Ask Cynthia: Should I tell a new lover about my past scars?

I'm a female in my mid 20s and in the past have struggled with depression/anxiety and self-harm. I have trouble bringing this up in relationships and knowing when the right time is. Although self-harm is far behind me and something I have overcome it has left some visible scars on various parts of my body. This makes me very fearful to undress in front of men and to be seen naked which has taken some of the fun out of dating and sex for me. Although I take pride in overcoming what I have, I am often fearful of judgement from men. I have already had one guy end a relationship because of my anxiety. Do you have any advice about how to talk about this with a partner and how I could become more comfortable in my skin?

Everyone has scars. Some are small and some are large. Some are super obvious and some are deeply hidden.
In other words: You are not alone. 
Don’t feel like you have to bring up this part of your history right away.  Feel out your comfort level and when you feel safe enough, you may want to pay close attention to his reaction.  Is he curious? Empathetic? Fearful? Dismissive? Often times (ironically/paradoxically) people who have not dealt with their own scars and wounds will be the least receptive hearing about someone else’s. So if you sense someone retreating or reacting in a way that does not feel good to you, proceed with caution. Or make an exit plan. 
Now on to our bodies. We are all our worst critics, aren’t we? So often we see our bodies as too fat, too thin, too rippley, too broken, too white, too black, too feminine or too masculine. I could go on and on. Meanwhile, all our lovers are usually thinking is: wow, I'm so happy to be here.
So how do we learn to embrace our bodies – in all their diversity?
Unfortunately there is no quick and easy path. In fact for every person the road is different. And it’s usually a windy road that goes in many directions and doesn’t always fully find its destination.
It may sound trite but one place you could start is with gentle yoga classes. I see every yoga session as a mini life: you breathe deeply, rise and greet the sun, you learn to stand in a number of positions, some of which are excruciatingly uncomfortable, you are released from those positions, you become a warrior and then you die.  Yoga reminds us of the brevity of life. It also reminds us of how strong a body can be, regardless of what it looks like.
If you've been watching the show, you know that I'm also a big fan of bellydance. Women (and men) of all ages, shapes and sizes have found that there is something transcendent about the music combined with the earthy movements which can translate into incredible body awareness and confidence.
I might also suggest that you actively try to get away from thinking about how your body looks and focus how your body feels. Meditation is immensely helpful not only with anxiety but also getting us out of our heads and into our bodies. Spending some time focusing on self-care and the amazing power of self-given pleasure will remind you of how powerful your body can be – regardless of whether you have a partner or not. 
I love that you take pride in your past and the work that you've done on yourself already. Keep going. Remember also that this kind of confidence radiates through you and is extremely sexy.
Listen, relationships can take years of trial and error before finding the right fit. Take the pressure off yourself and try to let curiosity lead you. Remember that it’s as important to listen as it is to be heard. To observe as it is to be watched. 
Gravitate towards those who show qualities of empathy – watch closely at how they interact with small things. And listen to how they talk about others and about the type of work they have done on themselves. This is how you can know whether or not someone is even worth hearing your story in the first place.
I leave you with this amazing quote from writer/poet Khalil Gibran: “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”

Cynthia Loyst is our resident relationship expert and a passionate advocate for healthy sexual information. As a sought-after relationship coach and columnist, she’s known for giving advice and opinions on the joys and complications of love. She has received awards from SSSS (Society For The Scientific Study of Sexuality) and Planned Parenthood in Toronto. She is also SAR (Sexual Attitude Reassessment) certified, a member of SIECCAN (Sex Information and Education Council of Canada) and continues to take ongoing courses in human sexuality.

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