Sexual anxiety, also known as performance anxiety, is universal. If you haven’t felt super nervous the first time you took your clothes off in front of someone or tried something new, we’d love to know your secret!
It’s perfectly natural to feel anxious in the bedroom, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying yourself. We’ve got a little more about why that happens and four ways you can cope with sexual anxiety.
What Is Sexual Anxiety?
Sex is supposed to be fun, right? For a lot of us, sex can also create massive anxiety.
Am I doing it right? Is my partner enjoying themselves? Do I look sexy enough? If you ask these questions so much that it’s impacting your ability to get off or be in the moment, you might be dealing with sex anxiety.
But don’t worry, you’re not alone. Sexual anxiety is super common. A recent study on sexual performance anxiety (SPA) showed that up to 25 percent of people identifying as male and up to 16 percent of those identifying as female deal with the issue.
It’s also a trigger of other sexual dysfunction, like premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, and low libido.
Keep in mind that sexual anxiety is not officially considered a diagnosis or a disorder. There’s nothing “wrong” with you, and understanding why you feel that way can help you find ways to cope with the side effects.
What Causes Sexual Anxiety?
Although sexual anxiety is extremely prevalent, research into the causes of sexual performance anxiety is severely lacking. However, there seem to be a few factors most people who deal with the issue regularly have in common.
Think about the last time things felt super tense with your partner. You’re probably not walking around the house thinking about ripping their clothes off, right? Sure, makeup sex can be hot, but a strained relationship isn’t exactly a turn-on.
Feeling disconnected from your partner, unheard or not respected, or even just going through a stressful period in your personal life that impacts your relationship can trigger sexual anxiety.
It can be hard to love your body with all the messaging constantly coming at us on how to be slimmer, look younger, have less cellulite, etc. Although body positivity is slowly becoming more and more prevalent (thank goodness!), not having “the perfect body” can be super anxiety-inducing, especially in a new sexual relationship.
Body image issues and their impact on self-esteem can also be hard on your overall mental health. They’re also more common than you think because, unfortunately, we don’t talk very openly about them.
Everything we go through in life sticks with us in some way — good or bad. If you’ve had some less-than-stellar sexual experiences, especially with a partner who was overly critical or didn’t listen to your boundaries or needs, it has likely made its way into how you feel about sex now.
The same would go for sexual trauma, even if it happened in childhood. Sexual trauma can make it hard to enjoy sex in the moment because little things can often unconsciously trigger very real memories and feelings of anxiety.
If you’ve ever found yourself in the middle of a full-blown panic attack during sex with no identifiable reason, it could be your past experiences creeping into the present moment.
Although sexual performance anxiety is a general category, some people’s sexual anxiety exists solely around their actual physical ability to perform in the bedroom.
While this happens more frequently in people with a penis because the signs of certain sexual problems are more visible (think: erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation), people with vaginas can also experience performance-related sexual issues.
Performance anxiety can also include being worried about your stamina, not just about how quickly you have an orgasm but how long you can bang it out before getting tired or out of breath.
How Do You Know if You Have Sexual Anxiety?
If you’re still reading, we’re willing to bet that you already have some inkling that you’re dealing with sexual anxiety. Unfortunately, because it’s not an official diagnosis, there isn’t a set list of signs and symptoms either.
But we’ve come up with a list of how people with sexual anxiety have described feeling, which can hopefully give you a better idea of whether you’re on the right track.
- Negative thoughts or feelings surrounding sexual activity (before or during)
- Negative thoughts or feelings just thinking about being sexually active
- Significant worry or even fear involving sexual activity (before or during)
- Significant worry or fear even thinking about getting intimate
- Trouble getting or maintaining an erection (erectile dysfunction)
- Ejaculating too soon or inability to control when you ejaculate (premature ejaculation)
- An inability to reach orgasm during sex or with masturbation
- Vaginal dryness
- Painful intercourse
- Physical symptoms of anxiety when thinking about or having sex (nausea, racing heart, sweating)
- Low to no sexual desire or sex drive (for intimacy with another person or even with yourself)
Sexual anxiety may not happen every time you have sex, either! You may have a great time one night and then find yourself super anxious the next, even if the situation is the same.
However, if you notice sexual anxiety symptoms more often than not, it’s pretty safe to say that you may be dealing with this issue, and it’s time to find a solution. After all, you deserve to experience pleasure just as much as everyone else does!
How Can You Cope With Sexual Anxiety?
Did the symptoms we mentioned sound familiar? As we said, you’re not alone. Luckily, plenty of tools can help you cope with sexual anxiety.
While there’s no “cure” because it’s not an official disorder, you also don’t have to just “deal with it” or “get over it.” We’ve got four ways to manage your symptoms so you can get back to a healthy, active sex life without anxiety.
