“I want to be more confident in the bedroom and unleash my inner sex goddess, but I hate the way my pu**y looks and it’s holding me back,” Anonymous B says in an email dripping with desperation. This same message is delivered to me in various ways week to week from women across the globe. Some as young as 19 years old work up the courage to share their insecurities with me, about their bodies and lack of confidence in sexual performance.

Body image issues are common amongst women and often go untreated, even when their effects on self-esteem and intimate relationships are apparent. So many women go day-to-day feeling inadequate in how they look (especially in “the land down under”). And even though there isn’t a standard for how any one woman should look (between her legs or elsewhere), many women hold themselves to a standard of fantasy.

With a prominent number of women raising concerns about their “genital image,” I had to ask the question of “why?” to someone I trust as an authority on the subject of vulvas and vaginas. During an in-office visit with Dr. Mary Lynn—DO of Loyola Medical in Oakbrook, Illinois—I asked why so many women feel insecure about the shape and appearance of their vulvas.

“There are so many examples of vulvas out there, with porn being so popular and women leaking nudes online,” she said. “Women start to look at these vulvas as the ‘norm’ and compare the images to themselves. But in reality every woman is created differently.”

Body image issues are major roadblocks standing in the way of authentic sexual expression, whether solo or with a partner, and many sex coaches and sex therapists address these issues often. Before a woman can move into a space of sexual improvement, her self-esteem must be raised to a higher standard.

Intimate relationship coach and nationally touring speaker Nikeema Lee addresses these issues daily with women from across the globe. As an advocate for living in one’s truth, Nikeema coaches women to live as their authentic selves and takes them through several techniques to help move into a more healthy space of self-love.

1. Pinpoint the source of your low self-esteem

For every problem, there is a source from which it arises. And before working on treating an issue, its source must be singled out. “Unfortunately, the most common cause of low self-esteem in women is our own families and environments,” says Nikeema. “They tend to have the greatest impact on our lives and are the most damaging.”

The damaging source may be a mother who never has anything positive to say about you, or another family member who’s had nothing but negativity to contribute to your life. Admitting to yourself that a beloved family member is the source of your dismal outlook on self can be difficult to do, but Lee suggests that every woman has the ability be aware and dismissive of negativity in the midst of family loyalty.

“Women have intuition, and we typically know what the problem is,” says Nikeema. “It’s just all about having the courage to face it. It’s difficult to face the fact that the way my mother treats me is the reason I feel this way, or how my husband treats me or my boyfriend treats me is the reason I feel this way. We don’t want to admit that. But deep down in our souls, we know they are the source of the issue.”

2. Remove the source or remove yourself from the source

After you become aware of the source of negativity in your life, the best solution to begin to heal is to remove the source or to change your environment. It may be difficult to distance yourself from family members or friends who you feel closely to. But Nikeema suggests that this separation can happen without the loss of love for those close to you.

“Being able to take yourself out of a certain environment and removing yourself from your family and saying, ‘I can’t be around my family because they are damaging to my self-esteem’ is hard, because it’s your family,” she says. “You feel like, ‘these are the people I love and the people I have to be around.’ But when you become your authentic self, you learn that you can still love them in your heart but you don’t have to be around them. You can be their niece or granddaughter or daughter, but you don’t have to put up with the negativity being placed in your environment. You can change your outward environment to have a better at peace inward environment.”

Removing yourself from negative environments removes everyone else’s thoughts and opinions and leaves you with your own thoughts about self. Creating a healthy environment for your mind to expand within its own awareness helps with reestablishing your authentic self.

3. Change your perspective with an attitude of gratitude

Being in a space of lowered self-esteem can create a sense inadequacy. But in order to move into a place of self-love and acceptance, Nikeema suggests that women change their perspectives by adopting an attitude of gratitude to begin living authentically.

“Change the perspective of how you see your life to truly being, living authentically. Begin to be grateful for the small things you have in life. You will find more joy in what your life has to offer, because there are people in this world that have less than you,” says Lee. “Take the time to be grateful for who you are during your initial wakeup. Begin the practice of being grateful for what you have when you first wake up and also before you go to bed at night. Just replay your day and think about all of the wonderful things that have happened, and the wonderful things that you’re grateful for and just say them to yourself as you go to sleep. In the sleep part of our lives we get the chance to reset. We get a chance to do things over.”

4. Employ the mirror technique

Once you’ve pinpointed the source of negativity, removed the source and changed your perspective by adopting an attitude of gratitude, you can begin to build your self-confidence by using positive affirmations while employing the “mirror technique.” Nikeema recommends this as an effective way to reconnect with self.

“This is how it’s done. Look in the mirror and find 10 things you like about yourself. Even if you only find one thing, that’s fine. You own that thing. So for example, you may decide that you like your smile. You tell yourself ‘I like my smile,’ and do this 10 times. Say it until you believe it and feel it in your heart,” she explains.

“Once you connect with one thing, it will lead you to like other things about yourself. ‘I like my arms, I like the way my booty is shaped. I like the way my teeth are.’ And before you know it, you will find more and more things to put into what I like to call your self-esteem bank. And you can make those deposits so when you are having a bad day or some troll on Instagram says, ‘That’s an ugly picture’ or ‘You look bad in that dress,’ you can say, ‘You know what? I like the way this dress hits my knees.’ And you can begin to pull from your reserve and heal yourself instead of looking for validation from outside sources.”

Self-love is a major necessity in being able to love and be loved by another. It gives you the ability to remain confident in communicating your needs and desires within a relationship, while allowing you to express yourself holistically within whatever relationships you develop—whether they are business relationships, friendships or romantic love affairs.

Your vulva may not look like the airbrushed, edited versions seen in adult films, and your body may not be in the shape of the fantasy women in the pages of Playboy, but that’s okay. You’re beautifully and uniquely made, and the minute you begin to believe it, the better your relationship with self and others will become.

“Thanks to the coaching from Nikeema, I am loving myself more and moving into a space of acceptance of my vulva. I’m so excited,” Anonymous B responded in a follow-up email about her progress. Not only had she learned how to live more authentically, but she also realized after communicating with her lover that the shape and appearance of her vulva didn’t bother him one bit. What a difference a shift in perception makes!

Embrace your body and make the decision to only speak positively and remain in positive thought of yourself, and if you need help in doing the work to improve, Nikeema is here to help. You can learn more about her and contact her for intimate relationship coaching on her website, nikeemalee.com.

Glamazon Tyomi is a freelance writer, model and sex educator with a deeply rooted passion for spreading the message of sex positivity and encouraging the masses to embrace their sexuality. Her website, www.glamerotica101.com, reaches internationally as a source for advice and information for the sexually active/curious. Follow her on Twitter at @glamazontyomi.