Sex and Self-Esteem

In About Intimacy I wrote about the sense of loss and confusion felt by a friend of mine at the sexual dry spell she has been experiencing and I want to reprise some related issues in this post. I was especially inspired to further consider the points by This Blog Piece

As a young active sexual individual I both crave and enjoy sex on a physical level and on an emotional level. I don’t need sex to feel attractive or validated or loved….but it helps. This has nothing to do with my lovers or the attention they pay me or the affection they offer me.
It is all about how I feel I should be a good partner.
If (in my rather self-critical and paranoid head) I am to be a good wife then I should be sexually attractive and available.
I should be pleasing to their aesthetics in order to make them pleased – this applies to my general physique, weight hair-cut and to my dress and ‘beauty regime’.[I would note I have never had to contend with conflicting views of what is pleasing about my body -but I would definitely dress differently for a date with each of my loves]. In my head although failure to put effort in is not a major crime it has the potential to become so if it is persistent because it implies that I don’t care enough to make myself pleasing.   On the whole I dress to be comfortable and practical and maintain basic personal hygiene rather than indulge in active ‘beautification processes’ as sold by cosmetic industries and women’s magazines but occasionally I feel the need to present myself as someone they would be proud to be seen with. This I think is related to an occasional need to dress in such a way as to turn heads in order to boost my sense of self-esteem. But is there a subtle difference between a desire (need?) to be praised (for my looks), a desire to make my loved ones smile because I have done something for their pleasure and a fear that if I don’t look or act attractive I am somehow failing as a partner.

This leads to the sex issue.. I am anti sexual coercion of any but the pre-arranged bdsm variety and this explicitly includes guilt-tripping within a relationship or withholding favours in anger or as a means of control (again this is with the clear exception of good ol’ pre-negotiated play scenarios) and yet I routinely feel that I should have more sex with my partners.
The sense that is my duty as a woman and and as a wife to provide sexual pleasure is mystifying to me on an intellectual level – I am after all in a relationship configuration that specifically allows additional sexual contact (albeit with certain provisos) and I am not against masturbation or porn and therefore I am not the sole means of sexual gratification for my partners. I am aware of the fact that sexual desire is not a constant; neither the same from person to person nor individually from time period to time period and that it is appropriate to express my desire or lack of as I wish as long as I am not coercive or intimidating. I also aware that not doing so is in fact both demeaning and unpleasant for my partners since it is disrespectful of the intimacy of our relationship. I am as commented before regularly and happily sexually active.
Yet despite all of this in my head some days there is a nagging voice that tells me ‘I should’ and perhaps even ‘if you really loved him/her you would’ when my body is telling me that it doesn’t want to. This little voice believes that without regular sex my partners will not want me any more, that an absence of sex is a sign that love is fading and that without sex there is no intimacy- it is not what my intellect or even my heart tell me, it just the voice of fear. So what self-esteem demon is it that believes that my body and what I do with it is a key marker of my affection and my ability to be lovable? Is society really that prescriptive about what makes a ‘real’ relationship that I am frightened any failure to conform will render me worthless?

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