1. Know Your Triggers
Coping with sexual anxiety starts with self-awareness. Knowing what triggers your sexual anxiety can help you stay ahead of those feelings and cope more effectively when they arise.
Not sure what your triggers are? Try to keep a journal of your symptoms and the situations surrounding them. Over time, you’ll be able to identify a pattern and work toward better, more targeted solutions.
2. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
We’ve all seen the movies where one partner sweeps the other off their feet, takes them to the bedroom for the first time, and makes love like they’ve known each other’s bodies for years. Romantic and pretty hot, right? Sure! Realistic? Absolutely not.
While it would be nice for your partner to know how you’re feeling, what you like and how to make you feel more comfortable without you having to tell them (and vice versa), that’s never going to happen; it’s a fairy tale. Mutually enjoyable sex comes from good communication — the first time, the 5,000th time, and every time in between.
And yes, it’s probably going to feel super awkward if you’re not used to communicating healthily. Practice truly makes perfect, though, so trust the process and keep working on it. Eventually, it will get easier, and you’ll be able to talk to your partner about anything.
When we’re talking about ways to relieve sexual anxiety, though, your conversation should always include a few different components:
- Boundaries - Discuss what is on and off the table regarding sex. Don’t be afraid of being honest; how else will your partner know if you don’t tell them?
- Consent - Obviously, consent is non-negotiable, but it’s also something you can revoke at any time if you don’t feel safe or your sexual anxiety overwhelms you.
Come up with a safe word together that you or your partner can use if you are no longer comfortable or just need a moment to breathe.
- Kinks - We all have them, whether they’re the vanilla variety or something more niche. Talking openly about your kinks (and other desires you’ve always wanted to try) with a partner you trust can only grow your bond, plus you’ll be getting what you need out of your sexual encounters.
3. Start Small
For some people, jumping right into sex without having to think about it can help reduce sexual anxiety. For others, just the idea of spontaneity makes us nervous.
If you’re in the latter category, start small! You don’t have to go to pound town if you’re not ready or need a little more time to get comfortable (this is where good communication comes in handy).
Foreplay can often get pushed to the side, whether you’re in a new relationship or have gotten comfortable in a long-term one. Stop doing that!
Foreplay is super important, especially for people with sexual anxiety. It gives us a chance to get comfortable and warm up physically and emotionally so that we feel less self-conscious and more ready to go.
Try taking a long, romantic bath with your partner — light some candles, pour in the sexy bath salts, dim the lights, and put on some music to get you in the mood. You don’t have to let this get sexual right away (or at all); consider it a way to supplement your overall sense of closeness and intimacy (which we think makes the sex even hotter).
Incorporate small acts of intimacy outside of foreplay, too!
Send your partner a text telling them what you want to do to them (or have them do to you). Buy them flowers, leave them little notes or gifts around the house, discover something they’ve always wanted to do, and surprise them.
Knowing that you have a deeper connection with your partner can help you trust each other more and feel safer getting intimate, helping to relieve sexual anxiety (or at least make it more manageable).
4. Employ Some Help
Listen, if every issue in your sex life could be fixed with good vibes and a better attitude, we’d all be too busy having mind-blowing sex to get anything done. Unfortunately, nothing is ever that simple.
The good news is that plenty of help is available if you know where to look.
For instance, one of the best ways for people with a vagina to cope with physical, sexual anxiety is by using lube! Adding lube to your sexual activity is great for everyone, no matter what body you or your sexual partner were born with.
Lube can help relieve some anxiety about not getting wet enough, which keeps sex more fun and comfortable! It’s also great for foreplay, anal sex, or even a massage (which is great foreplay too, for the record).
If you’re still having trouble relaxing physically, try an intimacy melt. These easy-to-insert suppositories help increase relaxation, ease discomfort and enhance penetration so that you can enjoy your experience more and stress less.
They’re designed for use with any genitals and should be inserted either vaginally or anally 30 to 60 minutes before intercourse. When you help your body relax, your mind can also relax more easily. Sexual satisfaction, here you come (pun fully intended, of course).
You should also make sure to use all the resources available. There’s zero shame in talking to a healthcare professional or sex therapist about your sexual health and well-being!
A medical provider may discover a treatable health condition or suggest other treatment alternatives, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), to help support a healthy sex life. Meanwhile, spending time in sex therapy can help you find ways to increase sexual arousal and sexually reconnect with yourself and your partner.
The Bottom Line
Don’t let sexual anxiety ruin your ability to enjoy sex. Remember, sex should be fun, not stressful.
Knowing your triggers, developing good communication with your partner, starting small, and employing help when needed are all excellent tactics for reducing anxiety and increasing your pleasure and enjoyment!
And, as always, Foria is here to help you every step of the way.
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