Sex is supposed to be fun, relaxing and a way to get closer to someone you care about. When you suffer from sexual performance anxiety, however, an activity you’re supposed to look forward to can suddenly become something you try to avoid. What you may not realise is that sexual performance anxiety is an issue that affects a lot more people than you think. And the goods news? It’s also a problem you can overcome.
Sexual Performance Anxiety — What Is It?
While most people tend to focus on the physical aspects of sex, what’s going on inside your brain is just as important. As WebMD puts it, “Sex is more than just a physical response.” When your brain is too busy worrying about what you look like or whether you can stay hard, it can affect your ability to perform physically.
Because it’s harder for men to reach sexual fulfillment when they can’t get erect or stay erect, sexual performance anxiety is often thought of as a men’s problem. However, women are also affected.
For example, stress or anxiety can prevent a woman from experiencing sexual desire, which can stop her body from producing enough natural lubrication to have pleasurable sex.
The anxiety associated with sexual performance can stem from many different concerns. For example, you might worry:
Am I attractive enough?
Is my size large enough?
Will I fail to satisfy my partner?
Will I orgasm too quickly?
What if I can’t achieve orgasm at all?
In some men, sexual performance anxiety can lead to erectile dysfunction (ED), which is the inability to achieve and sustain an erection long enough for intercourse. According to the Cleveland Clinic, ED affects about one in 10 adult men. Other types of sexual dysfunction include orgasm disorders, such as premature ejaculation.
It’s easy to see how sexual performance anxiety can become a vicious cycle.
If you experience it once, you might worry about it happening again, which can lead to negative thoughts that hamper your performance in the future.
And while this anxiety takes place in your head, it has a real impact on your body. When you worry, your brain releases stress hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine. These hormones narrow blood vessels, reducing the flow of blood to the penis and making it more difficult to get an erection.
Which is a shame, because sex is such a great stress reducer.
10 Ways to Overcome Sexual Performance Anxiety
If anxiety is stopping you from enjoying a fulfilling sex life, there are a number of ways to conquer your emotional roadblocks when it comes to sex. Here are 10 tips for reducing stressful thoughts, so you can enjoy everything sex has to offer.
1). Communicate with Your Partner
Sex is a topic that can be hard to talk about — especially when you’re struggling with performance anxiety.
However, the bedrock of any healthy sexual relationship is trust. If you’re plagued by doubts when it comes to intimacy, one of the best ways to improve your sexual performance is to be candid and open with your partner about your anxieties.
According to Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, a lack of communication can trigger performance anxiety. “Each partner needs to feel safe and comfortable saying what feels good and what doesn’t, what they like and do not like, what they want and don’t want from their partner.”
Remember that everyone has insecurities. By opening up to your partner, you can start a dialogue that helps both of you express what you like about each other, what you find sexy about the other person and what types of activities you enjoy in bed.
2). Take Your Time
Slowing things down can also be an effective way to overcome sexual performance anxiety.
Ethan Green, founder of Rising Master, a blog and resource dedicated to helping men improve their love lives, says that a slow and passionate buildup may be a better route than a quick and dirty encounter. “Take time over the foreplay. And when you do get down to having sex, you don’t need to go at it like a jackhammer.”
There is no timer keeping track of how long you have sex, and no one hands out awards for finishing under a certain time limit, so slow everything down and take as much time as you need. This can also help regulate your breathing, which reduces stress.
Of course, that’s not to say a quickie isn’t nice every now and then. Spontaneity can also help reinvigorate your love life. Here are 10 ideas for leveling up your quickie game.
3). Get Creative
Sex doesn’t have to be a mechanical, insert-A-into-B sort of process.
If you feel anxious about getting hard or staying that way, why not ask for a hand? And we mean that literally. If you’re stuck in the same routine, shake things up by trying a hand job first.
You could also try talking dirty to your partner, or sexting during the day (just make sure you do it responsibly). If you’re feeling especially adventurous, you could even make a sex tape with your significant other.
Oral sex can also be a great way to extend foreplay, which can help a man achieve an erection. Check out our best tips for mind-blowing oral sex. (And here are some naughty and creative oral sex positions to try, too.)
4). Practice Makes Perfect
As the saying goes, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
As it turns out, this may be more than just a saying. Research reveals that the more sex you have, the less insecure you feel about it. A 2010 study published by the scientific journal PLOS ONE showed that having sex each day for a two-week period caused the hippocampus — the section of the brain that controls stress levels — to grow.
Researchers noted, “Chronic [meaning regular and ongoing] sexual experience also reduced anxiety-like behavior. These findings suggest that a rewarding experience not only buffers against the deleterious actions of early elevated glucocorticoids but actually promotes neuronal growth and reduces anxiety.”
