Sex is meant to be a deeply intimate act that helps you connect with another human being, and bring in its wake a Zen-like state of relaxation. It’s known to be a great stress-buster and a healthy outlet for tension, both physical and psychological. However, when sexual performance anxiety takes over, it can become a perennial source of stress, self-doubt, embarrassment and shame.
While feeling nervous before sex is normal, especially if you’re new to experience or are being intimate with a new partner, feeling so anxious that you cannot enjoy the act at all is a different matter altogether. Then, it points to a classic case of performance anxiety, which if left unaddressed, can have a severe impact on your sex life.
Dating a guy with performance anxiety isn’t a pleasant ride for either you or your partner. The same holds for being in a relationship with a woman who struggles with sexual anxiety. Likewise, performance anxiety with a new partner can set a rather unpleasant tone for your intimate journey with them. In this article, sexologist Dr. Rajan Bhonsle (MD, MBBS Medicine and Surgery), Head of the Department of Sexual Medicine at K.E.M. Hospital and Seth G.S. Medical College, Mumbai, writes about the different aspects of sexual performance anxiety to help you break free from its clutches.
What Is Sexual Performance Anxiety?
Sexual performance anxiety adversely impacts a person’s ability to perform sexually. The affected person is overcome by the fear that they will not be able to please their partner or satisfy them, which impedes their ability to perform optimally. These fears can grip a person’s mind either before or during the act.
This is what leads to performance anxiety with a new partner or when you’re new to sexual experience. For most people, these anxious feelings begin to settle down as they get more comfortable with their partners or with their sexuality. However, if that doesn’t happen, the anxiety can manifest into sexual disorders.
If you’re dating a guy with performance anxiety or are one yourself, you may experience that the anxiety paralyzes you into inaction to an extent that you begin to experience symptoms akin to erectile dysfunction. Likewise, in women, sexual anxiety can lead to a lack of arousal and lubrication, resulting in painful intercourse, which only exacerbates their anxious feelings.
How sexual performance anxiety impacts your sex life can also be governed by when it strikes. If it happens before sex, you may find it difficult to perform the act. But if it strikes during the act, you may be unable to orgasm.
Given its impact on the affected person’s sex life, it becomes crucial to address the question of how to break the cycle of performance anxiety. To be able to do that, we need to understand the underlying reasons behind it. In most cases, the key to overcoming sexual performance anxiety is quality sex education and counseling since it’s rooted in myths and misinformation rampant in this space.
The causes of sexual performance anxiety can be markedly different in men and women. Let’s address them to help you take the first step toward overcoming sexual performance anxiety.
Related Reading: The Dynamics And Importance Of Sex In A Relationship
Cause of Sexual Performance Anxiety in men
Male sexual performance anxiety is most commonly rooted in exaggerated importance attached to the size of the male reproductive organ and the duration of the intercourse, thanks to mediums like pornography. Another major contributing factor is a lack of awareness and credible information about sexual urges, needs, desires and their fulfillment.
In men too, the nature of sexual performance anxiety can be markedly different among those who’re sexually active and those who’re not.
Sexual performance anxiety causes in sexually inactive men
In adolescents and young adults who are not yet sexually active, performance anxiety can stem from:
- Comparisons: Feeling inadequate about the size of their penis because they’ve seen men to be much more well-endowed in porn or have heard their friends brag about the size of their penises. The fear is that the size of their penis is not enough to satisfy a partner, which can make them nervous about being intimate. What they need to know is that the size of a man’s penis has got to do nothing with his ability to satisfy his partner and make them orgasm. A woman’s vagina has no nerve-ending beyond the first 2 inches. So, it’s not how big you are that matters but what you do with what you’ve got. A woman needs emotional connect, foreplay and romance for sexual gratification. Intercourse for her is a small part of the act
- Myths about masturbation: Even in this day and age, a lot of young boys and men view masturbation as being dirty or sinful. The prevalent myths about masturbation cause them to worry that it could impact their sexual performance when they do have an active sex life. This inherent fear can have a huge impact on their ability to perform sexually when the time comes. However, the perceived ill-effects of masturbation couldn’t be farther from the truth. Not only is masturbation not unnatural, dirty or sinful, but it is also a healthy outlet for satisfying one’s sexual urges.
