What Is Performance Anxiety and How to Overcome It?
Sexual performance anxiety can be an extremely sensitive subject, but it’s something that so many of us experience. While doctors often look to physical matters first when it comes to intercourse issues, often our problems are rooted in the mind. Remember, our biggest sex organ is our brain. Sexual performance anxiety is a type of performance anxiety that involves fear or worry related to sexual activity. This can happen during sex, or even before sex. When you experience these feelings, your body might release increased amounts of powerful stress hormones such as adrenaline, making it more difficult for you to relax and enjoy sexual activity. Anorgasmia or difficulty having orgasms is a common challenge that can result from sexual anxiety. Anxiety itself creates a survival response that prevents a person from being completely present in their minds and bodies, making orgasm difficult or even unachievable.
What Are Some of the Signs of Sexual Performance Anxiety?
Pay attention if you experience any of the following regularly in your sex life:
- Dissociating (“spacing out”)
- Feeling “trapped in your head”
- Avoiding sex
- Overcompensating or faking confidence
- Hyper-focusing on minor details
- Perfectionism around sexual experiences or body image
- Catastrophic thinking about potential negative outcomes
- Compulsively seeking reassurance of what sexual partners think
- Anxiety attacks or panic attacks
What Sexual Performance Anxiety Is Like For Men
Performance anxiety affects men of all ages and backgrounds. Not only can it affect your mental state during sex, but it can also contribute to common sexual issues such as erectile dysfunction (ED) and premature ejaculation (PE).There are two major types of performance anxiety: One comes from having unrealistic beliefs and expectations about sex (thanks, Internet porn); the other comes from an overwhelming desire to please your partner.
When you feel anxious, your body activates its sympathetic nervous system resulting in, among other things, constriction of blood vessels and increases in the production of stress hormones such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol. This leads to an increase in blood pressure levels and a subsequent reduction in blood flow to parts of your body such as your penis.
What Sexual Performance Anxiety Is Like For Women
Performance anxiety has been used historically to refer to male sexual functioning. Cisgender male sexuality is a topic at the forefront of our culture, from boners to the blue pill. Sexual anxiety in men is, of course, a very real, upsetting, legitimate health issue. However, women often have to go through their sex lives not understanding that their anxiety is legitimate, that they are not alone, and that there are ways to treat it.
Women can have stress, fear, or worry around a number of sexual dynamics. For some women, even the thought of sexual intimacy can create anxious energy in the body. This overarching fear of uncertainty around the entire act of sex itself is incredibly common. If things are not going well in the relationship, this can also often have a negative effect on sex. Emotional intimacy is crucial with a partner in order to enjoy being physically intimate. Another impediment to good sex – or any sex – is body image. In addition to being self-conscious due to the media's portrayal of what is deemed “desirable”, there is an ingrained belief in many women that their genitals are unattractive.
While psychological factors are frequently the cause of performance anxiety in women, there may be some physical problems as well. Medical conditions like endometriosis and vaginitis can cause intercourse to be painful. In some instances – such as during menopause – women are unable to produce enough lubrication to make sex enjoyable. Poor blood flow to the vagina and clitoris are commonly cited as factors that can lead to a lack of sensation or natural lubrication – and this can be caused by age-related or environmental factors, such as the build-up of plaque in blood vessels.
How Can We Overcome Performance Anxiety?
Talk about it.
You don’t have to play it cool. When you simply admit that you’re nervous, you dispel that anxiety by letting go of that shroud of secrecy. This is a perfect opportunity to build that emotional intimacy we mentioned earlier with your partner. When someone’s earned the right to hear your truth, you give them a gift by being honest, because they can now be honest with you. Who knows, they could be anxious too!
Alter the environment.
Whether that means creating a specific playlist of soothing, romantic music to stream in the background or cuddling and watching a movie as foreplay. These activities can distract you from any anxiety-triggering aspects of what is about to happen.
Grab your Oomf and ease sex anxiety with a technique called “mindful masturbation”, a sensual way to explore your pleasure, get grounded in your body, and escape your mind for a few blissful minutes. Mindfulness is the practice of becoming conscious and aware, of being present in the moment rather than distracted, so basically this is taking mindfulness one step further.
Hype yourself up.
Interrupt critical self-talk with affirmations, and challenge cognitive distortions (like black and white thinking) that cause you to spiral into anxiety. Sometimes writing down the worries can help us be more objective and realize which are reasonable things to address, and what can be ignored.
Seek help if your performance anxiety persists or if it happens more frequently. The earlier you visit your doctor, the sooner you can learn techniques to deal with any negative thoughts, fear, and stress. You may also be able to rule out other conditions that could be affecting your ability to perform.