Sexual Anxiety: Everything You Need To Know

sexual anxiety

When it comes to being aroused, there are many factors at play. Among these are the emotional aspects of sharing intimate moments, which for some, can be inhibited by anxiety. Sometimes people have sexual anxiety due to fear of performing, while others experience it as the result of insecurity, generalized anxiety, and/or past trauma.

How common is sexual anxiety?

Sexual anxiety is by no means rare. In fact, in a study of sexual performance anxiety (SPA), it was found that 9-25% of men experience SPA. If you’re experiencing sexual anxiety, it may seem like you’re alone in your struggles. In fact, many people with sexual anxiety feel that way. However, rest assured, you are not alone.

While many studies of sexual anxiety thus far, have not explored SPA in women, the aforementioned study did. It was found that women do in fact suffer from sexual anxiety at a rate of 6-16%. Unfortunately, there aren’t many other studies examining the occurrence of sexual anxiety in women, and this lack of attention to such a frustrating medical issue may be vexing if you’re a woman looking for more information.

Luckily, much of the information that is available regarding sexual performance anxiety is gender neutral. In both men and women, SPA is the most common type of sexual dysfunction. Sexual anxiety may also lend itself, however, to other forms of sexual dysfunction such as premature ejaculation, lack of lubrication, and difficulty with orgasm.

Recognizing Sexual Anxiety

While no formal diagnosis is recognized for sexual anxiety, there are symptoms you can identify that will clue you in as to whether or not you may have sexual anxiety. It is worth noting that since no official diagnosis is recognized, treatment routes receive little attention at mass scale. Nevertheless, existing studies point to some common signs observed within people who suffer from sexual anxiety.

A woman may reach down to feel herself during a romantic encounter and realize that she has little to no lubrication. She may ask herself, “Is there something wrong with me? Am I not attracted to my partner? Do I not have an emotional connection with my partner?” and become filled with self-doubt.

That and a million more thoughts may flood her head as she struggles to become lubricated when she is ‘supposed’ to. A woman struggling with sexual anxiety knows that she is attracted to her partner, but for some reason, things aren’t going as planned. She also knows that she is enjoying the moment or, at least, is trying to, but this lack of performance is creating feelings of anxiety.

These thoughts can make it difficult to maintain a relationship and experiencing sexual anxiety just once or twice may lead to experiencing more SPA in the future. Over time, severe sexual anxiety often leads to women completely losing interest in sexual intercourse.

Similar issues with sexual performance anxiety manifest themselves in men. A man may be enjoying foreplay with his partner when all of a sudden, he realizes that he is having difficulty obtaining and/or maintaining an erection. His body wants to enjoy the pleasure that he is experiencing, but his mind is preventing him from doing so. The more he thinks about getting into the moment, the harder it is to relax.

A man experiencing sexual anxiety may experience shame and doubt about his apparent inability to form a deeper connection with his partner. However, these doubts and negative self-talk habits only exacerbate the impact of sexual anxiety.

If you can relate to the aforementioned anecdotes, you may have sexual performance anxiety. It’s important to note that SPA is not the same as simply having butterflies about a new partner or being nervous about sharing such vulnerable moments. Sexual anxiety is much deeper and more intense, and if not addressed could have greater implications over time.

Symptoms of sexual anxiety include:

  • Difficulty getting aroused
  • Difficulty with orgasm
  • Difficulty obtaining an erection
  • Difficulty maintaining an erection
  • Premature ejaculation
  • Lack of lubrication
  • Difficulty maintaining lubrication
  • Disinterest in sex

One or more symptoms may be present in people suffering from sexual anxiety, and these symptoms may be either persistent or intermittent. Yet another variable is that the aforementioned symptoms may be present before foreplay, during foreplay, before intercourse, during intercourse, or near the end of intercourse. Sexual anxiety truly has many variables, and that’s part of what makes it tricky for clinicians and frustrating for those experiencing it.

Will I Have Sexual Anxiety Forever?

The short answer is no. The long answer, of course, is incredibly more complex. While sexual anxiety is sometimes something that may be experienced for a short term or in phases, it can also be something that persists for months or years. This is, unfortunately, due to the fact that sexual performance anxiety may often be tied to other emotional issues. The best way to address sexual anxiety is to begin addressing the underlying emotional stressors.

How Can I Get Over My Sexual Anxiety?

Much like anything you cope with mentally and emotionally, everyone’s route to overcoming sexual anxiety differs. No treatment is well proven from a mass clinical perspective; however, physicians and therapists have successfully deployed varying treatments for sexual anxiety. Treatments for SPA may include any one or more of the following:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – This treatment teaches coping techniques as well, and those techniques can be deployed in future situations of sexual anxiety.
  • Medication – This may be used as needed (oftentimes, sexual anxiety will decrease when anxiety as a whole is treated). However, some medications used to treat social anxiety and performance anxiety — which are often present in people with sexual anxiety decrease sexual desire. It’s important to work with your healthcare provider to determine which medication options may work best without inhibiting your wellness goals.
  • Meditation – There are meditation courses specifically aimed at patients who suffer from sexual anxiety. If sexual anxiety isn’t co-morbid with other mental or emotional problems, meditation can be an easy and free way to work past SPA.
  • Getting to know your own body – Learning what you like and don’t like, and taking the time to do so on your own, can help reduce fears about sexual experiences.
  • Naturopathic remedies – Passionflower, bitter orange, and L-theanine are viable options in some cases and are reasonably priced treatments for sexual anxiety.

Note: some of the most severe forms of sexual anxiety can be the result of past sexual abuse and being a survivor of sexual violence. When this is the case, it’s imperative to seek treatment to specifically address your trauma. If you’re not already in treatment, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) hotlines may be of use. Sexual abuse is traumatizing, and there is no shame in seeking the treatment and recovery that you rightfully deserve.

Moving Past Sexual Anxiety

Sexual anxiety, in addition to its roots in other pre-existing anxieties, is also heavily tied to social conditioning. Men are often led to believe that they must lead not only in life but in the bedroom as well. ‘Success’ in the bedroom is deeply tied to masculinity. Meanwhile, women often feel pressure to please their men and sexually satisfy them.

These expectations are not only stereotypical but hetero normative. And worse yet: while people with SPA are worried about disappointing their partner or making their partner feel as if they aren’t attracted to them, the person with sexual anxiety is also disappointing themselves. When it comes to untreated sexual anxiety, everyone gets hurt. The bright side is the reality that no one needs to be hurt; sexual anxiety can be overcome.

We are conditioned to believe that sex is an important aspect of romantic relationships. And by all means, having a healthy sex life is absolutely vital to a relationship’s success. However, experiencing sexual anxiety doesn’t mean that your relationship with your current partner (or future partners) will be doomed. As with any aspect of mental or emotional strife, sexual anxiety can be overcome.

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Alexis Dent is an essayist, author, and entrepreneur. Her work is primarily focused on mental illness, relationships, and pop culture. You can find her writing in Washington Post, Greatist, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, and more.
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