Spectatoring

January 29, 2014

By Gabrielle. Image of me and Mara by Justin Hackworth for Alt Summit.

This is a post about body image, but we’re going to get there by talking a little bit about sex — which I know I don’t really cover on Design Mom. So I’ll leave most of the conversation after the jump, and can you skip this post if it’s not your style. : )

I’m going to start the conversation with a new-to-me term: spectatoring. I first read about spectatoring on Shannon’s blog, and her post led me to watch the video above — a TEDx talk called The Sexy Lie. It’s very, very good. I hope you watch it.

mara and gabrielle

Spectatoring is when, instead of enjoying your time in bed with your partner, you mentally run down a list of all your body flaws, and assume your partner is thinking the worst of your body.

Having a negative view of my body hasn’t been a big issue for me. I like my body. I like the way it looks. I like the way it moves. It’s dependable and rarely if ever betrays me. Outside of being paranoid of my flat chest (to grow up in America with a flat chest, is to grow up thinking you have the pox), I’ve generally been confident about my body. And even my flat chest has turned out to be just fine.

So I was pretty darn shocked to realize that I am for sure guilty of spectatoring during sex. And that I had a long list of body criticisms that I assault myself with.

When I realized it, I felt a range of emotions. I was ashamed, not of my body, but that I engaged in something so harmful — because I know better. And I was mad, because I can remember times where I didn’t shut the spectatoring up, and instead let it ruin my night (and Ben Blair’s night as well). Sex is one of my very favorite things (as I’ve mentioned probably too many times here on Design Mom – hah!), so I was upset when I realized I was sometimes letting spectatoring harm my sex life.

I’ve been coming to terms with how often I’m engaging in spectatoring, and of course, my thoughts now turn to: How do I stop? How do I make sure I don’t continue this harmful habit?

And my thoughts also turn to curiosity. Have you ever engaged in spectatoring? Do men ever spectate? Or is it a distinctly female thing? And for anyone reading who is in a lesbian relationship (and cares to share her thoughts), does spectatoring happen double time in your relationship? Or does spectatoring only happen in relation to men?

I’m also especially curious if there are any women reading that have never engaged in spectatoring, or have completely overcome it. Because I’m looking for healthy models to learn from!

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

P.S. — Although my tone is fairly light-hearted here, I think it’s so important for women to talk openly about enjoying sex. Really, truly.

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{ 59 comments… read them below or add one }

1 mgn January 29, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Wow, this seems like something I would do, goodness knows I do it enough in my every day life, but I don’t. My husband is really the coolest about my body, he seems to like it even when I have issues with it, like after having kids. I think he’s just super psyched to have sex that he says really nice things even when (or especially) I’m self conscious. Your husband seems really great though, so I doubt he’s making you feel like you need to be self conscious. Maybe letting your partner know it’s an issue for you would help? A little positive feedback might be all it takes? I don’t suppose this is useful but it’s my perspective.

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2 Design Mom January 29, 2014 at 12:51 pm

I think that’s probably the strangest part for me — I know that Ben Blair is not thinking anything negative about my body. Ever. He’s behaves as if I’m a wonder to behold no matter what my body looks like. So this is totally on me, and totally in my head.

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3 Taryn January 29, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Lesbian here, chiming in. As a woman, I feel self-conscious a lot of the time and rarely think I look “right” in photos. But this post gave me pause and I realized that sex with my wife is one of the few times where I am not worried about bodily bits and bobs looking model-perfect. While my spouse has been known to playfully whine, “don’t look at me!” while dressing, I don’t think our intimacy initiates any spectatoring from either of us. And maybe that’s just it, sex is about us. I trust her with all of my being and if I was hung-up on my imperfections, we wouldn’t be connecting and experiencing the true “togetherness” sex has the potential to be about.

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4 Design Mom January 29, 2014 at 12:52 pm

Your comment is really sweet, Taryn! I’m glad to hear your intimacy is absent any spectatoring.

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5 Christina D. January 29, 2014 at 12:47 pm

I never had an issue with this until recently now that I am pregnant. My body has changed so much in the last months, and at times my head hasn’t caught up with my outward appearance. I often forget about my growing belly until I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror/reflection. I have found myself to be extremely self conscious of my changing body (however miraculous and strong I know it to be!) and how my husband views the vastly different shape of his wife.

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6 Anon January 29, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Same here! Until the 6th month, I was still doing ok with my self image, but now going to the 8th month, I just feel really weird… as you say, we can marvel in the engineer of a pregnant body, but we don’t feel quite ourselves… It’s like: who is this person? and will I get my body back? And when???

