Imagine this scenario, you’re in an intimate setting with your partner—the dim lighting is setting the tone, there’s sultry music playing in the background and the sexual tension in the air is sharp enough to cut fruit. Then all of a sudden you’re hit with an unnerving feeling of anxiousness that shouldn’t be there in a situation like this. You begin feeling out of place, and your flight or fight mode suddenly kicks in. Like generalised anxiety which manifests in daily circumstances, sexual anxiety shows up in sexual situations, often completely uncalled for. However, it’s not as uncommon as you’d think. According to a study conducted by Robert Pyke for the International Society of Sexual Medication on sexual anxiety, over 25% of men and 16% of women experience performance anxiety in different sexual activities.
This sexual anxiety can take multiple forms such as battling body dysmorphia and constantly worrying about being unable to please your partner. Often these cause rifts between partners and come in the way of a healthy sex life. These fears and negative feelings are valid even if you don’t seem to have a logical reason for it. Faced by all genders alike, sexual anxiety is certainly something that can be dealt with over time.
Sex and anxious responses
View this post on Instagram
Anxiety is a constant feeling of worry and uneasiness about an uncertain outcome. “When we’re having sex with someone, we are at our most vulnerable, physically, mentally and emotionally. Experiencing this can often trigger an anxious response in anyone,” explains Niyati Shah, sexuality educator, counsellor and corporate trainer at Averti. She emphasises how this anxiety often stems from societal expectations, cultural beliefs or even personal insecurities.
Anushka Gupta, the co-founder of MyMuse, an intimate wellness brand adds to this and says, “When we speak of societal expectations, one of the most common complaints we hear from our female consumers is that they feel constantly anxious because of their ‘inability to orgasm’.” I mean, how many times have we faked an orgasm? She further explains that this leads to women believing there’s something wrong with them just because they can’t achieve an orgasm.
When anxiety takes over in a sexual situation, it can lead to physical and mental changes. According to Niyati, your body may respond with increased stress hormones that affect blood flow, and muscle tension and impact your ability to enjoy the situation. This could lead to instances of erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation for men and vaginal dryness for women, all of which certainly impact your sex life.
What causes sexual anxiety?
Like generalised anxiety has certain triggers that bring it out in the most unlikely situations, so does sexual anxiety. Every individual who grapples with it has unique triggers that depend on their own personal experiences. Niyati elaborates on these causes of sexual anxiety and explains that there are psychological, emotional and physical elements at play here.
Performance pressure: Plenty of individuals feel immense pressure to perform well during sexual activities which can lead to anxiety. Women are worried about reaching a climax whereas men are worried about keeping their erection the same throughout.
Body image issues: People who deal with insecurities about their bodies may feel anxious about undressing in front of their partner and hence shy away from physical intimacy. They tend to fear judgment from their partner about these insecurities.
Past trauma: Individuals who have experienced any kind of sexual trauma in the past or negative sexual experiences may associate sex with anxiety and fear. This fear gets carried on to future sexual relationships due to the trauma that has been caused.
Media and Pornography: Exposure to unrealistic portrayals of sex in pornography can create impractical expectations such as believing that every sexual encounter should be perfect and always lead to simultaneous orgasms, causing anxiety when real-life experiences don’t match these expectations.
Coping and dealing with it
View this post on Instagram
Coping with sexual anxiety will look different for everyone who is dealing with it because of their unique triggers. Addressing it with transparency and without any shame alongside your partner is extremely crucial. Anushka believes that one can first work on building a safe space for themselves and choosing what’s right for them. “Sex is something that is supposed to be celebrated and enjoyed, so if something comes in the way of that, it needs to be tackled at the root cause,” she says.
Apart from this, relaxation techniques will help one be more mindful and get ahead of sexual anxiety in a calm manner. Niyati explains, “Activities of meditation, deep breathing or even basic mindful exercises done before any sexual activity can help you calm your nerves and regulate your anxiety, even if it’s a little bit.” She also emphasises on the importance of focusing on a sensual connection instead of a performative one. This means that touch, intimacy and an emotional connection should be given importance over just performing a sexual activity.
However, experts agree that if sexual anxiety is a persistent concern in your life, pay a visit to a sex therapist who can guide you towards a solution that caters to your needs specifically. Sexual anxiety is certainly something that can be overcome with the correct tools.