Sex and self-esteem

Being down on yourself can have an impact on everything in your life, including relationships. It’s hard to put yourself first and be safe if you’re having doubts about your self-worth, but we’re here to help. Read our guide to the relationship between sex and self-esteem so you can protect your sex life when you’re not feeling great.

A young woman is sitting on the sofa with her phone. She is thinking about sex and self-esteem. This is a wide-angle image.

How low self esteem can affect your sex life

Time for a small pop quiz (don’t worry, it relates to sex and self-esteem)

  • Ever had sex with someone because you thought they’d accuse you of being frigid or scared if you didn’t?
  • Ever thought that having sex with someone would mean they’d like you more?
  • Have you ever had sex so you’d appear more popular, desirable, or cooler to your friends?
  • Have you stayed in a relationship with someone who didn’t treat you right, because you thought you couldn’t do any better, or were scared of being alone?

If you’ve answered yes to any of the above, you might be suffering from low self-esteem. Perhaps you don’t have the confidence to say exactly what you feel, because you’re scared of how it will come across.

What is self-esteem?

To put it simply, it means liking yourself. This doesn’t mean you have to be ultra-confident and cocky, just that you think you’re a decent person. Youth and Relate counsellor Paula Hall says: “The key to good self-esteem is positive affirmation – telling yourself things that make you feel good about yourself, like ‘I’m doing well’ or ‘I’m in charge of my life’.”

The link between sex and self esteem

Low self-esteem can be caused by many different factors. You might be lonely, or feeling unattractive or maybe you’re being bullied. Problem is, if you don’t feel confident, you might find it harder to say no. 

That’s where sex and self esteem become connected. Not feeling good about yourself could lead to poor decisions, like having sex when you don’t really want to. For example, wanting to score some points with the cool kids at school should not be the main reason you’re having sex.

To find out more about self-esteem, read this article.

Low self esteem can be exploited for sex

If other people know you have low self-esteem, you’re also more vulnerable to peer pressure or being bullied. In extreme cases, having low self-esteem could lead to people taking advantage of you. You might also be slower to spot the signs of emotional or physical relationship abuse. But please, try not to feel scared to stand up for yourself.

Call things out, and assert your views and opinions, when necessary. If your partner won’t use protection or wants to do something you’re not comfortable with, “no means no”. Remember, Having sex with no protection without consent, is rape. Read more about enthusiastic consent here.

How to improve your self-confidence

First of all, try to find out why you don’t feel good. If you’re conscious of your appearance, maybe trying to stop comparing yourself to the models on Instagram would help. Once you’ve pinpointed the reason, you can work on strategies to avoid feeling low about yourself on a regular basis.

If you’re feeling lonely, it’s time to work on the friendships you have – being more open about how you feel may bring you closer. You might even find that you’re not as alone as you think. If, on the other hand, you feel like your friendships may be the problem, then it may be worth making some new friends. Having a strong family or friends network can truly do wonders for your well being. We all need a support network of people who love us for who we are.

Alternatively, you can always speak to your GP about how you’re feeling. They can point you in the right direction for further support, and may suggest seeing a counsellor. Brook and Relate are also great sources of support for those struggling with their sex life and relationships. Trust us, whatever you’re going through can and will be solved – you might just need some extra help along the way.

Saying ‘no’ to sex

When it comes to sex, you have to look out for number one. As Paula Hall says: ‘Put your self-interest first. If someone is putting pressure on you to do something you’re uncomfortable with, then try to get out of that situation immediately. For example, say that you need to get home, or just say you’re not ready. Once you’re away from that scenario, you’ll have time to clear your head and think about what you actually want. And if your partner won’t listen to and respect your feelings, then it’s time to say goodbye. Remember, you’re a valuable human being and you know your body best.’

If you want to learn more, click here.

Remember, only you are in control of your sex life

Next time you’re in a difficult situation, take a step back and tell yourself you deserve better. No-one has the right to tell you what to do, especially with something as personal as your sex life. You should never feel pressured to do anything you aren’t 100% happy about. If you have experienced any kind of relationship abuse, or been in a toxic relationship, it’s not your fault and you are not alone. Help is available – you can get support right here at The Mix.

Next Steps

  • You can talk to Childline about anything. Call them for free on 0800 1111 or visit their website.
  • Brook provides free sexual health and wellbeing services for young people in the UK. Brook's services include local clinics and online digital sex and relationships tool.
  • Relate is an affordable relationship and sex counselling service. 0300 100 1234
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Meera Dattani

Updated on 14-Nov-2021