- Losing semen: Again, this is closely related to myths and misconceptions about masturbation. Owing to a lack of information about the subject, many men worry that losing semen through masturbation may make them fall short when they need it for having children or somehow impact their virility. There are also concerns about the texture, composition and how far the semen travels during ejaculation that can contribute to sexual performance anxiety because it’s reinforcing the fear that somehow you’re not good enough
- Lack of stamina: A lot of sexually inactive men worry about their stamina and whether they’d be able to make their partners reach orgasm during sex. This can be a dominant cause of performance anxiety with a new partner or as a newbie. Since for a lot of men their primary source of sex education is pornography, they end up having unrealistic expectations from the experience and about their own performance abilities.
Then, if they cannot last as long as actors in pornographic clips do, they begin to harbor fears that they suffer from conditions like premature ejaculation whereas their stamina and how long they can keep going during an act could be perfectly normal. It’s crucial to put it out there that satisfactory sexual intercourse can last anywhere between 3 and 13 minutes
Sexual performance anxiety causes in sexually active men
In sexually active men, the reasons for anxiety can be vastly different. These include:
- Not being able to satisfy a partner: If their partner doesn’t orgasm during intercourse every single time, it can leave men grappling with a severe case of sexual performance anxiety. Questions like “What am I doing wrong?” “Will she cheat if I can’t stratify her?” “Why doesn’t she moan and groan? Am I not doing it right?” can begin to swirl around their head. This can play on their minds during every sexual encounter, making it less pleasurable and satisfying. However, women don’t always reach orgasm through penetrative sex alone. If you feel that you’re not able to make your partner orgasm, try experimenting with different forms of foreplay or different sex positions to heighten the pleasure. If you’re dating a guy with performance anxiety and worried about your sex life, try telling him this. If you’re a guy struggling with performance anxiety, remember this and be more giving in bed.
- Not orgasming together: A lot of men also worry about they and their partners reaching orgasm together. This, in turn, triggers anxiety about their performance abilities and can mar their sexual experience. This again stems from unrealistic expectations about sexual experiences set by buying into the pornographic representation of the act as being the real deal. The fact of the matter is that both partners reaching orgasm together is the exception, not the norm. And if you’ve orgasmed before your partner has, there are many different ways you can help them reach an orgasm. It doesn’t have to always be through penetrative sex.
- Comparisons with past partners: Any comparisons with their partner’s past sexual experience, whether real or perceived, can lead to immense sexual performance anxiety and impact a man’s ability to perform. If his partner says that she’s had a better experience sexually with another partner in the past, it is sure to dent a man’s confidence and leave him riddled with doubts about his own abilities. Even imagining that he is not as good at placating his partner’s desires as a past partner may have been can cause enough damage, even if the partner has made no insinuations to that effect
- Concerns about virility: Sexual performance anxiety can also stem from niggling doubts about virility if a couple has been having unprotected sex but the woman doesn’t get pregnant. Questions like “Am I infertile?” can interfere with his ability to perform sexually at all
- Worrying about declining sexual prowess: In middle age, a lot of men worry about how their advancing age will impact their sexual prowess and abilities. The onset of lifestyle conditions like diabetes or hypertension can further augment these fears, leading to a fear of infidelity of the partner
Cause of Sexual Performance Anxiety in women
In women, apart from a lack of knowledge and adequate information, sexual performance anxiety can stem from a lack of understanding of their anatomy and being ill-at-ease with their bodies. Here too the concerns of sexually active women can be markedly different from those who haven’t had a sexual experience yet.