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7 Nina January 29, 2014 at 2:55 pm

This is exactly what I was going to comment! I’m going on my 8th month as well and even though this is the 3rd time, I feel so awkward and self-conscience and uncomfortable. And, I am definitely spectatoring now. I never have before as I have always really tried to be comfortable with my body, but now it’s so different and hard to come to terms with.
One thing I’ve learned with pregnancy is when it’s all over, of course you marvel at what your body can do, but also, I feel a deep appreciation for what my body is and looks like. I also feel like I should have appreciated it more when I was in my early 20s and svelte! I didn’t feel so great about it then, but I sure wish I had that body now!
One thing I always try to remember, even now, being hugely pregnant, is that I know my husband appreciates my body for what it is and, as long as I’m taking care of myself and I’m healthy, I know he loves my body as much as he loves me. That’s how we have to think about it.

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8 Liv January 29, 2014 at 3:01 pm

I feel you! I’ve always been pretty at home in my own skin, but now, after having 2 kids in 2 years, I just don’t feel like myself. My body changed so much, so quickly (and, of course, so did the rest of my life).

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9 Tasneem January 29, 2014 at 1:00 pm

This is fascinating. Having struggled a lot with my self image/self confidence in the past couple years I am both surprised and not that this is a thing. My husband always tells me he thinks I am beautiful but if I don’t feel like I am, at the time, I shrug him off. It doesn’t make sense to me that someone could overlook or even like the flaws I see. All that falls away when we have sex though because I feel that he is showing me how beautiful I am. It is a lot harder to shrug off actions than words.

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10 sarah January 29, 2014 at 1:09 pm

i’m extremely guilty of this. not just when it comes to sex, but i haven’t been 100% comfortable with my body in general for as long as i can remember. now that i’m at an age where i’m gaining confidence in myself and figuring out who i am, i’m very conscious of how harmful my thoughts about my body are. my husband is amazing, and finds me so sexy, all the time. he says the nicest things. he’s assured me that he finds my body beautiful, but until i myself find it beautiful i don’t think that i’ll be able to get our sex life to where i (and he) would like it to be.

i recently did something outside of my comfort zone in order to try to see my body differently: i had a boudoir session with a professional photographer. it was so much fun, and i can’t wait to see the images. i was much more comfortable doing it than i thought i would be. it’s a surprise gift for my husband, but my hope is that it turns out to be a gift for both of us.

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11 Jo January 29, 2014 at 1:25 pm

How interesting. Both my husband and I have done this occasionally but it usually doesn’t result in having a pleasant sexual experience because we are so focused on ourselves instead of each other. I know I, for example, can’t climax if I’m thinking about my butt wrinkles instead of whats going on at that very moment. I have been blessed with a fantastic body that used to fit all the American criteria for beauty and sexiness and sadly, objectification. Even after having kids (including twins) I still have a pretty rockin’ bod without doing much for it (sorry – being honest. I have good genes). But after breastfeeding my boobs are no sad and deflated. Its amazing how much this challenged my self image and in turn, effected my sex life. It took me YEARS to have sex without a push-up bra on, for example. Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with wearing a push-up bra during sex. It made me feel sexy which I interpreted as empowerment and then confidence to initiate or at least participate in sex. But after a while I wanted to feel all of that just by being me, just me naked with my deflated stretch-marked awesome old breasts. Its amazing how something as mindless as objectification in marketing can have SUCH a powerful hold over us, and in such intimate places as our bedrooms and our thoughts.
Thanks for bringing this up Gabrielle!

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12 Kim January 29, 2014 at 1:28 pm

I’m on the same page as design mom. I have never had an issue with the way I look…except in bed, and this is the first time I’ve really thought about that. Also my husband always gives me the impression he’s quite pleased with how I look. But I am very self concious during sex and it has had a negative impact. I can’t believe I’ve never thought about or realized I do this before now. Hoping that being aware I’m doing it will help me to stop.

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13 Kacey @ Shes.No.Martha January 29, 2014 at 1:29 pm

I have a PHd in Spectatoring. However, I am trying to work on dumping the thoughts and putting more energy until making myself the “healthiest” I can be.

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14 Sunny Day January 29, 2014 at 1:34 pm

I wouldn’t dare to use a skirt or a robe, because I was too self conscious of my legs, or butt. And then, I got cancer at an early age and I started to love my body indifferent of how it looked. I figured that I should love my body no matter what, for it is the envelope that carries my soul and my life. This was a life changer. I started using skirts, robes, sandals, all that I have never allowed me, because even with my body changes, I was so happy just to be alive and have a body!

My husband who met during my first treatment is the first man I’ve been with that never ever made remarks about my body. And he has seen my body gain and loose pounds, get scars, loose them, become fit, become something else again.

