You want to relax, have fun, and have good sex but you can’t seem to figure out how to get over this sexual anxiety.
- Each time you’re about to have sex, you get nervous
- Thoughts like “will it work this time?” pop up
- Your body doesn’t 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?
It’s actually more common than you think. If you think you may have sexual anxiety—know that you’re 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.
What Is Sexual Anxiety?
Sexual anxiety—also often called sexual performance anxiety—is a feeling of nervousness before or during sex. When you feel anxious during sex, your body releases stress hormones, which makes it much harder to relax and enjoy sex with your partner!
You may be experiencing sexual anxiety if you:
- Often feel nervous before and during sex
- Are worried you won’t reach orgasm
- Are concerned about maintaining an erection
- Can’t relax and stay present during sex
- Feel shame or guilt around your sexual performance
If you’ve ever felt sexual anxiety, you know how it pulls you out of the moment, kills your sex drive, and leaves you feeling defeated. So why does sexual anxiety happen?
What Causes Sexual Anxiety?
Sexual anxiety is most often driven by feeling pressure to perform during sex. Throughout our daily lives, we’re bombarded with unrealistic expectations of what sex should look like (ahem, thanks Hollywood).
You start to believe that everyone out there is having amazing, earth-shattering sex all the time. And since it’s not happening for you, you think there must be something wrong with you.
When you start focusing on performance rather than connection, you start to feel:
- Anxious about sex!
Feeling anxiety around sex can also stem from problems like shame around your sexuality, previous trauma, or an anxiety disorder.
If you’re having trouble figuring out why you feel anxious when it comes to sex, talking to a sex therapist can help clarify the source of your sexual anxiety.
Some Common Issues That Also Occur With Sexual Anxiety
When it comes to sexual anxiety, sex therapists know that many factors can be at play. Here are a few common co-occuring issues.
Erectile dysfunction – It’s quite a common issue. It’s currently estimated that 30 million men in the US experience some level of erectile dysfunction2.
Sexual pain – Sexual pain conditions are very real and can impact your self confidence and enjoyment of sex.
Difficulty with orgasm – Maybe you’ve always struggled with achieving orgasms, or maybe it’s a newer struggle for you. Either way, feeling the pressure to reach orgasm can create negative feelings—feelings that get in the way of you enjoying sexual intimacy with your partner!
Self-esteem struggles – Struggles with body image, lack of self confidence, or internalized feelings of shame also often accompany sexual anxiety.
Sexual trauma – Do you get overwhelmed and panicky when it comes to sex? A traumatic experience can have a major impact on your ability to connect with your partner sexually.
General anxiety or other anxiety disorders – Sometimes the anxiety you feel in the bedroom is rooted in an anxiety disorder. Or it can even be a combination of both performance and general anxiety.
A sex therapist will work with you to untangle the web of concerns reinforcing your sexual anxiety.
At The Center for Couples & Sex Therapy, we’re experts on the intersection between the mind, body, and relationships. We understand how struggles in these areas all contribute to preventing you from accessing the pleasure you want!
Sexual Anxiety In Marriage
Even in a marriage, we can feel the pressure to perform and please our partner.
When you measure the quality of sex you’re having by the number of orgasms you give your partner instead of the emotional connection you shared, you start to emphasize performance over intimacy. You put yourself under a lot of anxiety and pressure to perform at a certain level every time.
The truth is, our bodies change over time. Age, medical issues, life stressors, and more can affect both sexual desire and performance. Instead of feeling shame for things beyond your control, you will enjoy a stronger connection with your partner when you let go of expectations. And engage in more self-compassion!
Performance Anxiety With A New Partner
When you’re with a new sexual partner, it’s normal to feel some anticipation before having sex. Things are new and exciting, and maybe even a little scary.
No doubt—new experiences have the potential to make us a little anxious. And when you begin to see someone, you want to have a good experience. But we all know how those nerves and pressures to perform can hinder your ability to have a good time!
How do you know if it’s sexual anxiety? When your worries about performance persist and keep getting in the way of you relaxing and enjoying sex with your partner.
How to Overcome Sexual Anxiety
If your nerves are rooted in feeling pressure to perform, here are a few tips to help you get over sexual anxiety and back to connecting with your partner.
1. Focus on Connection Rather Than a Specific Result
There’s nothing wrong with heavy, passionate action with erotic sparks flying and perfectly timed orgasms. But it’s unrealistic to expect it to happen all the time. When we get hung up on the “ideal” sexual experience and don’t achieve it, we’re disappointed. And those thoughts of “well, what’s wrong with me?” start creeping in.
The thing is, there’s no right way that sex is supposed to look like. And setting unrealistic expectations of yourself and the experience is setting you up for frustration. Sex becomes about achieving the perfect results and not about the physical and emotional connection you want to share with your partner.
Instead, focus on the connection you’re sharing with your partner. If you find yourself focusing too much on the finish line, shift your focus to the current physical sensations. Instead of mentally evaluating and telling yourself a story of how things are going, tune back into the present moment.
2. Communicate With Your Partner
If you feel anxious during sex, tell your partner. Are things moving too fast? Do you need more foreplay? Tell them what kind of intimacy and touch you feel comfortable with.
Sometimes we fall into a trap of assuming our partner knows what we want. But if you don’t let them know, they don’t know what will feel best for you. Talking to your partner about your needs and working towards a solution will get you out of your own head and bring you closer together.
3. Work on Intimate Touch Beyond Sexual Intercourse
Most couples go between two kinds of physical intimacy: (1) affectionate touch like cuddling and holding hands, and (2) intercourse. When you do this, you’re missing out on all the types of touch in between. We broke down the five gears of intimate touch in a previous article at The Center. You can read all about it here.
Take some time to explore the many different ways of engaging physically! You’ll find yourself feeling less pressure to give or receive an explosive orgasm during every sexual experience.
4. Talk to a Sex Therapist
Sometimes, it’s too challenging to get over sexual anxiety alone. A sex therapist has experience treating all kinds of sexual problems, including sexual anxiety.
A sex therapist can help you understand what’s getting in your way and preventing you from enjoying sex. When you’ve tried some of these things but you’re still having issues, then it’s a good time to talk to a skilled and compassionate sex therapist.
You Can Overcome Sexual Anxiety
At The Center for Couples & Sex Therapy, we know how difficult it is to have a fulfilling sex life when your sexual anxiety keeps holding you back. But it’s absolutely possible to get past the feelings of anxiety and create more pleasure in your life.