Sexual performance anxiety causes sexually inactive women
Sexual performance anxiety in women who haven’t had sex so far are fanned by myth and misconceptions propagated by pop culture or handed down from generation to generation. Here are some of the key causes of performance anxiety in sexually inactive women:
- Body image issues: A lot of young girls and women worry about not being desirable or not being able to satisfy a future partner because they’re not well-endowed. Likewise, adolescent girls and young women who’re plump or big fear that they won’t be desired by their partner because they have too much of everything. Owing to a lack of body positivity, their body posture changes, the way they dress and interact changes. Even though these concerns are more common in young girls, they become so deep-seated that most women struggle with them for their entire lives
- Lack of understanding of their anatomy: A lack of understanding of their anatomy can also make girls uncomfortable in their own skin, hence limiting their ability to enjoy being intimate with a partner. They worry about how their breasts look – not being the same size, being too big or too small, not being perky enough, their nipples being too big or sunken, and so on – and their vaginas being ugly. A lot of young girls also worry that their genitals look less than appealing visually because they may have disfigured them by masturbating
- Fear of pain: Almost all girls grow up hearing that the first sexual intercourse is immensely painful. This instills in them a fear of penetration, which can be a major cause of sexual performance anxiety in women. If you’re constantly worried about how painful the experience will be, you’re naturally not going to be able to relax and enjoy the experience. Unless you’re relaxed, the experience is going to end up being painful. This sets in motion a vicious circle.
Girls and young women who have not had sex before also commonly worry about their vagina being too small to accommodate their partner’s penis if it’s well-endowed, whereas the guy is probably worrying about his size not being good enough. It’s ironic how much misinformation can inhibit two people’s ability to connect sexually and enjoy the experience
- Irregular periods: Even the slightest variation in the menstrual cycle can send women worrying about having irregular periods. This, in turn, leads to concerns about hormonal imbalances and their fertility
Sexual performance anxiety causes sexually active women
Among sexually active women too, the underlying causes of sexual performance anxiety are the same – body image issues, being uncomfortable with their anatomy, lack of knowledge. However, they manifest differently.
- Drooping breasts: If their breasts sag or droop, they begin to worry if their past sexual experiences or fondling with their breasts during masturbation might have contributed to it. Then, there is fear of judgment from their current partner, which makes them anxious
- Not being desirable: If her partner cannot get an erection or doesn’t reciprocate to her advances, a woman may interpret it as him not finding her desirable or attractive anymore, whereas there could be so many other reasons why that man isn’t aroused, including his own sexual performance anxiety being at play
- Poor body image: Body image issues affect a majority of women, irrespective of their body shape and size. If, on top of that, a man comments on her body, she will only become more self-conscious and not be comfortable being naked in front of him. This will invariably impact the quality of their sexual experiences as well
- Not getting pregnant: Much like men, women too worry about their fertility if they’ve been having unprotected sex with their husbands or a long-term partner and do not get pregnant in the process. This can interfere with sexual desire and the ability to engage with the partner without any stress
Related Reading: I Have To Go Through Painful Intercourse And Can’t Enjoy Intimacy
Overcoming Sexual Performance Anxiety
Contrary to popular perception, overcoming sexual performance anxiety is not hard. In most cases, sexual performance anxiety treatment or medication is not even needed. What’s needed is the right kind of information and counseling from a credible, empathetic professional. If you’re wondering how to break the cycle of performance anxiety and steer clear of the risk of being stuck in a sexless marriage or relationship, here are my recommendations:
- Quality sex education and a frank discourse around sex
- Reading about the intricacies of the sexual experiences and using credible sources to inform yourself
- Seeking reassurance from an educated, well-informed person
- Seeking sex counseling from a qualified sexologist who can address the specific issues you may be struggling with and help you rewire your understanding of and expectations from sex
- Steering clear of quacks who will cash in on your anxieties and milk them for money
Sexual performance anxiety is common and can be overcome with the right guidance and help. If these anxious feelings are getting in the way of you enjoying a fulfilling sex life, seeking help from an experienced and qualified professional can be the first crucial step toward healing. Don’t let apprehensions or stigma get in the way. With Bonobology’s online counseling, you can now avail of the right help from the comfort of your home.