Sexual anxiety is a very real concern that affects both men and women. And it affects a lot of them — almost everyone experiences sexual anxiety at some point in their lives. It can turn the bedroom into a minefield for couples, full of unseen triggers threatening to blow up a perfectly good romp. And worse — it can lead people to shut down and avoid sex entirely.
Along with being a bummer, not having sex means you’re missing out on stronger pelvic floor muscles, reduced risk of prostate cancer, and a boosted immune system. And while it may sound crazy to those experiencing sexual anxiety, sex can also be a great stress reliever!
Signs of Sexual Anxiety
The obvious physical signs include the inability to get or maintain an erection and/or premature ejaculation (for men), and the inability to orgasm and/or painful sex (for women). More subtle signs include a disinterest in sex and experiencing symptoms of general anxiety-like pain attacks, trouble being present, and a feeling of impending doom — before, during, or after sex.
If you or your partner are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to consult your doctor and rule out any medical issues. But if you get the all-clear from the doc, it’s most likely just sexual anxiety. It’s totally normal, non-life-threatening, and we have plenty of ideas to help you cope.
First and foremost, if you have a consistent partner (or a few), you should get them involved. It strongly affects them, too, so they’re probably already aware that something is up. Keeping them in the dark could risk them experiencing sexual anxiety as well!
But whether you have a partner or not, talk to your friends! We often keep these issues to ourselves out of shame, but that only makes them loom larger in our minds. It’s likely that as soon as you verbalize your sexual anxiety issues, you will feel a profound sense of relief. You’ll also find that your friends have probably been there, too. And honestly, some of the funniest conversations you’ll ever have are centered around sexual dysfunction. It’s naughty and silly and embarrassing, and talking about it will only bring you closer.
This one has a double meaning. Self-esteem and body image issues are often at play here. Think about how you see your partner or your best friend. You have favorite parts but love them for the whole package. You might not always notice new haircuts, and you rarely notice whatever pimple or wrinkle they’re freaking out about. Now remind yourself that that’s how they see you! And if your self-esteem issues center more around a lack of experience in the bedroom, consider that some people actually find that really hot. It can be really sexy to play teacher!
But also… masturbate! Struggling to orgasm can also lead some people to experience sexual anxiety. Working through these issues in your solo sessions can take the pressure off. Try new things. Buy new sex toys. Watch porn, including new types. A lot of women find they prefer girl-on-girl porn, for example, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Get in the Zone
It may help to have a beer or glass of wine before heading to the bedroom.
Alcohol can help lower inhibitions and quiet our minds enough to enjoy each other and the moment. That said, you want to avoid a situation where you can only enjoy sex with the help of alcohol, so use this tactic conservatively and mindfully.
If you are sober or looking for a non-alcoholic alternative, try meditating. There are plenty of apps for this, or you can do it the old-fashioned way, spending 10-20 minutes sitting still and focused on your breathing.
Say No to Sex
Huh? Taking sex off the table for a while can also help take the pressure off. Focus on non-sexual, physical connection, like massage or cuddling or showering together. It’s nice to remember the pleasure of physical touch without the presumed endgame of penetrative sex looming in the distance. Just enjoy being close, and don’t worry about where it is (or isn’t) going.
As a bonus, reverse psychology can often lead to a situation where you suddenly can’t take yourselves off each other, making out like horny teenagers worried their parents might come home. Fun!
Fake It til You Make It
(This one isn’t what you think. Faking an orgasm never helped anybody.)
If you do still choose to have sex, try this very specific role-play exercise: act the part of someone who’s really good at sex and really enjoys it. Go overboard. Dress the part. Bring out the toys. If you don’t have one, go buy a whip. Channel your favorite TV temptress or movie womanizer and go nuts (with your partner’s consent, of course.)
You know that thing where forcing a smile can actually improve your mood? This is like that, but sexier. You might surprise and arouse yourself with your new persona, and your partner will love it.
Change it Up
If your anxiety stems from negative prior sexual encounters, or you and your current partner have been stuck in a sexual rut for a while, try changing things up. Do it in a different room or on a different piece of furniture. Do it in a car. Wear something different. Play different music. Change anything you can. This can help break you out of old habits and past associations so you can focus on the present.
Sexual anxiety is a very common experience, and nothing to be ashamed of. That said, it’s also a vicious cycle that can lead to relationship and mental health issues. If you or your partner are experiencing sexual concerns of any kind, it may help to talk to a professional. Dr. Stacy Friedman’s bio is below and she offers remote complimentary 15-minute consultations and ongoing coaching sessions.
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