Although there are many hurdles that often hold couples back in the bedroom, there is one in particular that outweighs (no pun intended) them all. Yep—body image issues.
Before I dive in to this topic, let me clarify that when the Bible says Adam and Eve were both naked and felt no shame (Genesis 2:25), this refers to far more than just being comfortable in their birthday suits. But for the sake of brevity, I would like to zero in on what a negative body image can do to the freedom and lack of inhibition we should be able experience in the bedroom. And when it comes to body image issues, I am not talking about just women—men have them too. They often feel as if their frames are too small, or their gut is too large, or they simply lack the definition of the super-cut guy with six-pack abs on the P90X commercials. He can get really self-conscious when he develops "Dunlap's Disease" because his belly has "dun lapped" over his belt. I had to laugh when I recently heard a pastor in New Zealand declare, "My wife tells me I have the body of a god. His name is Buddha!" I was glad he could laugh about it too, but I do wonder if a man's sexual self-esteem isn't negatively impacted by such physical characteristics that are not considered ideal by our looks-obsessed culture.
As of this writing my almost fifty-year-old husband is fretting the fact that his chest hair is turning gray and his hairline is rapidly receding. Regardless of my reminders that I like an older, distinguished-looking man and that he will always be sexy to me no matter how much hair he loses or wrinkles he gains, it is still difficult for him to accept the fact that age is taking its toll on his body, just as it does on everyone. I will say, however, that although men can certainly be plagued by a negative body image, many seem to be able to compartmentalize that issue long enough to let down their hair (receding hairlines, bald spots, and all) in the bedroom and have great fun.
Ladies, I'm just wondering—why couldn't we learn to do the same thing? Think about it. We rarely find our male counterparts cowering in the corner of the bedroom, clinging to a fuzzy robe, and crying, "You can't possibly think I'm sexy!" Men can usually compartmentalize how they feel about their physical appearance long enough to wholeheartedly declare, "Hey, baby! Bring it ON!" in the bedroom.
Unfortunately I can't say the same thing about most women. It is amazing how we let such tiny things have such a big impact on our marriage bed, things like
being too tall, small breasts, pudgy tummies, bubble butts, full thighs, thin hair, pale skin, crow's feet, being too short, big breasts, cellulite ripples, flat butts, bird legs, thick hair, dark skin, laugh lines, being too fat, saggy breasts, stretch marks, wide hips, cankles, straight hair, freckles, acne scars, being too thin, lactating breasts, c-section scars, no hips, spider veins, curly hair, moles, and age spots.
And my guess is that any woman reading this book can most likely add her own unique insecurities to this list.
But here is the question: Can a woman learn to freely share her body with her husband without fear or shame creeping in and killing the mood? Can she set her own insecurities aside long enough to go full throttle, losing herself in her husband's loving embrace and sharing herself completely? I believe no matter where a woman feels she falls on the spectrum of too this or too that, she can learn to love the skin she is in—and the effect that skin can have on her husband and marriage when she confidently shares it with him.
For example, although Charissa struggled with an eating disorder most of her life and once had an incredibly hard time even looking at herself in the mirror without hating the reflection, marriage has proven to be a magical elixir to cure many of her inhibitions. She writes:
I remember that first day my husband ever saw me in a bikini. Every layer seemed painful to take off. I refrained from making eye contact with him, for fear he'd see the shame in my eyes.
Nevertheless, he took in all of me. More than a quick glance, it felt like an intrusive stare, the kind that peered straight into my soul. Although I wanted to run away, I could feel that God was healing my heart.
I have learned that letting my husband gaze at me is one of the keys to a healthy body image and sexual self-esteem. No longer is he looking at me with my bikini. Now he is perusing every inch of my bare body. And he wants to do it all the time, even when I'm having a not-so-beautiful day. Contrary to making comments on my bloated belly or the bumps on my bum, he only gazes . . . longingly . . . just as he did that day by the pool.
Even in lovemaking we have discovered the power of keeping our eyes open, lights on, and sheets off! Although it was nerve-racking at first, letting my husband pour over every nook and cranny of my body has become a source of freedom for me. Silencing the shame in my head, his eyes drip with pure acceptance and adoration. He is full of curiosity, bursting with love, and excited to explore every part of me.
Ladies, I also want to urge you not to wait until your husband makes you feel beautiful and sexy before you begin seeing yourself that way. How you feel about yourself is the biggest factor in how much freedom you will feel in your marriage bed. It is not up to someone else to make you feel good about your own body. That is a gift only you can give yourself.
I get so delighted to hear of women falling in love—not just with a man but with themselves. There is absolutely no reason not to when you think of the awesome body God has given you and the amazing way it functions to bring life to yourself and those you love.
Oh, if every woman could respect her body in such a way, honor her God in such a way, and bless her husband in such a way. Remember, God didn't just make our breasts and hips and vaginas to make babies. He created them for our pleasure. For our husbands' pleasure. And yes, even for God's pleasure as we learn to love both the Creator and his marvelous creation.
Lord Jesus, help us stop comparing ourselves to others and feeling as if we can never measure up. Show us how to respect and appreciate the beautiful bodies you have given us. Inspire an attitude of gratitude for the wonderful ways our strong bodies function to accomplish many things each day. And remind us of the awesome power we possess to strengthen our marriages when we freely share our bodies with one another. In your precious name we pray, amen.
This article excerpted from The Passion Principles. © 2014 by Shannon Ethridge. Used by permission of W Publishing Group.
Shannon Ethridge is a best-selling author, speaker, and certified life coach with a master's degree in counseling/human relations from Liberty University. She's the author of The Passion Principles and the bestselling Every Woman's Battle. Visit her at www.ShannonEthridge.com and follow her @ShannonEthridge.