What To Know About Sexual Self-Esteem (& How To Improve It)

We're often told that self-assurance is attractive and that being confident is very important in the workplace, in school, and in relationships. Who doesn't want to exude optimism and certainty? And whether we realize it or not, how we see ourselves impacts everything in our lives. Having low self-esteem can lead to some pretty bad decisions or hanging out with the wrong crowds. Or it could mean that you simply don't put a value on yourself or the work you do. And the same goes for your sexual self-esteem.

Just like you can have self-esteem — which typically regards how you see yourself and the confidence you have in your skills, your looks, and your abilities — you can have sexual self-esteem. They're not always linked. You can have high self-esteem but in the bedroom be very self-conscious. Or you can have low self-esteem but also be confident in the fact that you can pleasure your partner better than anyone else. But what dictates your sexual self-esteem? And what can you do to improve it, if you think you have a low one? We've got you covered.

What is sexual self-esteem?

We already touched on it briefly, but sexual self-esteem is very similar to regular self-esteem, at least as a concept. Psychotherapist and certified sex therapist Gila Shapiro told HuffPost that sexual self-esteem consists of "the feelings you have about your body, and your confidence level in how you relate intimately to someone else." She continued, "it's what you bring of yourself, both emotionally and physically, to sex and relationships — what you do with that and how you share that with someone else."

Just like how our self-confidence is how we see ourselves and what we're worth or bring to the table, applying that to our sexuality and skills shapes how we see ourselves in bed or in relationships. Shapiro wrote that sexuality is "rooted in how we understand and define ourselves, how we perceive others, and how we see the world." So, of course, everyone's sexuality is different. How people want to be loved and how they want to conduct relationships changes from person to person. But if you don't have high sexual self-esteem, regardless of how you see the world or view sexuality, you might limit yourself in the experiences you have or who you allow (and don't allow) to love you.

Sexual self-esteem can impact every sexual or relationship decision you make

The overall self-respect you have impacts everything. If you don't see yourself as particularly smart, you might not apply for ambitious jobs or you might not believe you can finish college. If you don't see yourself as attractive, you might not take care of yourself or try to meet new people. Having low self-esteem, overall, can really stifle the life you live.

In the same way, sexual self-esteem impacts a big portion of your life aka your romantic and intimate relationships. "Sexual self-esteem affects every sexual choice you make," Gila Shapiro wrote for HuffPost. "Who you choose to have sex with and when, whether you limit yourself sexually and how, and whether you choose to use protection or not." That doesn't mean that you're going to be with an unloving or unworthy partner. But maybe you find it hard to believe that they love you or are attracted to you. This can manifest in unhealthy ways that impact aspects outside of just your head; you might not be able to accept compliments from them or maybe you project your insecurities onto your sex life together. It can cause problems that might not be there, and all because you don't believe you're as sexy, as hot, or as beautiful as they think you are. It could put a strain on your relationship, and it might make it hard to find a good partner to begin with.

Your upbringing can definitely impact your sexual self-esteem

So, where does our sexual self-esteem comes from? Many things can impact how you view yourself and sex or relationships, but a lot of it can come from how you were raised. If you were deeply religious or brought up in that environment, sex was not something meant to be enjoyed. There was probably a lot of shame involved with sex out of wedlock or sex that wasn't between a man and a woman. Did your "birds and the bees" talk involve shame or guilt? Was sex kept a mystery to you and you had to figure things out alone? Were you shamed for even thinking about sex, asking about it, or wanting it?

If those things were the case, it wouldn't be a surprise that you see sex as a scary thing now or have little confidence in how to have intimate moments with a partner because it was always something that was secret or shameful. "Alex" Caroline Robboy, a certified therapist and founder of The Center for Growth, wrote that personal beliefs absolutely make up our sexual self-esteem, for better or for worse.

