Pandemic has increased body dysmorphia disorder while decreasing sexual encounters

Nicole McIsaac, Associate News Editor

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect many aspects of life, including the way individuals view themselves and their bodies, particularly when it comes to sexual encounters. 

Illustration by Michael Clement

Maybe this is because of the few extra pounds tacked on while being locked away in the confines of their homes, or maybe it occurred from spending more time alone in quarantine while battling specific internal conflicts and thoughts. Maybe it even happened from having a lack of access to proper mental health care or support regarding these issues. 

Whatever the individualized case was, it comes as no shock that the pandemic completely shifted the way hundreds and even thousands of people view their bodies every day. 

Britain’s Parliament conducted a research study in October 2020 that sampled 8,000 individuals and revealed that 58% of the participants under the age of 18 were feeling worse about their physical appearance during the lockdown.

An increase in pressure surrounding the need to focus on weight loss or improve appearance skyrocketed among individuals during this time period. People began to find ways to challenge the toxic thoughts that they had developed about themselves.

“A bunch of people on social media were more motivated to workout and get their dream body,” said Ashleigh Persico, a sophomore health science major. “Working out and eating healthy is a good thing, but during quarantine, I felt it got to the point where it was a ‘trend’ and everyone was following everyone.” 

The popular workout and YouTube guru Chloe Ting, became one of the most watched trainers during lockdown. Her intense fitness programs circulated through various different social media apps and younger age groups. Even I have been swept up into the trend of regularly working out and following these planned daily fitness routines throughout my quarantine.

While working out and bettering one’s self is something admirable, the long-lasting effects of these crazed workouts and hyper-focused attention on physical appearance is something that has left an negative impact on the way people think about themselves within society.  

“After participating in the workouts and eating healthy, I became constantly worried about how skinny I was or if the jeans will fit right like the girls I saw in the picture,” Persico said. “Social media definitely had an influence, and I feel a lot of comparing to others was done.”

In alignment with appearance guilt and worries about “quarantine weight,” a rise in other mental health, eating disorders and body image struggles further contributed to image and perception battles. One large mental health issue during this time became Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD).

BDD is defined as a distinct mental disorder in which a person is preoccupied with an imagined physical defect or a minor defect that others often cannot see, according to an article published on WebMD. 

This disorder finds ways to completely control one’s life, no matter where they turn to and makes it difficult for someone to feel good about doing or wearing anything. It’s more than just a “mental health disorder” and consumes just about every thought a person has. 

However, the idea of how this mental illness affects relationships continues to go unrecognized and undiscussed. Sex is a prominent component of intimacy in relationships and establishes a vulnerable environment in which a person’s body is seen in a new light. 

For those who are diagnosed with BDD or endure other body image struggles, this could easily seem like an overwhelming experience that adds fuel to an uncontrollable anxiety and overthinking wildfire. In addition, these battles find ways to disrupt the fulfillment that individuals are feeling with their partners.

According to an online study published by PubMed, “Women more satisfied with body image reported more sexual activity, orgasm, and initiating sex, greater comfort undressing in front of their partner, having sex with the lights on, trying new sexual behaviors and pleasing their partner sexually than those dissatisfied.”

That same study also indicated that positive body image is related to self-consciousness and the importance of physical attractiveness, which further aligns with relationships with others and overall satisfaction.  

While body image struggles vary from person to person, there may be a pattern of difficulties people face when trying to go about meeting new people or getting intimate with others, particularly post-pandemic.

“Personally, it hasn’t stopped me from going out or meeting new people, but I’m just more aware of how others perceive me,” Persico said. “I’m constantly thinking about what I look like, constantly checking if I’m skinny.” 

I’m constantly thinking about what I look like, constantly checking if I’m skinny.”

— Ashleigh Persico

In efforts to repair those added intimacy issues, it is important to note that it can and will be challenging. Keeping an open line of communication, trust and honesty with your partner can help aid in their understanding as to why the physical aspect of the relationship might be altered. 

Despite trying to solely rely on discussing these struggles, there are other ways to further seek help in doing so. Finding a regular therapist to talk to about these body perception issues can serve as a way to explore all the different factors that are contributing to these attitudes and behaviors. 

Understand the time we are all living in and the difficulties that come with it. If you put on some extra weight or developed some related body image disorders, don’t hate yourself. 

You can seek help and guidance to work on these issues or even find alternative healthy goals to set for yourself. Just know, these struggles don’t define you.