This sexual performance anxiety article is meant to be a source of valuable information for the reader; however, it is not a substitute for direct expert assistance. Seek help from a professional therapist or counselor if you’re experiencing a severe case of this condition.
Through various forms of media, we’re led to believe that sex feels good all the time— passionate love scenes in series and movies, intense sexcapades in porn, songs depicting sensual experiences, a kink-filled sex chapter in a romantic novel… The list goes on and on.
However, for someone with sexual performance anxiety, having sex may feel more scary than sexy. Instead of enjoying the deed, they’re spending the time more in their heads, thinking of what they’re doing and if it’s good enough for their partner. At some point, the anxiety gets into them sooo much that their bodies are no longer responding appropriately to what they’re engaging in.
If you or your partner has sexual performance anxiety, remember that it wouldn’t have to be this way forever. You can take different approaches to managing and treating your performance anxiety during sex. Learn more about this condition and its treatment options in this guide.
What is Sexual Performance Anxiety?
Sexual Performance Anxiety, also known as sexual or sex anxiety, is a condition wherein a person experiences physical and mental distress before or during sexual intercourse. It’s usually perceived as a “male problem” due to its connection to erectile dysfunction, but that’s not necessarily the case. Everyone can struggle with this, regardless of their gender identity.
In this condition, a person’s body activates its sympathetic nervous system before or during sex. This can then result in the constriction of blood vessels and an increase in the production of stress hormones such as norepinephrine and cortisol.
With the stress hormones and blood vessel constriction kicking in, the blood pressure levels increase and blood flow to certain parts (such as your penis) decreases. This will then make the person have a harder time engaging in sexual activity, as the psychological effects of sexual anxiety have affected the way their body reacts to pleasure.
As of today, sexual performance anxiety is not an officially recognized medical or psychiatric condition. If you’re looking for a guaranteed treatment, unfortunately, there’s no medication for this yet. However, there’s still a way to manage and treat this condition; more on that in the third section.
For Male Individuals
- Erectile dysfunction; having difficulty with getting and keeping an erection
- Premature ejaculation
- Delayed ejaculation / inability to ejaculate
- Loss of sexual desire
For Female Individuals
- Not getting lubricated enough
- Not orgasming during sex
- Loss of sexual desire
Causes of Sexual Performance Anxiety
One of the common misconceptions about sexual performance anxiety is that it only happens to men who have issues with their penis size. However, this notion is false, as different factors could cause this condition.
1Having body image issues.
One of the leading causes of this condition is self-esteem or body image issues. As media influence has been unfairly setting the standards on what a beautiful person should look like, most of us have insecurities regarding our facial features, body size, and other physical attributes. The media has also implied that “bigger is better” when it comes to our intimate areas. We’re led to believe that people with plumper breasts, bigger butts, and longer penises are hotter than people with average-sized body parts.
So if a person has a distorted view of themselves and feels like that they’re not hot enough for their partners, they may end up worrying about sex too much, thinking that their bodies can negatively affect their bedroom skills. They may also feel anxious about the deed due to the pressure of performing at their best; they think that the only way their partners will appreciate them as if they’re good in bed.
Aside from the physical attributes, uncontrollable factors such as age and physical disability can distort someone’s perception of their body and attractiveness.
2Having unrealistic expectations about sex.
As mentioned in our intro, different media platforms have always shown sexual intercourse as this “hot, heavy, and passionate” activity. There’s also an unrealistic depiction of sex in pornographic videos; most of the men they present in these videos have above-average with penises with superior stamina. They also show women with perfect proportions and perfect skin, no darkened spots or other marks. As for the sex itself, it has always been glorious for both parties; no awkward moments, and everyone cums.
