How self-image can wreck your sex life

Saturday February 15 2020

The way you perceive your body, or your self-image, is the cause of your sexual problems. PHOTO | FILE | NMG

The traffic was at a standstill.

There was a roundabout ahead and the policeman would not just let our lane move. Everyone was frustrated. As a result, they kept hooting loudly.

The irritating sound pierced the air, tearing my eardrums and causing blood to ooze out. I opened the car door to get out and shout at them to stop as my shirt got soaked by the blood oozing from my ears, but no sooner had I stepped out than a speeding motorbike hit me!

I woke up drenched in sweat. Thank God it was just a dream! I realised that it was just my ringing phone giving me nightmares.

I reached for it, my heart still racing, having just missed death by a whisker in my dream.

I looked at the time as I swiped the screen to receive the call. It was well past 1am. Truecaller indicated that the caller was “Johnson”, and that he was calling from the US.


“So we might not travel over to see you but I thought you could do therapy virtually,” Johnson explained.


“We are ready to pay for the costs and we can do a video call.” He also apologised for waking me up, saying it was only 6pm on his side of the world.

Incidentally, Johnson had asked his wife to have sex with a gym instructor to show his love and commitment to her but this proved to be the last straw in their relationship, which was already quite rocky.

“I don’t understand,” I replied. “You were okay with her having sex with the gym instructor?”

According to Johnson, his marriage got into trouble when he and his wife, Cindy, enrolled in a gym. The decision was a noble one — to keep fit.

“The moment my wife saw the gym guy, however, she got very excited,” Johnson explained. “She looked at him with admiration, especially the muscles on his chest!”

Johnson was devastated, especially because their sex life in the past year had been challenging. Johnson suffered dwindling erections.


Sometimes he failed to get erection, at other times he got weak erections and could not manage penetrative sex. Occasionally, he managed penetration but the erections tapered off midway.

“Let me just say sex is frustrating, and I had already decided that I would avoid it even before we went to the gym,” Johnson explained. "and because my wife looked at the gym guy with sexy eyes, I thought he could make her happy on my behalf.”

It was fast approaching 2am and I realised that I had been on phone for close to 30 minutes.

I gave Johnson the way forward; that first he and Cindy fill the sexual history forms that I e-mailed him immediately, and that they e-mail them back the same day. The forms are an alternative to a face-to- face interview.

We agreed to talk the next day after I reviewed their detailed sexual information on the forms.

What caught my attention on the forms was that, right from childhood, Johnson had been a man of small stature. His siblings called him a mosquito.


They were well-endowed physically and played basketball. Things did not get any better for Johnson when he went to school.

His classmates called him 'Mr Small'. “So you have grown up feeling physically inadequate?” I asked in our first video conference. “You take other people to be better than you and in fact you have tried to take steroids to build your muscles?”

I concluded that the feeling of inadequacy made Johnson lose his self-esteem. He lacked self-confidence.

In his subconscious, he believed that no one could love him the way he was. His erection problems actually started when Cindy got a new job, with a male boss.

In her previous job, she had a female boss. Johnson met the man once and felt totally useless and inadequate. The man was well-built and confident.

Johnson felt like a child in front of him. He started imagining that Cindy would fall in love with the man. That is when his erections became erratic.

“My diagnosis is that the way you perceive your body, or your self-image, is the cause of your problems,” I explained.


My diagnosis was confirmed when I talked to Cindy. She loved Johnson just the way he was. She was attracted to his lean body.

She had never liked huge men. The fiasco resulting from the visit to the gym devastated her. “My husband takes me for a whore, and that’s hurtful,” she said.

“How could he tell me to have sex with the gym guy? I feel disrespected.” Because he was so self-insufficient, Johnson thought that by persuading Cindy to have sex with the gym instructor, he would be making her happy, and by extension, showing his love for her.

“Well, I thought that I was being selfless by supporting my spouse to enjoy herself with someone else since I was unable to meet her needs,” Johnson said. “I regret this sick way of looking at life.”

Johnson went through three more sessions of therapy. He is now on the path to recovery and his sexual functioning is much better.

It was yet another testimony to the popular adage in sexual medicine that if you loath your body, your sex life and your relationship will soon crash.