But my husband has also taught me somethings that I hadn’t really understood as a woman: 1) if a guy loves you: he loves your person not what you look like – it won’t change, no matter how your body changes; 2) Guys are more concerned about the pleasure and enjoyment shared in bed, the way one can give oneself to the other, rather than the esthetics of it – during love making guys really don’t care if you have cellulite, stretch marks, if your skin is oily or dry, if you are not perfectly epilated. What they care about is if you can both really enjoy sex and know how to give pleasure to each other. It’s not the body, but how you can owe your body and connect to his body that makes it sexy and desiring.

Many guy friends of mine have also told me that they can be in bed with what we women would consider the” perfect pretty woman” and they might not have almost any pleasure. What they said is that some very pretty women think that being pretty is enough for sex. But it isn’t, it’s about connection, movements, vulnerability, harmony, exchange. Knowing this helped me focus more on the exchange than what my body looks like.

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15 Laura January 30, 2014 at 11:04 am

I completely agree! Now, in bed is one place I have no self-consciousness, but when I was much younger (and nicer to look at), pre-husband, I would definitely get distracted by myself and not have (or give) as much fun. I remember seeing a male comedian once who said a women wouldn’t sleep with him because she hadn’t shaved her legs. He said “We don’t care!!!” We all need to realize that the media messages designed to sell products have very little to do with what men actually want.

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16 Anon January 29, 2014 at 2:01 pm

So I am very sexually conservative in practice, though I have crazy fantasies! And I have always had body issues, always!! But then I had an experience that changed my spect storing: I took a job as a bar tender in a strip club. It’s a funny story, but I was fully clothed… I learned though that men (with lots of money and not – it was a high-end ace)… Like ALL sorts of women. All sorts of hair color, outfits, shapes, sizes, you name it, there is a man (indeed several) who like it! It actually freed me up to get out of my head & just have a good time! In fact now, it’s the only time I’m NOT body conscious!!! Now if only magazines & TV shows showed this aspect of real life, real looks, real virtues!! :)

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17 JennyRose January 29, 2014 at 2:21 pm

I had no idea that it had a name. Spectatoring.

I have always had self-esteem issues (partially stemming from my well-meaning mother always reminding me to “suck it in, honey” as early as I can remember) and they definitely translated over to sex. I also was cursed/blessed with a flat chest (I’m not even an actual bra size) so that along with my never-flat-enough stomach takes up a lot of mental space when being intimate. My husband is wonderful and loves my little breasts and my whole body, and tells me so all the time, and sometimes I believe him.

One way I’ve found to combat it is to be healthier. In the past few years I picked up running (one place where a flat chest is helpful) and that made me feel better about myself which meant that I’ve been more comfortable with letting my mind go during sex. I find when I’m not being active, as I haven’t recently thanks to the crappy weather, I feel less confident about my body, and thus less confident in bed.

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18 amy January 29, 2014 at 2:26 pm

“to grow up in America with a flat chest, is to grow up thinking you have the pox”
I could not agree more! But in terms of sex….having a small chest just doesn’t bother me. And as an adult, I’m thrilled that I can go bra-less pretty much whenever I want, and I think my husband likes that!

I’ve never spent much time during sex thinking about things I don’t like about my body, and I doubt my husband is thinking about that either….. :)

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19 Deb January 29, 2014 at 2:45 pm

I have gotten so much better with this! I would always do it with my boobies and belly, even before 3 babies. After babies I didn’t like to take my shirt off EVER! Other than telling my hubby I was a little self conscience w my post baby body, I never said much about it. What helped me was realizing how much he loves my flaws! It started when I hit his hand away for trying to rub my tummy. It hurt his feelings and made me realize I needed to allow him to love ALL OF ME. He thinks the way by boobies hang is sexy! (yes they hang and are not perky at all!) Hooray! He loves to rub my squishy tummy! Hooray! He even adores the dimples on my bum! It is me who doesn’t like those things, but seeing me through his eyes has helped me see that I am beautiful. Why should I listen to a world that tells me I’m flawed instead of believing my sexy husband who thinks I’m smoking hot? and let me also say, allowing him to love all of me, has not only allowed me to love myself better, but I love him and my babies better too!

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20 Ellen W January 29, 2014 at 2:46 pm

I’ve gained some weight the past few years and have noticed during sex I’m trying to suck in my stomach. I sometimes wonder if my husband still finds me attractive even though he has never said anything negative to me in bed. Lately I have been actively trying to shut down those negative thoughts and enjoy being intimate with my husband.

