How To Cope With Sexual Anxiety
Whether you’re dating someone new or you have a long-term partner, sexual anxiety is real, and it can impact relationships at any stage.
That said, there are plenty of ways to recognize it as it starts to happen and work on moving past it.
Verywell Mind spoke with Candice Cooper-Lovett, LMFT, a licensed sex therapist based in Atlanta, to find out how individuals and couples can address these concerns and move into a healthy sexual relationship.
This article defines sexual anxiety, how to tell if you’re experiencing it, what causes it, and how to cope with it.
Premature Ejaculation And Sexual Performance Anxiety
Like erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation is a very common sexual issue.
Approximately one-third of men under the age of 60 have at least occasional issues with PE. Doctors define early ejaculation as regularly reaching orgasm within one minute after penetration during vaginal sex.
Whether you have chronic symptoms or symptoms that only occur from time to time, PE has the potential to increase the odds of sexual performance anxiety.
As mentioned above, sexual performance anxiety can potentially lead to PE, which can further increase anxiety. It can therefore become a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, there are numerous solutions to help you overcome this issue.
Seek Help From A Professional
Sex therapists, sex coaches, and some sex educators are trained to give you tools and information to help with challenges like performance anxiety and sexual dysfunction. A sex therapist may be able to help you understand if there is something underlying your performance anxiety that may not have to do with sex at all.
If your anxiety is rooted in what might be a medical issue, such as vaginal pain, dryness, or erectile dysfunction, seek help from a doctor, sex therapist, pelvic floor therapist, or practitioner. There are medical treatments available that might be right for you.
The bottom line
While experiencing sexual performance anxiety may be difficult, it is possible to overcome. Be sure to pay attention to what you feel anxious about and talk with your partner about it. You might try strategies like mindfulness, focusing on foreplay or mutual masturbation, or working with a professional. Remember that sex is not a performance and that your pleasure is equally as important as your partnerâs.
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General Relationship Problems With Your Partner
Even for guys with the most active sex lives, intercourse itself makes up only a tiny fraction of the daily interactions they have with their lover.
Theres a heck of a lot more to a relationship than sex, and the overall quality of your relationship has important implications for your sex life.
Indeed, a poor relationship outside the bedroom can increase performance anxiety between the sheets.
Men who have trouble communicating openly and honestly with their significant other often fall into this category.
Sexual Performance Anxiety Statistics
While there are no statistics for sexual performance anxiety as a unique diagnosis, we can gain a sense of how prevalent sexual anxiety is by looking at statistics for related issues:
- Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. An estimated 19.1% of U.S. adults had any anxiety disorder in the past year and an estimated 31.1% of U.S. adults experience any anxiety disorder at some time in their lives7
- Erectile Dysfunction occurs in 18% of men over 20 in the U.S.8
- Lifelong Delayed Ejaculation affects approximately 1% of sexually active men and acquired DE affects approximately 4% of sexually active men9
- Female Orgasmic Disorder is present in approximately 26% of premenopausal women10
- 10-15% of women report never having had an orgasm11
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Setting The Stage For Intimacy
During my late teens, I had a lot of anxiety around sex. I spent a large portion of my day fantasizing about what my first time would be like. I daydreamed for hours, thinking about where it would take place and with whom, what I would wear, and the face I would make as I climaxed. Mostly, I wondered what kind of person I would become after losing my virginity.
Was I doing it right? Was this how people had sex? Did I look sexy enough?
My apprehensions were compounded by the unrealistic expectations I had internalized. Years of watching porn, reading romance novels, and watching movies with steamy sex scenes had only distorted my expectations. This resulted in excessive self-monitoring of my performance, leading to vaginal dryness and painful sex. I constantly worried that something was wrong with me and my body. I thought that I was just bad at sex.
Many years later and I still have similar anxieties. But Ive realized that these expectations Ive set for myself and my partners are toxic. Simply put, my performance anxieties have affected my sex life and sexual health. And Im not alone.
