Sexual Performance anxiety is something that comes up time and again as Dating and Intimacy coach and podcaster for the Authentic Dating Series, David Chambers, explores.
Editor’s Note: Whilst this article is primarily aimed at men, it contains within it useful tips for confronting performance anxiety for any gender.
Sometimes it will be a worry that you don’t know how to please the partner you are with, that your body isn’t right in some way or the feeling that when all the clothes end up on the floor that your partner won’t be attracted to you anymore.
For many cis men, such as myself, the fear is that we will ejaculate too quick and that what we had hoped would be a night filled with lovemaking and exploration ends prematurely.
How common is performance anxiety?
I am here to tell you that these thoughts and feelings are prevalent. If this is often how you feel, you are not alone. Most of the men that I work with have at least one of the more common performance worries and fears.
The worst thing about dealing with these thoughts and emotions is the mental stress that they place us under. Because of the nature of the issue, and societal conditioning and shame, we often prefer (wrongly) to suffer in silence. Once you are in the grip of performance anxiety, it can be hard to think of anything else.
What isn’t always commonly known is that when you feel anxious, your body activates its sympathetic nervous system resulting in, among other things, constriction of blood vessels and increases in production of stress hormones such as epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol. These can lead to a rise in blood pressure levels and a subsequent reduction in blood flow to parts of the body, such as the penis, which can lead to you struggling to get or keep an erection.
The irony of worrying about something causes it to happen is not lost on you, I’m sure.
It’s also worth noting that sexual performance anxiety can affect everyone. Stress can prevent people with vulvas from getting lubricated enough to be completely ready to have sex, and it can take away the physical desire to make love, as just two examples.
You can see how a cocktail of two people looking forward to having their first sexual encounter together but both in the throws of sexual performance anxiety can cause quite a letdown and disappointment for both of them. But the worse thing is the internalisation of blame that both parties often take on.
A person with a penis might feel humiliated that they couldn’t get an erection. They also might feel guilty that they didn’t arouse their partner enough, either to achieve an erection or to become wet. A person with a vulva will feel inadequate that their partner didn’t find them attractive enough to achieve or maintain an erection, or lubrication. They may also feel ashamed that they weren’t able to get wet themselves.
But those stories people tell themselves are not accurate and are damaging to both of them. Neither of them should blame themselves.
The good news is that there is plenty that we can do to prevent this fear, worry and anxiety that doesn’t involve drink, drugs or little blue pills.
How to prevent performance anxiety
You can prevent sexual performance anxiety by talking about your concerns with your partner, slowing down the pace during intercourse and reframing the goal from ‘orgasm’ to ‘pleasure’.
How to manage sexual performance anxiety:
Talking about a problem gets it out of your head. It opens up space for partners to share their worries and concerns, and in turn, deepens your connection and levels of trust. And, if you feel that you have a supportive group around you, talking to your friends can help you see that you are not the only one with these fears.
There is no need to rush when it comes to sex. Rushing or feeling you need to rush creates more stress. Also, during intercourse, slow down. It’s not a race, it’s not porn and you don’t have to fuck like a jackhammer. The experience can be much more pleasurable, and you may be able to have sex for longer if you take time to slow everything down.
Exploring your bodies
This goes well with slowing down. Before getting into any sex acts, take the time to kiss, feel and stroke each other’s bodies. So much enjoyment can be had in the conscious feeling of one another’s body. Tactile stimulation, aka touch, can trigger oxytocin, the love hormone. It also lowers cortisol levels, reducing anxiety and stress. Touch helps you relax.
Adjust your expectations
Can you be OK with not having sex, or with not having a certain kind of sex? It’s our expectations that create pressure, not what is happening in reality. If someone doesn’t orgasm, it doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t enjoy the experience. Talk before, during, and after sex to work out what it is that you both would be happy with in this encounter. For some people, it really is important that they come, and so talk together about how this can be achieved, whether with toys, time, erotica or something else.
Also, taking advice and directions from each other can help lift the pressure off each individual, as assuming you should know what will turn each other on is a quick route to stress and anxiety.
Sex is more than just orgasm
Broaden your idea of what sex is! It’s the kissing, and the stroking. Sex can be sucking, massage, eye gazing and anything else that turns you and your partner/s on and creates intimacy.
Focus on what you can control
Often part of the worry is of what your partner is going to think of you or your body. But that isn’t something you can control. Let go of the need to control other people’s reactions, and you will be able to relax and enjoy yourself so much more. If you find yourself struggling a lot with low self-esteem or body image issues, it may be worth seeking help from a counsellor or therapist. Check out CORST, and this list from the Terrence Higgins Trust has resources that may be particularly useful for trans and non-binary people.
Be in the moment
This isn’t just going to help you in sex, this will improve your whole life. Life doesn’t happen in your head; it happens around you. Get out of your head and be present with the person (or people) you are with.
A tip to help you with this is to focus on your senses: touch, temperature, texture, smell and sounds. Focus on the sensation, not on the outcome.
This has been life-changing for me. Spending 10-15 minutes each morning meditating has given me to power to have far more control over what I focus my attention on. And that includes during sex.
Learning to control your ejaculation
(Editor’s note: whilst MYHIXEL and their services are endorsed by the author, the site may contain language that it limited in how it addresses gender beyond the binary. We would like to warn our trans and non-binary readers before heading to the site).
Did you know that people with penises can learn to have complete conscious control over their ejaculation?
With some simple exercises, you can learn to last as long as you want and stay hard. This can be developed through edging practices, or by working with tech such as MYHIXEL.
At Authentic Dating Series, our purpose is to stop men from experiencing the stress, fear and pain of unhappy relationships. Passionate about building a world where every man feels comfortable in their own skin and is confident in expressing themselves honestly, we support our community through our coaching programmes, events and podcast.
Written by the Killing Kittens team.