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21 Jenny Bailey January 29, 2014 at 2:46 pm

While I don’t believe in fishing for compliments I am a big fan of talking oneself up. I’m a big I will stand in my undies in front of a mirror in my bedroom and say something to my husband like, “I’ve been working out. Doesn’t my booty look good? It’s really up high!” He agrees – enthusiastically! – 100% of the time (as any person worth being naked in front of will do)! It serves two purposes: first, obviously, it confirms a positive thought for me. My backside does look good! Second, by that magical power of suggestion, I have just directed all of his focus to that one feature I’m feeling most confident about. That is the part he’ll be paying attention to. And anything I’m not feeling so great about will just kind of fade into the background. The key is picking a feature that you already feel at least a little bit confident about so that you can truly believe it when your partner agrees. If you pull the old, “You’re just saying that because I suggested it!” line it will usually have the opposite effect on the evening. It’s not always easy and sometimes I definitely feel silly or vain pointing out all of my wonderful assets but when I do that, rather than worrying about the less-wonderful parts, the story always has a happier ending. So to speak.

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22 Kristin H January 29, 2014 at 2:51 pm

I’ve spent the last ten minutes pondering spectatoring in my own relationship with my husband and I honestly don’t know if I have or not. Most of the time, I am putting so much effort into quieting my to do list (evil mood spoiler) that I don’t give much thought to how I look. I know that I am much more aware of how I look around other women, but not so much around my husband. He always makes me feel beautiful, but not sexy. I loathe that word. After taking a graduate class in college on the objectifcation of women in art history, I became hyper aware of the lies the media sells us, especially the lie of sexy. I want to be beautifully me, not an object for sexual desire. Consequently, I don’t allow commerical tv or magazines in my home. I want my daughter to know she is beautiful no matter what. Thank you for putting so much time and effort into the Olive Us productions! Each episode is just lovely.

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23 Jasmine Shorten January 29, 2014 at 2:57 pm

I first saw this video about a year ago and LOVED it. I find that this topic (sexual objectification) can sum up most underlying problems of womenhood in our country today. I feel the same way about Phil Zimbardo’s TED talk, The Demise of Guys in regard to men. Although, the topic of spectatoring is detrimental to our trusted intimate relationships, I feel very strongly that it is the result of a much greater problem. And we’re only going to find the solution to spectatoring (and many other issues mentioned in her lecture) if we find ways to stop viewing women, including ourselves (sometimes only ourselves) as objects.

Interestingly enough–with all of her shocking statistics–I couldn’t help but find her research shows that personal objectification causes us women “to compete with each other for our own self-esteem because we see it as this cherished finite resource. We go into parties and know where we are on the pretty girl pecking order so when another women is valued for being a sex object, it actually makes us feel bad about ourself.” Gasp! I am guilty of this!!! And I hate it. Why? Because the very thing we should be banning together as woment to fight off, is the very thing that’s turning us against each other.

Obviously, I feel very passionate about the subject-ha! I am so grateful I too have a husband who after three kids somehow thinks I’m a “wonder to behold” because it’s what every woman out there deserves. And until I share my husband’s opinion of myself–I’m going to do my best to go right along with it. :)

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24 Matilda January 29, 2014 at 2:58 pm

I am definitely guilty of spectatoring, it’s a really difficult habit to break. Just as an addendum to your comments on being small chested, honestly I think it’s equally difficult being large chested. I’ve had abnormally large breasts since I was about 13, and I found that it lead to people talking about/looking at my breasts much more than normal. It also changes the way people perceive you, I think it’s much more difficult to dress elegantly, for example, with a large chest.

I also have felt that when I do have a sexual relationship with someone, the sheer size of my breasts increases expectation on them. It’s actually the body part I’m most self-conscious about.

As for that video, I agree with a lot of it. Sexual objectification is so rampant in our culture that it’s difficult to even identify, let alone to combat. But at the same time, surely there is a middle ground? The speaker seemed to imply that even identifying as sexy devalued a woman, which I think is pretty false. There has to be a way to be sexy without becoming an object?

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25 Jennifer January 29, 2014 at 3:17 pm

I don’t believe I have ever done this before in bed or otherwise. I have a crazy high self esteem (not because I am a knock out 10 or anywhere close). I just always felt like I had a clear level of where I was and solid esteem with what I looked like. It’s not to say there aren’t a few things I wouldn’t like to change given time and energy (toddler and another baby boy on the way) but I don’t see those parts as negative now, just who I am. Somehow I find that I have been placed in situations (family, roommates, etc) with other women who really struggle with self-esteem, self-love, and sometimes come from histories of harming themselves in one way or another (be it emotionally/physically). While it has been surprising to learn how strongly some women think about themselves in negative lights, they also say it’s been healthy for them to see how I live. It’s okay to eat that marshmallow for instance. And also, while I’ve only ever been with my husband I know the truth that few men will ever turn away a naked woman (no matter what imperfections she may have or be dwelling on at the time).