Sexual Performance Anxiety: What Is It And How To Overcome It
Sex is supposed to be fun. It can be a time to explore yourself and your partner in new, intimate ways. Or it can simply be a good, connecting time. But if you feel your anxiety always gets in the way of your enjoyment, you might be experiencing sexual performance anxiety. Such anxiety can pose challenges in the bedroom and it can manifest for a number of reasons. Whatever is causing it, you arenât alone in the feeling. According to a 2010 study published in the Sex Med Review Journal, sexual performance anxiety is actually one of the most common sexual complaints. While it can be difficult to deal with, there are ways to overcome your performance anxiety. First, it can be helpful to simply understand what it is and some of the reasons that may cause it.
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How To Finally Overcome Sexual Anxiety
You want to relax, have fun, and have good sex but you cant seem to figure out how to get over this sexual anxiety.
- Each time youre about to have sex, you get nervous
- Thoughts like will it work this time? pop up
- Your body doesnt respond the way you want it to
- You end up having less than stellar sex
- And you feel frustrated and disappointed in yourself!
Does this sound like you?
Its actually more common than you think. If you think you may have sexual anxietyknow that youre not alone.
Sexual anxiety can happen to anyone. You can have sexual performance anxiety in marriage, and you can feel sexual performance anxiety with a new partner as well! In fact, research shows that 9-25% of men and 6-16% of women experience sexual performance anxiety1.
We know that feeling sexual anxiety is a big struggle for many. But not all hope is lost.
Your Feelings About The Relationship
If you have unresolved issues, fears, or worries about your relationship, sex can bring them up and make you feel overwhelmed especially with all those hormones.
This can be the case, too, if you dont have much history with your partner. All that uncertainty and newness can bring up feelings of anxiety.
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Why Someone Might Have Sexual Anxiety
There are many reasons why someone might struggle with sexual anxiety, and it could be something that the person struggling with it doesn’t yet understand about themselves.
Below are some common reasons why someone might experience sexual anxiety:
- Body image issues: If someone is self-conscious about certain aspects of their body, it can be hard to feel confident with sexual partners, especially newer sexual partners.
- Sexual dysfunctions for either partner: While it can be difficult for partners experiencing sexual dysfunctions , it can also be hard for the partner that’s worried about the other person’s dysfunctions.
- Past sexual abuse:People who have experienced sexual abuse often have a difficult time thinking about sex in healthy ways, and it can take a while to take back their own image of what sex should look like for them.
- Relationship issues:This includes fighting, arguing, microaggressions, or just the general inability to be open and honest with your partner.
- Fear of intimacy: It can be hard for people with a fear of intimacy to trust others, which is a big component of good sexual experiences.
- Partner compatibility:If someone doesn’t feel comfortable or attracted to their partner, it can put a huge damper on their desire to have sex and increase their anxiety at the thought of it.
Take The Pressure Off
If the sex youâre having isnât making you feel good, or if youâre not having any sex at all, and thatâs making you anxious, one thing you can do is deceptively simple: take sex off the table for a while. Or, rather, take Sex-That-You-Donât-Want-To-Be-Having off the table for a while, and only have sex when you and your partner both feel comfortable with it, without any sense of duty or expectation. Easier said than done of course, but taking the pressure away from having to have sex means you can both work on your sexual relationship with one of you having fewer anxiety-inducing experiences, and the other having fewer moments of feeling rejected, isolated, and frustrated. Itâs a win-win.
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Coping With Sexual Anxiety
After identifying your triggers, it’s important to determine why these triggers exist and when they started. Oftentimes, learning to recognize triggers can take away their power.
It’s more important than ever to be open and honest with your partner about what you’re feeling and how you’re working through your emotions.
Let them know if they’ve said or done something to cause you to feel sexual anxiety in the past, and be honest with them about why their action made you feel the way it did.
Mental Health In Bed: Sex And Anxiety
The following is intended for readers 18+
Has this ever happened to you? Youve set the scene, the mood is right, you fall into bed with your partner and then the anxiety starts: What if Im doing this wrong? What if I hurt them? What if I get hurt?
