preface this by saying the exercise itself is incredibly simple. You’re going to listen to me describe it and you’re going to think, I don’t know if I can do that. And that’s okay because that’s the level of disconnect that we have learned we’re supposed to have from sex. We’re not supposed to talk about it.
And so, this is going to sound really scary for a lot of people. Okay. Here’s how it goes. It’s called the three-minute game because you can do it in three-minute sections. So, even if you have toddlers in the house, you should be able to find three minutes. You go into the bedroom with your partner.
Let’s just say the man lies down, the woman is sitting next to him and she says, “How would you like me to touch you for three minutes?” He can ask for absolutely anything he wants. If you want to set up boundaries in advance, no intercourse or whatever, you can set up boundaries in advance. But within those boundaries, he can ask for absolutely anything he wants.
She sets a timer for three minutes and she touches him exactly that way. You don’t get fancy. You don’t think, if he likes this, he’s going to love this other thing. No, you literally just do what they asked for. In the middle of the three minutes, they can say, “I would like something different,” and then you do what they ask for. You change up. But you are very intentional about doing only the thing that they ask for.
At the end of the three minutes, the timer goes off and the reason for the timer is that it gets both of your brains out of the way because the person doing the touching doesn’t have to think, have I been doing for long enough? And the person who’s being touched doesn’t have to think, am I being selfish? Has this been going on for too long? You can both just let that fall away entirely because the timer is taking care of it.
As the timer goes off, you switch positions. And now, the woman is lying down, the man is sitting up and he says, “How would you like me to touch you for three minutes?” And this is where most women go, “I can’t. I don’t know the answer. And even if I knew the answer, I can’t say it out loud,” because we learn that we are not supposed to have desires, we’re not supposed to ask for the things that we want.
And this exercise is giving you permission to, in a very small chunk, ask for exactly what you want. Not the thing that’s going to make your partner happy. Not the thing that you think will make you look sexy, whatever. But the thing that will actually allow you to feel the pleasure of being touched. And hopefully, because it’s only three minutes, your brain can allow you to participate fully in experiencing that pleasure and experiencing that sensation.
Your brain at the beginning may only allow you to predicate for 10 seconds before you go back into, is this okay? Did I ask for the wrong thing? Are they enjoying this? Do I look okay? That’s okay. Those 10 seconds are gold. Because it’s 10 seconds more than you’ve had than the last 5 years. The more you do this, the more engaged your brain allows you to stay because it learns that it’s okay. You’re not going to be rejected. You’re not doing anything wrong. You’re not being selfish, all those things.
STEFANIE: I did this exercise once and I want to just say that honestly what I wanted was a massage. And I remember you saying something like, “It doesn’t have to be what you think it has to be.” And I was like, “I just want a massage.” So, I was like, “Can you just massage my back?” And it was the best three minutes.
That’s something too because it was I asked for what I actually wanted. And it totally relaxed me. You know what I mean? Just got me into a space of being and that was for me a step. Relaxation and being able to get out of my own head is a thing. You know what I mean? so that it serves a purpose. It doesn’t have to be what you think it might have to be.
LEAH: Thank you for saying that because I think so often, again, as women, we believe that turn-on has to be something very specific. It has to be like he touches my boobs, and then I feel turned on. And that’s not actually the way that the turn-on cycle works for most of us.
Our turn-on cycle is much longer than a man’s is. Let me do this in terms of the actual hormones. Testosterone says, “I see it. I want it. I must have it.” Estrogen says, “That’s interesting. I’ll sit with that for a minute. Let me think about how I feel about that.” Estrogen is so much slower. The turn-on cycle with estrogen is so much slower. And it doesn’t go sex, I want sex.
Now, I want to be clear that some women do have that very fast turn-on cycle. There’s nothing wrong with that. Some men have the much slower turn-on cycle. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s all about how hormones are balanced in your particular body.
But many women are not getting the kind of turn-on they want because they believe that they’re supposed to be turned on just like that. And when they’re not, they think, I have a low libido. I’m the problem. When in fact, what’s happening is you’re slamming directly into sex because that’s what you think you’re supposed to do and you’re not giving yourself time to get actually turned on.