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26 Ashley January 29, 2014 at 3:24 pm

What an incredible presentation. Caroline Heldmen just embodied, in 12 minutes, something that I have been trying to wrap my brain around for years. I was raised in a culture where I was encouraged to be “modest” in dress and appearance, but always felt myself grasping for the WHY of it all. The answers I’d received never settled well for me because they felt so counter-intuitive. “You mean boys will want me if I dress this way? Then you bet I’m going to sneak this tube-top into my backpack.” I love that she established this as purpose for the discomfort we feel when we are calculating our station in a room full of women AND the spectatoring (this is a thing! and I’m not the only one?!)…and then on to the human trafficking epidemic, and the root of gender inequality as a whole? Wow.

I’d like to think that I weigh most of my value in my ability to think, contribute, and create, and I certainly would loathe the day that my morning routine took an hour, but this was still revelatory! I will be using this same language and rationale with my daughters. It gives us a starting point for some of our most degenerative problems as human beings.

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27 LCE January 29, 2014 at 3:51 pm

I’m not guilty of spectatoring as much as I am guilty of being distracted by all the stuff I have “to do” – laundry, banking, kids stuff, etc. I have a really hard time giving myself over to the “moment” now for some reason and am easily distracted. I hate it, and am having a hard time stopping. Is there a name for this?

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28 Maria January 29, 2014 at 5:51 pm

I’m the same way. Considering how body concious I was growing up, I don’t think I’ve struggled with spectatoring one bit because of my amazing husband. I’m currently pregnant and still feel like I am desirable to my spouse (lets see if and how this changes post pregnancy).
I hate that I let my to do list get in the way of intimacy with my husband. The only way I could ever get myself to stop and focus solely on him was after a glass of wine or two (not possible during pregnancy!). And even if my to do list is mostly done, I find myself exhausted from completing the list.

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29 Shannon Bradley-Colleary January 29, 2014 at 4:11 pm

Well hello you sweet lady. I was just popping over to your site to have a read when I found this article referencing my post, which made me so happy to know you visited.

And I was also relieved to discover that even a lady who has far too many meaningful things to do, can still fall prey to the self-objectification that leads to spectatoring during sex. I certainly don’t want that to be the case where you’re concerned, but it just makes me feel a little less shallow and vapid.

Also, I don’t think this topic (borne from the topic of how media sexually objectifies women) is too prurient for Design Mom. In fact, I think it’s a political and feminist topic that we must talk and talk and talk about in order to bring it up from the depths of our media-bombarded unconscious and into the light where we can squash it like a cockroach. If not for ourselves, then for our beautiful, unique, priceless daughters. You know I adore you, as ever. xo

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30 Katie January 29, 2014 at 5:57 pm

“I think it’s so important for women to talk openly about enjoying sex. Really, truly.”

TRUTH. High five and thank you.

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31 Jenn January 29, 2014 at 6:17 pm

Several years ago I had the experience of going to the Dominican Republic for a wedding and a very famous model was to attend. I was stressing out weeks before thinking about what I would look like next to her. When we did go the the wedding it put a lot of things in perspective. She did have a beautiful face but with so many image issues it was irrevelant.She never appeared happy with anything and was so rail thin she disappeared behind a column. It made me believe that is better to enjoy the body and life I have instead of aspiring to have illusion.

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32 Hillary January 29, 2014 at 6:36 pm

Great topic especially as we parent our children (both boys and girls) to help them navigate these issues appropriately as they grow up too. To be really, honest I don’t think we spend enough time with our naked selves. So little of our typical day is spent uncovered that it gives the sense that there is something wrong with our bodies-that they SHOULD be covered? So wrong and the more time we spend naked(and I’m not meaning the nudist lifestyle kind of way), the more comfortable we feel with your bodies. And frankly the more our kids see us naked the more they come to appreciate how normal and varied our bodies are. Nothing to be ashamed of or objectified.

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33 Amy January 29, 2014 at 6:43 pm

The worst it ever was for me was post-pregnancy when my stomach had that weird, doughy/spongy texture and my boobs were out of control and stretch marks were terrifying to behold and I thought I would never look like a normal person again. Oddly, while pregnant I felt pretty sexy — lets just say that ALL my appetites were those of a teenage boy… These days it isn’t a big occurence.