Pornography has always been made for entertaining and not educate, so it’s expected to have unrealistic scenarios. However, some people have taken these videos seriously, seeing them as a real depiction of what intercourse is. So when what they’ve seen doesn’t match up with what they’ve experienced in bed, they may feel that it’s their fault for not matching up. This can lead to sexual performance anxiety, as they’re pressured to be as good as what they’ve seen in erotic shows, films, and novels.
3Spectatoring during sex.
Spectatoring is a process presented by human sexuality experts Masters and Johnson in 1970. According to them, spectatoring involves a person focusing on themselves instead of the sensations they’re feeling during sex, most of the time from a third-person perspective.
When you’re doing this process, your mind and body are somewhat disconnected; your mind is wandering while your body is pleasured. Here’s an example to give you a clearer picture of this concept:
Lea is receiving oral sex from her boyfriend. His partner is knowledgeable about the mechanics and is really engaged in the act. However, Lea is thinking about the drops of sweat on her forehead, worrying that she looks “too messy” with it. Even though the cunnilingus is good, she can’t reach orgasm because she keeps thinking to herself, “Oh… so this feels good, but will I squirt on his face? Is there stuff that’s gonna come out of my vagina? Hopefully, I smell good down there…”
While Lea’s body is experiencing pleasure, her mind is simply spectating the activity. They’re not connected, so she’s not enjoying as much as she could. And when this happens, the person who’s spectatoring tends to have sexual performance anxiety, as they tend to worry more than enjoy the activity.
4Having problems in the relationship, work, and other aspects of your life.
If you and your partner are going through problems or if you’re dissatisfied with the relationship, it’ll surely reflect during sex. Instead of getting excited about what’s about to come, you may feel obligated to do it instead, thus leading to this condition.
Aside from relationship issues, work challenges, family drama, and other non-sexual problems can also cause sexual performance anxiety. The anxiousness you feel due to those problems may transcend to what you feel during sex. Not only that, you may not be as engaged in sex and resort to spectatoring since you’re distracted with life issues.
5Having trauma from past experiences.
Past experiences can affect the way you perceive sex. If your previous sexcapades have been horrible, there’s a possibility that you’ll bring this trauma along in your new relationship and may end up with sexual performance anxiety.
How to Manage & Treat Sexual Performance Anxiety
Since sexual performance anxiety is not yet recognized as a medical or psychiatric condition, no medications or treatment programs specifically are made for this condition. However, there are still ways to manage and combat sex anxiety, such as the following:
1Make gradual steps to owning and loving your body.
If you’re experiencing sexual performance anxiety because of body issues, this is a crucial step that you should take to overcome this condition.
We know it’s not easy to unlearn the negative thoughts that you have about your body, but by taking baby steps towards self-love, you’ll soon find yourself more accepting and loving towards your body. To kickstart your self-love journey, here are some suggested steps towards your healing:
- Stop thinking that sex (and your life) will be more fulfilling when you look a certain way.
- Get to know your body, either by looking in a mirror, taking photos of yourself or through self-pleasure.
- Start a gratitude journal about your body; list down all the things that your body can do.
- Stop judging other people’s bodies. You might not realize it, but doing this reinforces the idea that our bodies equate to our worth as human beings.
- Move your body with the intent of feeling good and seeing the things that your body can do.
- Unfollow social media influencers that set unrealistic beauty standards.
2Unlearn the stigma about sex through educational content.
If you’re experiencing sexual anxiety due to unhealthy beliefs about sex, start reframing your mindset about sex and pleasure by researching more about it.
Educate yourself about the benefits of sex, the myths surrounding it, and other vital information about this activity. You can check some articles over the internet, such as our sex articles from the lauvblog. You can also buy books from certified sex educators to fully understand certain aspects of sexual wellness and sexuality. There’s also video content that’s available online, such as the sexplanations channel on Youtube.
By taking the time to learn about sex and how it’s actually beneficial to the mind and body, you’ll be able to gradually remove the sexist and conservative views that you’ve learned growing up. It’ll also help you figure out your desires and boundaries on sex and ways to become a better giver in the bedroom, improving your sexcapades in the process.