Self-esteem in general can impact your sexual self-worth

As stated above, if you aren't satisfied with yourself as a whole or in general, it will be harder to have high sexual self-esteem. "Alex" Caroline Robboy, wrote for The Center for Growth that beliefs around how you look or your appearance can impact sexual self-esteem greatly. Are you worried about being "too fat" or not being attractive enough to keep your partner happy and satisfied? She wrote that asking yourself questions like that, especially while having sex, can negatively impact your own pleasure and how your intimate experiences are painted in your mind.

Having high self-esteem obviously benefits you overall, so fixing your mindset to see the worth and beauty in yourself is necessary for a happier life. It's exhausting to constantly be putting yourself down and not enjoy yourself and the life you have. And with more confidence, your sexual self-esteem should grow as well. Robboy suggests thinking of your body as a temple and urging yourself to live in the moment.

Sexual performance is a big factor

It makes sense that how you're "performing" during intimacy and if you're doing a "good job" are big factors in if you have high or low sexual self-esteem. Now, worrying about how you're doing and if your partner is pleased and satisfied are already interfering with how much you can enjoy the moment. But if you're constantly worrying about whether you're good enough or if your partner likes and wants to have sex with you, your sexual self-esteem is low. A great way to combat this is to assure yourself that they wouldn't be with you if they didn't want to. Communicating with your partner on these insecurities as well can get you the validation you need to gain back more confidence as well.

If you're single, having low sexual self-esteem could influence you to make poor decisions as well, to either help your confidence with sexual performance or to fill a void of sorts. You might feel like you can't do any better or have sex with people you don't want to sleep with. According to Biird, this can lead to a feeling that "your sexuality is all you have to offer." This could make you more likely to put up with disrespect or be a part of unwanted sexual experiences because you don't value yourself or your sexual self.

Being so in your head will impair how much you enjoy sex

On that note, having low sexual self-esteem can take away the enjoyment of sex as a whole. If you're not very experienced or have a negative view of your body or looks, you might think about how your stomach looks the whole time, or if they're looking at every nook and cranny. Or if you're constantly comparing yourself to your partner's exes or really working on putting on a show for your partner, odds are you're not going to have a pleasurable experience.

When you're completely in your head, it causes anxiety along with just not letting you enjoy and be in the now. This also will most likely make you unable to finish, which could lead to even more self-consciousness on your end. It's really exhausting to be so in your head and always worrying about what your partner is thinking. Stop asking if you're good enough and make sure you're enjoying yourself and doing things for your own pleasure.

Sex toys can help you mentally and physically

One way to help build your sexual self-confidence is to learn about your own body and your own pleasures. How are you supposed to expect someone else to please you, if you don't know how you like to experience intimacy? Something as simple as using sex toys on yourself, first, can open up a ton of communication between you and your partner. It can also make sex more fun and hopefully take your mind away from any self-deprecating thoughts.

According to David W. Wahl Ph.D. via Psychology Today, sex toys can also help with your own confidence in your body and how you see yourself. He writes that using sex toys can destigmatize any shame someone might have about sex, while also allowing you to really get to know what pleasures you. "With an increase in well-being, destigmatization, increased chances of orgasm, and improved mental health, sex toys can offer an increase in self-esteem," Wahl explained. Once you have a better handle on what makes you tick and are properly treating and loving your body, higher self-esteem is sure to follow.

Improving your sexual self-esteem involves some deep introspection

As you could probably deduce from all of the info on sexual self-esteem above, a lot of the issues that cause doubts or low confidence with being intimate are deep-rooted. It often goes back to how you view yourself as a whole and how sex was taught to you or how you've experienced it up until now.

As Alex Robboy wrote for The Center for Growth, finding out the root causes of your beliefs about yourself can help decipher how to improve them. Whether it's self-image issues or you don't think you're attractive or "thin enough," figuring out why you have such low sexual self-esteem (and self-confidence in general) will only better your mental health. Speaking to a counselor or seeking therapy are great ways to tackle trauma or any ingrained beliefs you might have. It's easy to blow things like this off and not see them as serious issues. But you might not be living life to the happiest and fullest that you could be, and having a healthier outlook on yourself can not only improve your life but your sex life as well.