So, what you’re describing, the three minutes of massage, is perfect because it’s allowing you to sink into the actual needs of your body as opposed to going straight to, “Will you play with my boobs because that’s what I’m supposed to want?”
STEFANIE: This is fascinating and I think we could talk for hours. There is one more question. So, we’ll try to make this in as condensed version as we can. The question is, “My body is smaller now than he’s ever known. He’s become more interested in sex than ever before. But this is reinforcing that I can’t go back to being in my larger body, which was probably what will happen if I stop restricting, even though he says that he loves me whatever size I am.”
LEAH: This breaks my heart. Yes. I think that what could be useful here because correct me if I’m wrong, she did say there’s been some conversation around this, right?
STEFANIE: That he says he loves her at any size, yes.
LEAH: Right. If she is unable to believe that, it may be time for them to do a couple of couples sessions, whether it’s with somebody like one of you who deals with body image and anti-diet culture, if it’s somebody with me who deals superficially with sex, but with somebody who can moderate a conversation between the two of them about what he actually thinks about her body.
Because the possibility exists that he maybe only wants her in that smaller body in which case she needs to know that. But the possibility also exists that this is something that her brain is making up, that she’s feeling more confident, therefore she’s allowing herself to be more connected, therefore he’s responding more and therefore they’re having more sex.
It’s entirely possible that whole cycle is happening in the reverse in the way that her brain is interpreting it is, he likes me more because I’m thinner. They need to have a conversation to clear all this out so that they actually know what’s going on with each other. And it may very well be that they need a third person to moderate that conversation so that they don’t fall into all of the communication traps that exist for two people who have a lot of deeply-held beliefs that they don’t know how to see beyond. Does that help?
SARAH: Yeah, I think so. Yeah. Do you want to wrap?
STEFANIE: No. I don’t like it.
SARAH: No. I don’t like wrapping up either.
STEFANIE: Everybody’s like, “You go, you go.”
SARAH: I get it. That’s okay.
STEFANIE: Thank you. Thank you, Leah. Thank you.
LEAH: You’re welcome. You’re welcome, Stefanie and Sarah. You’re welcome.
STEFANIE: No, there’s so much juice in that conversation. There’s so many angles. There’s so much to think about. I just feel like that’s a gold mine episode around this topic that we haven’t really touched on this before. So, I really appreciate coming, sharing your stories with us. That’s our favorite thing to do here. And we will put the links that you mentioned in the show notes.
SARAH: I found it fascinating. I know that I’ve taken a lot in because my head just feels really full. And it’s like these are just things that I haven’t thought of in this way, I haven’t looked at it in that way. And I’m still trying to find myself in it as well. So, I really appreciate you coming on and talking about this, Leah. It’s been really, really useful.
LEAH: It’s my pleasure. It’s my favorite thing to talk about.
LEAH: And I value the work the two of you are doing so deeply. I’ve known Stefanie for a few years and the work that you do has made a significant effect in my life. So, thank you so deeply from me to you.
STEFANIE: Thank you, Leah.
SARAH: Thank you.
LEAH: That’s it for today. Before we go, I want to remind you that the things you may have heard about your sexuality aren’t true. You are worthy. You are desirable. You are not broken. As a sex and intimacy coach, I will guide in embracing the sexuality that is innately yours no matter what it looks like.
To set up your free discovery call, go to www.leahcarey.com/coaching. If you have questions or comments about anything you’ve heard on this show, call and leave a message at 720-GOOD-SEX. Full show notes and transcripts for this episode are at www.goodgirlstalk.com. And you can follow me @goodgirlstalk on the socials for more sex positive content.
If you’re enjoying this show, please leave a 5-star rating and review on Apple Podcasts or if you’re using another podcast app, go to www.ratethispodcast.com/goodgirls. While listening to this show is free, producing is not. If my work is meaningful to you and you have a few dollars to support it each month, I’ll gratefully accept your patronage at Patreon. Find out more and become a community member at www.patreon.com/goodgirlstalkaboutsex.
Good Girls Talk About Sex is produced by me, Leah Carey, and edited by Gretchen Kilby. I have additional administrative support from Lara O’Connor. Transcripts are produced by Jan Acielo.
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