I am ashamed of my naked body

"I find nudity and sex so petrifying sometimes that I feel more comfortable with the idea of never having sex again," ...

"I find nudity and sex so petrifying sometimes that I feel more comfortable with the idea of never having sex again," writes Koraly Dimitriadis. Photo: Kaliopi Malamas

I am ashamed of my naked body, but it's only recently that I've become consciously aware of it. This shame has nothing to do with the shape of my body or how attractive I think I am. I am actually content with my looks and my shape. It's more a disgust at nakedness, particularly when being intimate with someone.

How did I become aware of this? Sex and intimacy has always been a struggle, yet I can only say this now, in hindsight, after examining my sexual history, particularly the physical and emotional reactions I experience afterwards. It's easy to assume the opposite when picking up a copy of my book Love and F**k Poems, but we often write about things we are trying to make sense of. It was a recent sexual experience where it was as if my body was shouting "Enough!" that the issue crystallised for me. I noticed behavioural patterns I had just assumed random and coincidental.

I find nudity and sex so petrifying sometimes that I feel more comfortable with the idea of never having sex again. It feels easier, safer. And it seems I'm not the only one. To my surprise, I stumbled across ABC's Luke Warm Sex, a quasi documentary comedy following comedian Luke McGregor on his quest to overcome his own anxieties about the shame he feels towards his body and sex. Like Luke, when you are disgusted with your body it does contribute to the amount of sex you are having, which in Luke's case and mine, is not much at all.

Lack of conversation around sex growing up is probably a contributing factor, as Luke also found while interviewing his parents. Taking this a step further, the idea in migrant and religious cultures that sex is forbidden and/or wrong until marriage doesn't help either. In my mind I want to be sexually free, to be able to prance around naked with whoever I choose to have sex with. I want to enjoy sex and being naked without the awful physical and emotional reactions that follow. But this woman I dream to be is a long way away from my reality and the voices in my head that still say, "Bodies are ugly, sex is dirty".

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Glamorised Hollywood films, where couples strip off their clothes without too much trouble in preparation for the deed, have always made me feel abnormal. What's wrong with me? Am I the only one out there who literally has to have their clothes torn off them before sex? Am I the only one who cries for days after? But after watching Luke's show - which I applaud, and hope ABC commissions a similar series from the point of view of a female - I do feel like less of a freak. I've been inspired into taking some action in the hope I can have not only the sex life I want but to develop a new loving relationship with my body.

The truth is I don't love my body. I take it for granted. Cindy Darnell, a sex therapist Luke visited in his show had some advice which resonated with me involving looking at yourself naked in the mirror. "The image we have in our head is not what we see in reality," she said. Sleeping naked and doing your chores naked were some of her other tips. I've been advised to spend time alone with my naked body, stroking it and tuning into the sensations, to bridge the gap of disdain I have for it.

According to clinical psychologist Adrienne Brown, body image concerns are common and are linked to the more broad perception of self. These issues can have a wide range of impacts on an individual's everyday life. "They can be associated with reductions in mood, poor self-esteem, self-judgment, and fear of rejection in relationships. This fear of being judged can be a considerable barrier to a fulfilling sex life, as the individual is often caught up with unhelpful thoughts and emotions rather than being present and open to the physical connection and experience."

Dr Brown believes understanding the underlying reasons is important in allowing individuals to disentangle themselves from their past, including receiving support for the early and ongoing triggers to develop new, more realistic and helpful representations of yourself.

"Any effort to address body image concerns requires the individual to examine how current thinking impacts perception of self; we all get caught up with unhelpful thoughts about ourselves and our relationship with others. The first step is recognising these thoughts and learning new ways of coping with them. For this, mindfulness can be extremely useful, as can addressing any avoidance behaviour. A focus on factors beyond physical appearance, such as on personal values and ways we can free ourselves from our fears in order to be the person we want to be, can also be instrumental in shifting our self-view. This work could be done independently or with the help of a therapist."