Self-Care, Self-Love, and Sexual Satisfaction
Self-Care, Self-Love, and Sexual Satisfaction
Historically, as women, we have often been the caretakers for the people in our lives. We are not just sisters, daughters, wives, friends, employees and bosses, but often we are also mediators, “therapists,” schedule keepers, housekeepers and more. We care for the people in our lives in a variety of ways on a daily basis, but how much time do we spend caring for ourselves? I am talking about a term that has become quite popular: self-care. People usually imagine face masks, bubble baths and glasses of wine when someone mentions self-care, but true self-care goes beyond relaxing activities. Self-care is the act of building a life and relationship with yourself through daily actions and choices that prioritize your health and wellbeing.
Dr. Cook-Cottone and Dr. Guyker, authors of a 2018 paper in Mindfulness, define self-care as the process of being aware of and taking care of your basic physiological and emotional needs. They developed the Mindful Self-Care scale, a tool for measuring self-care behaviors across six domains: mindful relaxation, physical care, self-compassion and purpose, supportive relationships, supportive structure and mindful awareness.
The first domain, mindful relaxation, seeks to assess how you are relaxing your mind and body with present-moment sensations on a weekly basis. You might self-soothe by meditating, or possibly through reading a book and listening to calming music at the end of a busy work day.
Physical care is the component of self-care that focuses on our physiological needs. These needs can include drinking enough water, incorporating some form of physical activity into your weekly routine, and eating a balanced, nutritious diet.
Self-Compassion and Purpose
The domain of self-compassion and purpose examines whether you are treating yourself with kindness and finding a greater sense of purpose in life. Are you engaging in compassionate self-talk? Are you allowing yourself to feel your feelings, even when they are difficult? Are you experiencing meaning and purpose in the different areas of your life?
The domain of supportive relationships concerns being aware of the health of your relationships and the amount of support you’re receiving from the people in your life. Are you spending time with your loved ones? Are you feeling supported and respected by your loved ones?
The next domain is supportive structure which concerns the environmental and structural factors of your daily life. Are you maintaining a comfortable living environment and work environment? Are you maintaining a schedule that is manageable for you?
Lastly, there is the domain of mindful awareness. This entails being presently and calmly aware of your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations and using them to guide your daily actions.
Now that we have a greater understanding of some of the domains that self-care can encompass, how does the care we provide for ourselves impact important life factors, such as our sexual satisfaction? Improving self-care has been shown to reduce stress and burnout, increase wellbeing and leads to more positive daily moods, which are all factors that can impact our sexual satisfaction.
Taking care of ourselves is an act of radical self-love. As women, it’s also an act of radical self-love to cherish and accept our bodies. Starting at a young age, women are bombarded with messages about their bodies. From social media to marketing campaigns, to relatives obsessively talking about new diet trends during holiday dinners, the message is clear: Your body is only acceptable if it looks a certain way. This leads to women feeling insecure and ashamed of their bodies when they deviate from the thin “ideal” body type so often described. Both research and clinical experiences have shown that body image impacts women’s sexual satisfaction. If you are overwhelmed with negative thoughts about your body during sexual activities, such as “I hope they don’t notice my cellulite” or “I look terrible from this angle,” you are no longer focused on feeling and enjoying the present mental and physical sensations of sex. This idea was coined as “spectatoring” by Masters and Johnson (1970), which is the process of focusing on yourself during a sexual activity rather than focusing on the sensations and your partner (if a partner is present).
So, how can a therapist help someone struggling with self-care, self-love and, consequently, sexual satisfaction? To demonstrate this, let’s imagine a client. Lisa is a 38-year old lawyer. She is the mother of two young children and has been married for over 10 years. Between a consuming career and raising her children, she does not spend time focusing on herself. She is often overwhelmed and stressed, which she believes has impacted her ability to enjoy and crave sex with her partner. She also expresses feelings of insecurity towards her body. Whereas she once felt confident about her perceived sexual attractiveness and was often excited to have sex, she now avoids it. When she does have sex with her partner, she keeps the lights off and usually is too consumed with thoughts of work, family and bodily insecurities, which impact her ability to be present with her partner and enjoy the sexual activities. In order to help Lisa regain sexual satisfaction, a therapist might focus on helping her find a more balanced lifestyle where she is able to practice self-care. This might start with teaching Lisa about the different aspects of self-care and then helping her navigate ways in which she can incorporate these into her daily routines. The therapist should also focus on helping Lisa develop self-compassion and love towards her body at its present state. Through the lens of feminist therapy, this could mean helping Lisa deconstruct her learned cultural narratives about what women’s bodies should look like and instead develop a compassionate outlook on the beauty of all bodies, no matter what size or shape. Lastly, a therapist could help Lisa develop tools such as mindfulness in order to be more present during her sexual experiences and able to focus on the wonderful sensations and her partner. With time, patience and support, Lisa may begin to notice a boost in her daily moods, a reduction in stress and an improvement in her emotional and sexual connection with her partner.
Madilynn Rutherford is a Counseling Psychology PhD student at the University at Buffalo and an intern sex therapist at the Rochester Center for Sexual Wellness. She believes that your sexual wellness is an essential component of your holistic self-care. Madilynn works with clients from all walks of life to navigate their way to a happier, healthier state of being. If you would like to see Madilynn yourself, please contact her at the Rochester Center for Sexual Wellness at 585-865-3584 or Madilynn@rochestercenterforsexualwellness.com.
Castellini, G., Sauro, C. L., Ricca, V., & Rellini, A. H. (2017). Body esteem as a common factor of a tendency toward binge eating and sexual dissatisfaction among women: the role of dissociation and stress response during sex. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 14(8), 1036-1045.
Cook-Cottone, C. P., & Guyker, W. M. (2018). The development and validation of the Mindful Self-Care Scale (MSCS): An assessment of practices that support positive embodiment. Mindfulness, 9(1), 161-175.
Masters, W. H., & Johnson, V. E. (1970). Human sexual inadequacy, Boston (Little, Brown & Company) 1970.
Pujols, Y., Meston, C. M., & Seal, B. N. (2010). The association between sexual satisfaction and body image in women. The journal of sexual medicine, 7(2), 905-916.