When NOW asked us to participate in their Love Your Body Day Blog Carnival, we were more than excited. Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts may not seem like the obvious choice for a blog about body image and self-esteem, but think about it: When it comes to making responsible, consensual, and empowering decisions about sex, body image is critical.
Body image is one of the six key components of sexuality education—along with sexual development, reproductive health, interpersonal relationships, affection, intimacy, and gender roles. And what is one of our primary goals here at PPLM? Education! We offer Get Real, a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum for middle and high schools, and Let’s Be Honest, a parent education program that empowers parents to be the primary sexuality educators of their children.
We know that long-lasting negative body image can affect a person’s physical and mental health, including low self-esteem, sexual risk behavior, eating disorders, and refraining from healthy activities that would reveal their bodies, including exercising and having sex.
Think about a young boy going through puberty who has pressure from his girlfriend to have sex. He might think, I can’t believe she thinks I’m good looking enough to sleep with. Maybe I should. She says she’ll leave me if I don’t.
Think about a college student about to have sex for the first time. She’s been struggling with family issues and feels overwhelmed by schoolwork. She has been developing disordered eating habits in an attempt to re-gain control of her body and her life. She asks her partner to use a condom, but he says he doesn’t like the way it feels. She thinks, Why not? I need to make him happy. Maybe this will make me happy, too.
Think about the married couple who never really received sex ed or explored their sexuality before finding each other. They are deeply in love but one or the other usually fails to be satisfied during sex. But if they’ve never been comfortable enough in their own skin, how can they talk about these problems with each other?
PPLM works every day to make sure scenarios like these don’t happen. We believe that everyone deserves to feel comfortable in their own body and feel good about the way they look. Beauty can be found in a variety of body shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities, despite the limited view of beauty offered by our peers, the media, and sometimes family and friends.
Plus, people who are comfortable with themselves are more comfortable talking openly about sex with a partner and are more likely to make healthy sexual decisions, like using a condom. In an ideal world, people would understand their sexuality as an essential and valuable part of who they are, and explore healthy ways to feel even better about themselves – by themselves and with their partners.
Comprehensive sexuality education programs like ours move toward that ideal by helping young people develop the self-confidence they need to make responsible and healthy decisions about sex and sexuality. Promoting positive body image is just one more reason to support comprehensive sexuality education.
So please, stay educated, love your body and keep it safe.
This post is part of the 2011 Love Your Body Day Blog Carnival