Written by Sexual Wellness Institute Therapist, Eric Anfinson, MS LMFT
Performance anxiety is a very common problem people run into when it comes to sex. There's pressure to please, be sexy, achieve erection or lubrication, have an orgasm, and so much more. It's no wonder so many people end up feeling expectation and pressure instead of anticipation and excitement around sex. This can lead to individuals or couples avoiding sex, intimacy, or even touch, as the problem continues to grow and build pressure the longer it goes unaddressed. Today I want to look at some of the primary causes of performance anxiety and a few ways to start working them out of your sex life.
The first thing I want to address is the way we think about sex. Even the question "How can I stop my sexual performance anxiety?" portrays a mindset that isn't helping. So many people see sex as a performance. A show to be put on and rated or judged. When we think of performing, we usually think of a stage, being in the spotlight and striving for that standing ovation. This way of seeing sex immediately creates its own pressure, and pressure creates anxiety. It's natural to want to please your partner and be a caring and considerate lover. However, when we're performing, we're not sharing the experience with them, we're leaving them out of the equation. So how do we start shifting this mindset?
Redefining Sexual Performance Success
When I ask people in my office how they would define a successful sexual experience I most commonly hear things like: "It was fun", "We felt connected", and "We got to share something intimate." Most people don't want to define successful intimacy as "we mashed our bits together until someone had an orgasm and then we were done." For some reason though, this is the idea that our society has landed on as "success." It's also typically couples or individuals with this idea of sex that are experiencing the most "performance" anxiety.
To start making this change, you can simply talk to your partner about how you'd each like to define successful intimacy. By broadening your definition of good intimacy, you reduce the pressure associated with sex. If success is a wider net, it's a whole lot easier to initiate knowing things can go well just by having the opportunity to feel connected to one another.
The next piece of the performance mindset I want to look at is the fact that so many people try to shoot for the moon with each instance of sexual intimacy. The reality is that the sex you have is going to exist on a bell curve. There will be days when the sex is stellar and times when it's pretty mediocre and that's ok! Trying to have the best sex ever, every single time, creates an incredible amount of pressure. The thing is, if you're communicating well and have a healthy definition of successful intimacy, even if mediocre sex is going to be nice, it's still sex! Beyond that, by talking about sex and working on it as a couple, you can skew your bell curve so that things are more positive more often. As long as you know that sometimes it's not going to be the best and that's ok, you can take some pressure off.
What happens if I fail?
This question is one I see driving a great deal of sexual performance anxiety. There are so many people entering each session of intimacy fearing their partner's reaction to the loss of an erection, difficulty orgasming, orgasming too soon, and a myriad of other things. I like to acknowledge here that sex is important. A healthy sex life is key to an overall healthy and happy relationship. So the pressure you can feel around making sex work can be very real. However, I find that when people are struggling with fear of failure in sex, their view is very narrow. What I mean by this is that they worry that if things don't go well in any given instance of sexual intimacy, their partner is going to be hurt, reject them, or even leave them. While sexual challenges, if not discussed or worked on, can lead to relationships ending, this is true of any problem in a relationship. If you have a problem with conflict in your relationship, it'll eventually lead to the end of that relationship unless you address and resolve it. Sex is no more or less important than any other aspect of a healthy relationship.
Patience and Commitment in Resolving Sexual Challenges
The vast majority of relational problems take patience. We don't expect to fix communication overnight. Learning to effectively communicate using your partner's love languages can take time. Conflict management skills take years of practice to fully develop and never stop developing. But when it comes to sex, I see so many couples go into the bedroom aiming to just suddenly fix the problems they're having with no steps in the middle. Resolving sexual difficulties, performance anxiety included, takes time. Failing your sexual relationship is giving up on resolving problems, or never addressing them in the first place. As long as a couple is committed to addressing and working on their concerns, they're doing right by their relationship. Whether those problems are sexual or anything else. So let yourself back the pressure off of each sexual session and take a wider look at your sexual relationship as a whole. By giving yourself time, and trusting your partner, you reduce the pressure on any given moment and can take the time that's necessary to resolve the problem.
Take the First Step: Consult a Plymouth, MN Sex Therapist for Personalized Support
So, how can I stop my sexual performance anxiety? The best way to do this is through a restructuring of how you as an individual, couple, or otherwise, look at sex. Talk to your partner to redefine what successful sex is. Broaden your definition to reduce pressure. Talk about what it means if things don't go well in any given sexual encounter. Finally, give yourselves the time it takes to resolve an issue instead of hoping it magically gets fixed in one try. If after all of that, you're still really struggling, reach out to a sex therapist. We're always here to help! When you're ready to talk with an online sex and relationship therapist in Minnesota, simply:
Other Sexual Wellness and Sex Therapy Services in Minnesota
In addition to sex therapy, our LGBT & polyamory friendly sex therapists provide a wide range of mental health services at our Plymouth, MN counseling office. Other services include therapy around sex and substances, couples therapy & marriage counseling, EFT, evidence-based couples therapy, EMDR & sexual trauma therapy, as well as, teen therapy. We also provide a variety of helpful tips on our mental health blog. Please feel free to reach out with questions, or if you would like to schedule an appointment to begin working with a skilled sex therapist! Your sex life can be amazing. Sex therapy can be a part of that process for you.
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