Anxiety TreatmentDanica MitchellDating and RelationshipsSex Therapy

Let’s Talk About Sex: Sexual Anxiety and Dysfunction

By February 27, 2022 March 30th, 2022 No Comments

sexual anxiety and dysfunctionReal Life Sex

When we think of sex we often picture the Hollywood image of two people, passionately tearing each other’s clothes off as they stumble through a doorway kissing and laughing until they find a bed or countertop. What we tend not to picture is two people focused more on performing than enjoyment, being distracted by negative thoughts, concerns about how a body looks in certain lighting, or worries about taste or smells, or sounds. But that is extremely common. In fact, sexual anxiety is the root of many forms of sexual dysfunction. So the good news is that if you are struggling with sexual anxiety and dysfunction in the bedroom, you are normal, and there are many ways to recognize anxiety and move past it and enjoy your sexual experiences. 

What is sexual anxiety?

Sexual anxiety is often referred to as “performance anxiety”, and it can have a multitude of sources. It can be related to past negative experiences including general anxiety, a history of dysfunction, and stress. It can often impel people to avoid sexual situations, and that tends to worsen the anxiety. What is particularly challenging with sexual anxiety is that anxiety and high-stress moments activate our fight or flight system. When that happens, the body finds itself in a state of self-preservation and is actively preparing to face what it sees as a potentially dangerous moment. When your body is preparing to run or fight, it impedes the arousal system (because life takes priority over pleasure). This will often cause sexual dysfunction such as erectile loss, low libido, or discomfort during penetration. 

While it’s often pretty obvious to an individual if they are dealing with performance anxiety, a common way to tell if it is happening to you is if you find yourself distracted by critical thoughts,  or if you find yourself watching yourself having sex vs being in the moment,  (“spectatoring”). These indications often appear before physical symptoms of dysfunction. 

What can I do about my own sexual anxiety?

So what do you do if you find yourself struggling with sexual anxiety? The first step is to try to identify, as early as you can, when the sexual anxiety is triggered. Perhaps it happens shortly before penetration, or as early as when clothes start coming off. The earlier you can identify the internal shift the earlier you can begin to face it. 

When you are aware of your anxiety, start with some deep breaths and try to ground yourself in your body. Yoga or mindfulness practice outside of sex may help develop this skill. Additionally, focus on what feels good and try to listen to what your body finds sexually stimulating. This may be a type of touch or even an internal fantasy. And remember you don’t have to follow the penetration escalator, you can do most sex acts in a variety of orders so get creative. It’s important to move away from goal-oriented sex and transition to pleasure or experience-oriented sex. When you get over the idea that you have to achieve a certain act or orgasm, sex becomes a much more free and customizable space. 

Don’t worry if it’s challenging in the beginning. If anxiety causes too much frustration or dysfunction, it’s okay to take a step back. Allow your body to relax and return to a more neutral state then try again. Try focusing on the experience you are creating with another person. 

How can I help a partner who has sexual anxiety?

As the partner of someone struggling with sexual anxiety, there are things you can do as well. Communication is vital. Talking about sexual anxiety openly and without judgment can help create a safe environment. Learn the signs of building anxiety.,  Partners can often sense the anxiety before the individual can. Explore together what might help in a given moment to ground one another and refocus on pleasure. Maybe shifting focus from giving to receiving pleasure will help or verbal praise/direction can refocus away from distracting negative thoughts. 

Facing sexual anxiety is often a frustrating process, and it can take time to learn to approach sex from a different perspective.  Be patient with yourself and embrace failures as those will help you discover what you enjoy, and what your body needs, sexually. 

To learn more about sexual anxiety and, specifically, how it relates to erectile dysfunction, check out the podcast “Double Teamed with Nikki and Cami, Episode – ED: An Education on D*cks” in which I discuss the matter in depth. 

Would you like to talk about sexual anxiety and dysfunction? Please feel free to contact us to schedule a 15-minute phone consultation or to book an appointment.