This is how sex in a past relationship always went for me. Everything would be right. I would tell myself I would stay calm this time, and then the anxiety crept in anyway, building like a crescendo until the only thing climaxing was my panic.
I could never get past the anxiety long enough to let go and fully be with the person I loved. I tensed up, clammed up, and in the end, neither of us had a satisfying experience. I didnt know how to talk to my partner about the anxiety because I thought it was a problem I needed to fix alone as opposed to something we could work on together. As a result, our love life fizzled and eventually went out.
Anxiety, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and even post-traumatic stress disorder, makes for poor company during sexy times. If youre struggling, take a look at how anxiety may be getting in the way and learn a few tips to help soothe the worry.
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Sometimes Its Your Brain
Stress and anxiety, especially when ongoing, can really wreak havoc on a persona libido, interest in sex, ability to orgasm, and more, says Berman.
Same goes for depression. shows that folks who are depressed have sex less frequently, have a lower libido, and are generally less satisfied in their relationship.
What Causes Sexual Performance Anxiety
Sexual performance anxiety can be caused by a wide range of stressors, underlying mental health issues or other sexual dysfunctions. While there is no single cause, performance anxiety is typically part of a broader issue with anxiety in the relationship or within the individual.
Here are six common causes of sexual performance anxiety:
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Spectatoring Or Sexual Performance Anxiety
One way that sexual anxiety makes itself known during a sexual encounter is in what we call âspectatoringâ: watching yourself as if from above, disconnected from whatâs going on, trying to manage how your partner experiences you, rather than being present in the moment. In todayâs society, most of our ideas about what sex is, or âshouldâ be, come from Hollywood or porn, so itâs probably not surprising that sexual performance anxiety is one of the most common sexual complaints, affecting up to 25% of men and up to 16% of women, and is associated with many different sexual dysfunctions, including lack of desire.
Feeling self-conscious about your body or how it works, comparing yourself to other people your partner may have slept with or how you used to look, or worrying about disappointing your partner – sexual performance anxiety is completely normal, and it often comes with a sense of shame, which can be deeply uncomfortable. These kinds of thoughts are also a roadblock to sexual desire, sexual arousal, and intimacy. In fact, if you take just one message away from this article, let it be this: itâs practically impossible to become aroused, or engage fully in the moment of sexual intimacy if youâre caught up in sexual performance anxiety, and the critical thoughts that come with it. It just wonât happen, because your body and mind need safety and relaxation before they can open up to the possibility of sex.
No Shame In Accepting Sex As An Anxiety Treatment
Sex, masturbation, orgasm and even arousal all have various biological effects on our brains and, therefore, our moods. Any distraction from anxiety will, in some way, give us relief. Some people reject the idea of sex as an anxiety treatment and see it as being a standalone activity.
However, just as some folks turn to coffee, smoking, food, or exercise to relieve the symptoms of anxiety, some of us, myself included, will turn to sex. And, just as some will be judged by others for drinking too much coffee or eating too much food, some will be judged for having sexual relations.
Sex, in all its forms, is a very personal decision. The ultimate choice to try anything to reduce anxiety is entirely yours. For me, and many people with anxiety disorders, achieving orgasm is a natural and helpful anxiety reducer. If you havent considered it, I strongly encourage you to do so.
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Erectile Dysfunction And Sexual Performance Anxiety
Erectile dysfunction is a health issue that affects a lot of guys. ED is especially common in older men due to a variety of medical conditions.
In fact, about 50 percent of men in their 50s and 60s have moderate symptoms of ED however, younger men are not immune, and many experience situational or episodic cases of erectile difficulties.
Most of the time, men below 30 who have problems getting it up have no underlying physical issues. Many of these guys are probably just feeling the effects of sexual performance anxiety instead.
No one wants to deal with erectile problems, there are numerous ways to treat them. In addition to reducing or eliminating the causes of sexual anxiety, there are a number of medical and non-medical approaches you can consider in order to tackle the symptoms.