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34 Ann January 29, 2014 at 7:12 pm

Amy,

I too had the same appetite when I was pregnant from 6 mos to 8.5 months. It never did return to that same level, when not pregnant.

ann

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35 KS January 30, 2014 at 5:44 am

Yes, same here! And actually (sadly) I think this is where my self-esteem issues may have started, or at least, exacerbated. My husband was totally not into pregnant sex those last few months, so the more I wanted/needed it the less he did. Then he bounced right back in the mood postpartum, but I couldn’t make peace with my body even though he was so complimentary afterward. Ugh. Must find some way to navigate this! So appreciate the conversation.

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36 Meg January 29, 2014 at 7:20 pm

Wow, what a great post and a great conversation going on in the comment feed! I totally admit, I am so very guilty of this, to the point of me not wanting to have sex because I feel so hideous. This is an internal dialogue I fight with myself, my husband absolutely adores me. Digging deep, I was always “the skinny one” growing up and after having kids, my body morphed into a more curvy form and I found myself lost in my own skin. It has greatly effected me but this year I was determined to overcome this because it was not healthy for me or my spouse. He told me once that it hurt him that I never believed his words of adoration adn appreciation of my body. That stung. I don’t like to hurt people. So, one day at a hot yoga class when I was drenched in sweat and really pushing myself, I stopped and marveled at my body. Not the way it looks, but the shear wonder in its function. It has created, carried, fed, and nurtured three of my greatest gifts. It beats on everyday, keeping me healthy and I needed to start focusing on that, not the self hating chorus that chimed in my head when getting dressed or undressed. I force myself to yoga every day, even if for just 15 minutes, so I focus on the strength of my body. It has really worked. Thanks so much for talking about this…

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37 Hillary January 29, 2014 at 7:32 pm

Got to love exercise. I am amazed at how in the span of a few minutes exercising my body morphs in my mind from a PMS, bloated feeling awkward body to this beautiful machine! :)

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38 Sydnie January 29, 2014 at 8:10 pm

Thanks for bringing up such an interesting topic Gabby! I’ve been blessed to be svelte all my life, and I never had any experience in “spectatoring” until after my daughter was born. However, I did have other imperfections (my nose and chin) that I always thought would be nice to “fix” if we ever won the lottery or something. My newborn daughter bore quite the resemblance to me, and as she grew she became my twin. Around her six month birthday, I finally realized that I couldn’t dislike my own physical appearance while thinking my daughter was perfectly beautiful, since she was my carbon copy. That realization really helped me to accept my personal beauty for exactly what it is, which then helped me to accept my post-baby body for what it was as well. Being a mother to a daughter has made me very sensitive to negative self-talk because I never want her to know those feelings, and I’ve made it a personal goal that my daughter will never hear the words “ugly” or “fat” in our home, no matter how I’m feeling that day. A mother’s example of acceptance can help so much.

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39 Susan Magnolia January 29, 2014 at 10:16 pm

I love this— I could not agree more. My child looks so much like me as well. We know all too well the negative things that happen hearing our mothers talk down their own appearances. My mom is in her late seventies as still has awful self esteem. I try to remember that my daughter and my partner see me as a beautiful person and that lifts me up.

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40 Carina January 29, 2014 at 10:25 pm

Ugh, whenever I don’t feel the best physical version of myself and start to even think about spectatoring, I just become better at fantasizing. My husband loves the results (not having a clue WHAT I’m thinking of course) and couldn’t seem to care less about my imperfections.

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41 Kathryn Carmona January 30, 2014 at 6:53 am

Wow, that Ted talk was excellent! Loved it. Couldn’t agree more. xoxox

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42 Megan M. January 30, 2014 at 7:17 am

Oh, man, I am so guilty of this. I used to have, if I may say so myself, a pretty bangin’ body. I was thin with a nice butt and big boobs. After my first pregnancy, my tummy wasn’t so flat anymore but I was still pretty thin. My second pregnancy, I gained way too much weight and never really lost it. I’m 50 pounds overweight now… and just found out I’m pregnant with my 3rd. I am FREAKING OUT about what’s going to happen to my body and whether I will ever be happy with it again. My husband is wonderful and always tells me I’m sexy, but I don’t believe him. How could he be attracted to the way I look now when he met me when my body was perfect?

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43 Erica January 31, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Megan,

I’m so glad you posted this comment! I feel your stress and your fear. I was in the same spot about a year after baby #3. My husband and I had many long talks about it, and it took me forever to believe him. I’m now a year past baby #4 and 40+ pounds overweight and these thoughts have started creeping back in, so I think responding to you will help me.

The gist of what my husband told me is that I am his definition of beauty. It hasn’t been this way always. I knew some of the girls he dated before me, and they looked nothing like me. (Me: You asked her out?! Him: Yes, but remember? I chose you.) So before we were married, it was more like he was figuring out want was beautiful to him. Over the 14 years we’ve been married, I have become his standard.