In other words, doing it more often makes you less likely to stress about how you’re doing it. Sounds like a win-win to us!
Exercise offers numerous benefits, including reduced stress levels.
Thus, it makes sense that hitting the gym on the regular can help you feel less anxiety — and all-around lower anxiety levels can translate to improved sexual performance. Regular exercise can also make you feel more confident outside the bedroom, so there’s really not a reason to avoid it.
Staying in peak shape will also make you feel better about your appearance, which can give you a mental boost when it comes to baring it all in front of your significant other.
6). Loosen Up with a Drink or Two
Take the edge off, but only in moderation with a partner you trust.
If you’re struggling with anxiety, or you feel tense before sex, a single serving of wine or another type of alcoholic beverage may help you loosen up and worry less.
Sally Adams, a lecturer in health psychology at the University of Bath, wrote in the Guardian that several studies have linked moderate alcohol consumption to less inhibitions in bed, along with delayed ejaculation in men who suffer from ED.
The key, however, is moderation. Adams states, “In terms of dose, there may be an optimal amount of alcohol to induce these positive effects on sexual arousal or performance. Once past that threshold the effects may be more negative.” So if you’re going to drink before sex, it’s important to know your limits and stick to them.
7). Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
Sex can be fantastic, but there is a difference between fantasy and reality.
If you’re concerned about your sexual performance, it’s a good idea to take a hard look at what you imagine sex should be like versus what it’s really like for most people. For starters, banish notions of gorgeous porn stars or celebrities with picture perfect bodies.
Licensed psychotherapist Vanessa Marin told Men’s Health it’s important to manage your expectations when it comes to sex. “Ask yourself: What, exactly, do you think ‘performance’ means? What do you expect of yourself in the bedroom?”
Then, Marin says, make sure your expectations are reasonable. “Would you tell your best friend that he needed to live up to those same expectations? Would you expect the same things out of your partners?”
Fantasies, such as steamy romance novels or hot porn movies, can be a great way to get in the mood, but they aren’t representative of reality. Porn actors are just that: actors. They use any number of tactics to stay hard, including numbing creams and medication. They also work under professional lighting, and may perform for hours while they shoot a single scene.
Your love life — and your sexual performance — can be amazing without attempting to make everything perfect.
8). Make Sex about Sensuality Instead of “Goals”
Don't race to the finishing line.
According to Hernando Chaves at Ask Men, a lot of men are socialized from an early age to view sex as “goal-oriented, performance-driven, orgasm-centric and erection focused.” To have a successful sexual experience, men are taught that the only good sex is sex that meets these “goals.”
Chaves points out that this idea misses the mark when it comes to what sex is really about: “pleasure enjoyed by two people.”
Instead of obsessing about performance, Dr. Chaves encourages men to put the focus on “non-genital and non-intercourse intimacy exercises that help a person explore connection, comfort, intimacy and eroticism without anxious expectations.”
He suggests exercises that focus on eye gazing, hugging, touch, partner communication and massage. “These are not goal oriented. Instead, they teach a person to be present and mindful of pleasure with their partner.”
Worried about your performance? How about changing the focus to becoming a better kisser?
Here’s a guide to get you started.
You could also learn how to give the world’s sexiest massage.
And if you’re going to get sensual, lube is a great way to turn up the heat in the bedroom, from sensual massage to exploring your partner’s erogenous zones. Check out our complete guide to personal lubrication. While you’re at it, don’t forget to score your free sample of ASTROGLIDE.
9). Get More Restful Sleep
There is a strong link between stress and insufficient or poor quality sleep.
If you experience anxiety in or out of the bedroom, there’s a chance your sleep habits could be partly to blame.
Michael J. Breus told the Huffington Post that research has revealed a correlation between sleep disorders and sexual dysfunction, such as low libido and ED. In fact, men with ED “were more than twice as likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than those without erectile dysfunction.”
The National Sleep Foundation recommends between seven and nine hours of sleep every night for adults between the ages of 18 and 64. If you consistently log fewer hours than the recommended amount, sleep deprivation could be taking a toll on your health as well as your sex life.
10). Talk to a Sex Therapist
If you're still struggling, it might be time to consider bringing in a professional.
Although you might feel squeamish or shy about discussing your sex life with a stranger, sex therapy can be extremely beneficial for both your sexual and mental health. A sex therapist an help you work through the underlying issues that are affecting your sexual performance and help you discover healthy solutions.
In fact, Jess, our Astroglide resident sexologist, interviewed Chaves about the benefits of sex counseling here!