Is Appearance Satisfaction Linked to Sexual Function?

People who are satisfied with their appearance may have fewer sexual problems, suggests a recent Journal of Sexual Medicine study. 

Researchers report that appearance satisfaction was linked to fewer issues with lack of enjoyment, lack of excitement, and lack of climax. 

Appearance dissatisfaction is a feeling that one does not conform to the standards or “ideal” of attractiveness found in their community. For example, someone who is overweight may feel less satisfied with their appearance if their culture values thinness. 

Several mental health problems are associated with appearance dissatisfaction, including poor self-esteem, depression, and social anxiety, the authors noted. Sexual satisfaction may also be affected. 

For the current study, researchers investigated potential links between appearance satisfaction and sexual function in five specific areas: interest/desire; enjoyment; anxiety; excitement and arousal; and climax. They also considered any connections among appearance satisfaction and distress related to sexual dysfunction. 

The research team surveyed 2,903 adults in Norway. The group ranged in age from 18 to 87 years, with an average age of 47. All of the adults had sexual partners at the time of the survey; the average length of their relationships was 17 years. Approximately 96% of the respondents were heterosexual, 2% were gay or lesbian, and 2% identified as bisexual or pansexual. 

The study subjects answered questions on their physical appearance satisfaction, any sexual issues and related distress they had experienced during the previous 12 months, and levels of sexual and relationship satisfaction. Body mass index (BMI) was also assessed. Almost 58% of the group was overweight or obese. 

Approximately 46% of the sample reported one or more sexual problems, while 54% said they had no sexual problems. 

Participants with lower appearance satisfaction were more likely to have sexual issues, particularly with enjoyment, excitement, and climax. 

In addition, appearance satisfaction did not seem to be linked to overall distress related to sexual problems. However, those who felt more satisfied with their appearance tended to have less distress about lack of excitement or lack of climax. 

Greater relationship satisfaction was associated with a lower likelihood of sexual problems in general, the authors noted. 

They added that both male and female participants experienced appearance dissatisfaction. While the association of appearance satisfaction and sexual problems was expected to be stronger for women, this was not the case. “These findings suggest that when appearance satisfaction and sexual problems are assessed in general, men’s and women’s experiences are similar,” the authors wrote. 

“The study highlights the importance of examining the presence of sexual problems and associated distress separately, and to consider appearance satisfaction as a predictor of sexual functioning,” they concluded. 


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