Whether you’re dating someone new or having been in a long-term relationship, sex anxiety can still affect you. It is also known as sexual anxiety or sexual performance anxiety. The International Society for Sexual Medicine defines it as fear, worry, or anxiety related to sexual activity. It’s not recognised as a formal diagnosis but can be a sign of underlying sexual dysfunctions.
Studies show it’s the most common affliction affecting partners. It can be so severe that it leads to sexual avoidance. It affects everyone, regardless of age, gender, or sexual experience. For many people, it’s short-lived, but the condition is still frustrating to deal with, especially when you want to be intimate with a partner.
What causes sex anxiety?
1. A history of trauma
It can result from trauma. People who have experienced assault before may have difficulty achieving and maintaining arousal. In this instance, it is important to seek specialised care to help heal from sexual or intimate partner violence.
Stress and depression can also cause sex anxiety. Studies show that poor mental health can cause sexual performance anxiety in menopausal women. In addition, stress leads to increased production of cortisol, a steroid hormone that affects how your body uses blood glucose and directs the body’s fight-or-flight response. Cortisol affects the production of testosterone, which then leads to low libido.
3. Poor body image
Negative body image can also increase the likelihood of sexual performance anxiety. Research found that women with positive body image had more pleasurable sex than women with negative body image. Feeling shame and anxiety over body image can lead to avoidance of physical intimacy and lower sexual satisfaction. People with negative body image are also likely to start sexual encounters. This also applies to men who worry their penis may be too small to satisfy their partner. They can struggle to achieve arousal.
Insecurity is another cause of sex anxiety. Worrying about satisfying your partner, or achieving orgasm too quickly or too slowly can lead to performance anxiety. If you’ve hit road bumps in your relationship, you may hesitate to approach your partner for intimacy.
If you don’t feel comfortable around your partner, it can decrease desire and create sex anxiety. You may be anxious or stressed about being intimate if you also don’t trust your attraction to them.
How can you cope with sex anxiety?
1. Identify what triggers the anxiety
Identify sex anxiety triggers, especially if you have experienced sexual trauma. Feeling safe in bed is important for a healthy and successful sex life. When you identify the triggers, make a note of the emotional change. Confide in your partner and let them comfort you. If you’d also prefer to be alone, take the time to navigate through the emotions. Be open with your partner and let them know what can make you anxious during intimacy.
Try meditative techniques before engaging in sex. Deep breaths can help you relax. Studies show that slow breathing can help reduce the negative consequences of stress. As a result, this makes it easier to have fun in bed.
3. Learn what you can about yourself
Educate yourself on what makes you tick, which positions you like, how long you prefer foreplay, or what turns you on further. Being unaware of your preferred sexual practices can lead to sex anxiety. Forget about how your body is “supposed” to react. Embrace your quirks and be honest with your partner to reduce performance anxiety.
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4. Improve your body confidence
Learn to love your body. For many people, body image issues stem from a young age. Constant criticism of their appearance can make them feel like their bodies aren’t good enough. They often feel unattractive regardless of their shape, weight, or size. You can try affirmations to help you gradually accept and love your body. Sex educator and researcher Emily Nagoski, advises standing in front of a mirror, wearing as little as possible, and writing what you love about your body daily.
You can also consider lifestyle changes for your well-being. If you have too little weight and are worried about weight gain, focus on a balanced diet and healthy levels of exercise. If you are overweight, try the same thing. Even if your body doesn’t meet media-endorsed beauty standards, being healthier helps improve your mental health and physical mood.
5. Be honest with your partner
Explain your needs to your partner. Don’t criticise them harshly in bed because this can lead to feelings of resentment. Try talking about it in a neutral location, then be patient with your partner as they learn to please you and you them. Be playful in bed. Observe your partner’s unique reactions when they are touched on different parts of the body. Once you give them the time of their lives, it can boost your confidence and reduce sex anxiety.
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