12/04/2014 03:59 pm ET Updated Feb 03, 2015

9 Reasons To Love Your Vulva

Thomas Tolstrup via Getty Images

Do you have a positive genital self-image? As researcher Christin Bowman defines it, female genital self-image refers to "the degree to which women feel positively about their genitals." Research shows how you feel about your vulva matters, and it matters a lot. Here are nine reasons to work on accepting, and ultimately feeling blissful, about all parts of your body.

1. Having a higher genital self-image is linked to more enjoyment of sex, better sexual functioning and more routine gynecological visits. It's true, if you feel ashamed and disapproving of this part of your body, you are less likely to take care of yourself and this impacts sexual performance.

2. Improving your genital self-image improves women's self-esteem. Research suggests that feeling positively about your genitals is related to generally having a more positive body image and higher self-worth.

3. Experience less anxiety about being intimate with men. As you learn to love your genitals au natural, you will reduce the anxiety and self-scrutiny that many women face as they fear their genitals are somehow unseemly -- some women adopt a belief that it is "yucky down there," making it hard to relax during their sexual experiences.

4. Invest fewer resources -- -money, time, energy -- into "doctoring up" the vulva. In current culture, what is promoted as sexy for female genitalia is a kind of rarefied, equally proportioned, odorless, hairless, prepubescent wonder. Many women go to great lengths to re-create this pornified image so as to ensure a male will optimally desire them. Coifing and obsessing over the genitalia preoccupies, taking women away from enjoying the actual, in-the-moment sex act.

5. Experience less shame around self-pleasure. Although most women do masturbate (60-65%), a cultural stigma around the act endures. Learning to love your genitals just as they are erodes the shame that feeds the stigma. In addition, research shows that women who have a greater appreciation for their genitals also tend to feel more at ease and even empowered by the fact that they masturbate than those who do not feel as positively about their genitals.

6. Increase feelings of sexual empowerment. Research shows that feeling comfortable with your genitalia is linked to feeling sexually confident, relaxed and at ease in your own skin, entitled to enjoyable sexual experiences and powerful. In short, learn to love your body and you will feel more in control of your ability to enjoy your sexual experiences.

7. Feel Sexier. There is a difference between feeling sexy as a human being in your own skin and self-objectifying. The former is feeling hot, feeling sexual and the latter is striving to appear sexy to meet a perceived male standard of sexiness. For many women, this kind of self-objectification is related to having a negative body image, fixating on one's physical flaws, working diligently to appear sexy, as well as obsessing about what men desire and trying to approximate it. All of this fuss brings about a kind of manufactured sex appeal and takes women away from feeling inherently sexy.

8. Experience real desire. Existing as a teenage girl or adult woman in the current culture means one is frequently batting the impossible bind of being sexy enough, not overly prudish, but not so sexy as to not be taken seriously. Balancing on this beam is exhausting and means women spend energy and time surveying themselves to live up to the impossible. Most importantly, this self-reconnaissance takes some women away from experiencing their own sexual desire. For women, connecting with their sexual desire has to be consciously built. Increasing your positive feelings and acceptance of your genitals makes it easier to connect with your own sexual desire (separate from how you appear to your partners).

9. Learn more about your body. Understanding and accepting your machinery is linked to greater enjoyment of the sex act itself, more awareness of one's body and ability to communicate needs during a sexual encounter.

For more follow me on twitter @DrJillWeber, like me on Facebook or visit Dr. Jill Weber is a clinical psychologist in Washington, DC and author of Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy -- Why Women Settle for One-Sided Relationships.