I think this hits on a very important aspect of sex in marriage. At least one purpose of sex is to strengthen the relationship. Think for a moment about your children and their physical needs. Ever since they were born, you have been relieving their hunger over and over and over again. Each time you have done that, you have woven a very thin, golden thread into the bond you share with your children. As their mother, you have probably been the main source of this comfort throughout their lives, and now they look to you for all of their comforts. Those golden threads have become a strong rope.

You and your husband have very real sexual needs and desires. You have been giving each other pleasure and comfort and joy over and over and over again. Each time you have positive, joyful sex, you both feel loved, and you weave one of those golden threads into your marriage. You are the only person who does this for him, and he is the only person who does this for you. He has learned to associate all those feelings with you–all of you–your body, your face, your mind, your emotions, your voice, your laugh. Everything about you contributes to the feelings of love that he has each time you two have sex. You are his definition of beauty.

Over the years, those golden threads have added strength to all the other threads that you weave throughout your day, like when the kids go to bed and you just sit on the couch and talk to each other or when you help each other with the dishes or watch the other be totally awesome with your kids. Your rope is composed of so many different kinds of threads. If you could see them, they would probably be rainbow, but the ones woven through intimacy would be bright and golden.

I hope this helps! Talk to your husband about it, and try to believe him.

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44 Heidi February 1, 2014 at 12:19 pm

Wow, Erica. Thank you so much for posting this. I love this imagery.

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45 Summer January 30, 2014 at 8:47 am

I have a close friend that talks about this, but I have NEVER had body issues in bed. In clothes, sure. haha! But it’s so fascinating to me now to learn that I’m in the minority! I’m thinking of other things in bed, and men….I mean, not to stereotype, but I’m going to….I just figure as excited as I am, they’re waaaaaay more excited. I don’t know, it’s just never crossed my mind (and I don’t do lights off).

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46 Nicole B January 30, 2014 at 9:03 am

Such a great conversation happening in the comments! I would have been guilty of this in my 20s, but I’ve found a shift in my perspective since I’ve hit my 30s. My husband has been by my side through five surgeries in a time span of the four years. The most recent surgery was less than a month ago. My body has quite the collection of scars, most of which are only seen by me, my husband and my doctor. I don’t see them as flaws. I see the scar from my c-sections and think about the beautiful girls we have. I see the scar across my ribs and I remember the loving and very worried face of my husband while we spent many hours in the emergency room. My point is, all these stretch marks and bumps and scars represent a life lived. I love it for where it has gotten me and I know my husband does too.

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47 Anne January 30, 2014 at 11:10 am

I am GUILTY! How interesting to learn that it’s “a thing” and has a name. During sex I have always taken a ‘spectators’ role of myself. It’s as if I’m a 3rd party looking in and I objectify MYSELF. Sex for me is all about pleasing HIM – whether it be the actual act or fantasizing about it. Why is that???!!!

I grew up being respected (verbally, physically, emotionally, etc.) by men. I have a husband who adores me and is perfectly giving and kind in all aspects of our life. He tells me how wonderful I look and that he is attracted to me; it hasn’t mattered if I’m pregnant (4 kids), postpartum, 50 pounds overweight (as I was for the middle part of our 20 years marriage), or a size 4 (as I am now). He genuinely loves me – it’s that simple.

My brain is swirling with thoughts . . .why do I objectify myself?

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48 Zoe - SlowMama January 30, 2014 at 11:44 am

GREAT Ted Talk. Thanks for posting it.

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49 juliagblair January 30, 2014 at 11:51 am

Wow! Interesting! I’ve always believed that the perfect female body is tall and slender. There are many reasons for this damaging belief, not only magazines but comments, mostly from males about the ideal of “tall and slender.” A tender moment I had with my father, who never made negative comments about size, included my apologetic words :” I’m afraid I’m just going to be short and round.”
Dad , who was orphaned at 2 years old, responded lovingly, that he in-visioned his mother being my size and he always knew that she was the most beautiful woman in the world. To him, it was a Beautiful blessing to have a daughter who looked like her. .

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50 Becky January 30, 2014 at 1:13 pm

I’m afraid I might be guilty of spectatoring most of the day, every day EXCEPT for when I’m having sex. What a wonderful time to let go. My tip is to always focus on the other person and the sensation and the way that takes over is so freeing. I need to do more of this in non-sexy moments. Thank you for speaking openly.

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51 Jennifer January 30, 2014 at 1:13 pm

There are men that do this too. The increase in the media on focusing on male appearance has something to do with it, and also just lots of messages about what is expected of men in a sexual encounter (and not just hook-ups but in everyday, committed sexual relationships). It’s really tough for men who are anxious about what they think other men are doing and whether or not they measure up. Men are not oblivious to the ways women talk about men and how they are portrayed in tv shows and movies about relationships.