3Reduce your consumption of erotic content.
If you love watching, reading, or listening to erotic content, we recommend cutting down the consumption. By filling your mind with pornographic content, you’ll just keep having high expectations about sex. These expectations will serve as a trigger to your condition, especially if you’re on the deed and your experience doesn’t match up with what you’re seeing on porn; it’ll make you feel like a failure, making you lose interest in sex.
So if you’re going through sexual anxiety and are regularly consuming pornographic material, refrain from doing so. Instead of watching porn when pleasuring yourself, use your imagination or focus on the sensations. You can also use the time you’re watching pornography to having more sexcapades with your partner. The results might not appear right away, but you’ll soon find sex exciting again when the high expectations are no longer there.
4Communicate more with your partner.
You’ll manage your sexual performance anxiety if you become honest with your partner about it. Explain your condition and the possible causes that trigger you from experiencing it.
By having a personal heart-to-heart conversation about the matter, you’re preventing conflicts in the future; your partner wouldn’t think that there’s a third party or that something’s wrong with them due to your odd behavior in the bedroom. Your partner can also be a great support as you go through the treatment options.
Aside from telling your condition, communicate your needs, wants, and boundaries in sex. By getting your needs met during the deed, you may end up worrying less about sex in the process.
5Express your affection through other forms of intimacy.
While you’re still in the process of treatment and are still not ready to have sex yet, find ways to be intimate without intercourse. It can be as simple as holding hands during your dates or a steamy makeout session in the bedroom. You can also use this time to create new hobbies with your partners, such as sculpting, baking, and more.
Another treatment option for sexual performance anxiety is by incorporating mindfulness in your erotic plays. For those unfamiliar with the term, mindfulness is the ability to be fully present and aware of what you feel in everything that you do. This involves tuning in to our thoughts in real-time instead of reliving the past or imagining our future.
To incorporate this concept in your sexual plays, all you need to do is step back and take things slow. Don’t just go through the motions and do everything with the intent of pleasing yourself and your partner. Remove the high expectations and instead focus on what’s happening now. We also recommend taking off the pressure of making yourself and your partner orgasm.
Again, whatever you do at that moment, do it with the intent of having fun and building intimacy with your partner. By doing this, you may feel less intimidated and anxious with the act, leading to a more fulfilling and pleasurable experience.
7Practice sensate focus.
Another treatment option that may work for people with sexual performance anxiety is Sensate Focus. It’s developed by Masters and Johnson in the 1960s and has been a well-known method used by sex therapists for people experiencing sex issues. It’s a practice under mindfulness, involving meditation, intentional focusing, and non-demand touching, which means touching yourself or your partner with no expected outcome in mind.
This method comes with multiple phases and usually involves non-demand touching on all of the steps. However, different therapists take different approaches with this method, so some styles may involve mindful intercourse in the end. We highly recommend consulting a professional to try this treatment option, but if you can’t have access to a counselor or therapist right now, here are some sample programs that you can check:
8Seek help from a mental health professional.
The best to manage and treat your sexual performance anxiety is through counseling. Seek help from a sex therapist or counselor to work on your sex anxiety and intimacy issues.
Share your desires, fears, expectations, and other essential thoughts that you have about sex, and let the mental health professional help you find the root of the problem. They can also help you solve those core issues and implement lifestyle changes that’ll help you let go of your condition. You can also seek a psychiatrist and see if there are underlying mental health disorders that can cause sexual anxiety.
Don’t let sexual performance anxiety stop you from getting intimate with your partner and experiencing the pleasure that you deserve. We know that it’s not easy to go through mental hurdles, but as long as you’re continuously working through your healing, you’ll soon find yourself enjoying sex again.
If you have a specific query related to this topic or about sex in general, you can send your question to Dr. Sex— she’ll be glad to help you out. For more sexual health guides, click this page here.