Sex, Sexuality & Body Image

A complex range of cultural, experiential and biological factors shape the way we feel about our bodies. Among these, attitudes toward sex and sexuality are closely bound up with body image.

Although our society expects everyone to be unambiguously male or female, some people do not fit neatly into these categories. Some people (intersexuals) are born with some combination of male and female sexual anatomy. Some people, born as one sex, later undergo gender reassignment surgery to change their sex (transsexuals). Still others choose to dress, occasionally or permanently, as a member of the so-called opposite sex (transvestites). Such individuals are often stigmatized, even feared, by mainstream society for failing to conform to rigid ideas about gender and sexuality. Such societal rejection can have a negative impact on the ways such individuals feel about their bodies.

Society also often imposes negative judgments on children, especially girls, who mature physically at an early age, a phenomenon known as precocious puberty. Both adults and peers alike tend to respond to such early maturation with suspicion and innuendo, thereby dealing a heavy blow to the self-esteem of these early-bloomers. Likewise, those who later in life find themselves unable to have children may be regarded with suspicion or pity, leading them to view their own bodies with a sense of shame and inadequacy.