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52 g January 30, 2014 at 1:31 pm

what an amazing conversation!

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53 Nicole January 30, 2014 at 1:45 pm

I really appreciate you starting the dialogue on sex and not turning it into taboo. Especially since you are involved with the LDS culture. I feel troubled when people prefer to keep any talk related to sex hush-hush. It is a beautiful way to bond and connect with your partner and talking about it in the right way and in the right setting will increase the value of it.

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54 Elise January 30, 2014 at 3:36 pm

This great post has inspired some meaningful conversations with my partner that I know has made us closer already. I’m mortified that I am guilty of spectatoring, but also relieved that it’s something I can admit to and maybe overcome, and turn on its head. The worst part is that during sex I feel beautiful and alive, and yet I am watching myself critically. I really enjoy your ability to bring these issues into the light. Yay Design Mom!

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55 anon... January 30, 2014 at 3:40 pm

On another subject, I once came across a topic on the internet that seemed very debilitating to me from a man’s perspective. SIZE… (You figure it out!) Being small chested I have been guilty of wishing for larger breasts. When I had my first baby, they blossomed QUITE well. I ran track in hs and sometimes beyond and let’s just say I thanked the Lord I never got blessed with them after my first post baby run. I like rockin’ a sports bra and playing sports with absolute comfort. I also have a post cancer scar on my neck. A doc told me at a physical oh.. nice scar, it gives you character.

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56 Emily January 31, 2014 at 8:51 am

I’m young (23) and not married so I’m sort of an outlier when it comes to the readers here. I don’t usually comment, and I feel a little strange admitting to everyone that I do have sex and I’m not married, but I just think this is such an interesting conversation!
I know how blessed I am that I am pretty much always happy with my body. It’s not perfect by any means but I generally love the way I look. And to be honest that is only intensified during sex (or before/after). More often than not, I actually feel more comfortable with myself naked than I do clothed. I know as I get older and (hopefully) have children my body will change but I try really hard to remember every day that I love what I look like. I don’t admit that often because I really feel like our society pushes us towards hating ourselves–sometimes I feel arrogant or rude for thinking I look beautiful, which is terrible! I’m not a model or drop dead gorgeous by any means, but I’m really comfortable and happy with myself.

I think a lot of it comes from choosing to be intimate with men that I trust and am comfortable around. It’s so interesting to me to read through the comments and see that the majority of women who are married (I’m assuming to a man they trust and are comfortable with) still take part in spectatoring.

This has been a long and rambling comment, basically what I’m getting at is this is a fascinating conversation.

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57 Carie January 31, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Hi Gabrielle,
I stumbled upon your website over three years ago and I have not missed a day since. I LOVE your blog. I have two daughters who are on the crest of womanhood – 17 and 20. Some of your content is “younger” than my current chapter in life – but I must say I truly value the views and creativity you bring forth and thoroughly enjoy reading younger moms’ advice and commentary. So much of what you discover and shine a light upon is still on topic for me as a woman – not just as a mom. My point? Your words are refreshing and fantastic: “I think it’s so important for women to talk openly about enjoying sex. Really, truly.” Thank you for putting it out there.

I must admit – that I used to find spectatorng a problem when I was younger and in an unhealthy relationship. (I am now in a truly honest and nurturing relationship.) My guy and I were talking about this all just last week – so your timing is rather good. Sexuality is so important; it makes us whole. My friends, by the time you are 50 – you really start to feel proud of yourself – not just for the good things and the happy moments created but for weathering the storms, for your healthy body – no matter what shape. I am here to say that with age, you gain an amazing sense of confidence in your body like you never had before and enjoy sex like you never have before.

Once again, Gabrielle, you shine a light upon a clearly important topic (as we can see from the huge number of comments from every point of view). I would still read your blog if it were nothing but crafts and recipes and kids because I like your point of view – however, this has added maturity and depth to your blog. Thank you for your honesty, your creativity and inspriation. Thank you for sharing yourself with us all so generously. TGIF!

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58 Eva February 4, 2014 at 11:36 pm

Carie, I loved this – thank you for sharing your perspective:

My friends, by the time you are 50 – you really start to feel proud of yourself – not just for the good things and the happy moments created but for weathering the storms, for your healthy body – no matter what shape. I am here to say that with age, you gain an amazing sense of confidence in your body like you never had before and enjoy sex like you never have before.

As a 35 year old, I feel like I’m just getting to understand this. So proud for weathering the storm! So not important to look a certain way!

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59 Deirdre* February 1, 2014 at 6:04 pm

Thank you for sharing this TED talk. What an eye-opener.

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