Many people will experience sexual anxiety at some point in their lives. After all, feeling nervous about starting a new sexual relationship with someone is completely normal. But if feelings of sexual anxiety develop after you’ve been married and sexually active for a long time, or it has reached the point where you avoid sexual interactions altogether, then it’s worth reaching out for expert help.
While sexual anxiety may be common, you certainly don’t have to live with these feelings forever.
"Anxiety associated with sex, or sexual activity, can be experienced by people of all ages in all sorts of relationships," says experienced therapist Dr. Katherine Hertlein. "Whenever it happens and whoever it happens with, sexual anxiety is often rooted in fear or discomfort of a sexual encounter. Sexual anxiety can be related to both your state of mind and the fear of being unable to please your partner when it comes to being intimate.”
As quickly as these feelings develop, they can often be eased, and go away altogether. Sometimes the solution may be as simple as reconnecting with your own body again by using one of the best vibrators and spending time focusing on your own sexual pleasure. This can help you to rediscover how you like to be touched, before trying to work through your sexual anxiety with a partner.
Understanding your sexual anxiety and where it's coming from is key to overcoming it.
The causes of sexual anxiety and how to tell if you have it
There can be several causes of sexual anxiety, which can differ from person to person. "Sexual anxiety can be the result of an underlying medical condition," says Dr. Hertlein, expert advisor at Blueheart. "It could also be down to relationship factors, power struggles, fears, mood disorders and other mental health issues. Cultural or religious factors are also often to blame for women’s sex worries."
The most common causes of sexual anxiety include:
- Body image issues
If you are self-conscious about the way you look, it could be causing you sexual anxiety and low self-esteem.
- Low sexual confidence
This is a feeling of inadequacy when it comes to ‘performing’ in bed. It can sometimes be caused by a previous negative experience, such as a relationship based purely on repeated fighting followed by makeup sex.
- Increased amounts of stress
Being too stressed for sex can be common. Stress in your daily life, from work, relationships, or general life, can cause you sexual anxiety.
- Loss of sexual desire
Low sex drive might be down to stress or even a side-effect of medication. But it can easily lead to a sexless marriage as both parties simply stop trying to make an effort for fear of failure.
While many people may experience one or two of these issues, such as body image concerns or daily stress at work, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have sexual anxiety. This is usually only diagnosed if you also have sexual dysfunction, which often presents itself physically.
"Feeling anxious about sex can manifest in different ways, but it’s mainly through symptoms of sexual dysfunction,” says Dr. Hertlein. “For example, those who suffer from sexual anxiety can report an inability to climax. And this may still be the case if you find your partner sexually appealing. Sometimes it can also cause complete disinterest in sex, even in happy relationships."
If you are experiencing female sexual dysfunction, you should contact a medical professional, such as your doctor or a sex therapist, for further advice.
How to overcome sexual anxiety
The good news is, there are things you can do to ease your sexual anxiety and overcome it. Dr. Hertlein shares five ways for getting a handle on your anxiety around sex.
1. GO SLOW
Patience is key if you want to make your sexual anxiety a thing of the past, so you need to forget about trying to prioritize your own orgasm for now. "Try to move away from making sex a goal-oriented experience," says Dr. Hertlein. "It’s about taking your time, enjoying each other and finding intimacy and connection. Not only will this take the pressure off yourself and your partner, but it’s also a chance to learn what you find sensual. Think of it as a blank slate. This is a chance to explore what you enjoy without the time pressure or end goal."
2. IMPROVE YOUR LIFESTYLE
Constantly rushing about during the day? It won't be helping things at night. "Our life events can sometimes cause us to feel stressed or anxious, leaving our minds running even when we’re trying to relax," says Dr. Hertlein. "You might experience stress or anxiety because of something that happened at work, an argument with your family, or perhaps something else. Unfortunately, we cannot always take the stress out of our lives, but you can make lifestyle changes to help with how you deal with them."
Luckily, the best ways are the easiest to implement. "Some of my best advice is to make sure you’re getting the advised seven to eight hours sleep every night as you sleep can really affect your sex life. And make sure you're having a healthy balanced diet, and regular exercise even if it’s just an hour of walking per day. These lifestyle changes sound simple, but they enable us to put our best selves forward to deal with whatever life throws at us – and are an easy win if you want to know how to have good sex again," says Dr. Hertlein.
3. BE MORE MINDFUL
Feelings of panic rising? "Move away from focusing on the anxiety around our body and sex," says Dr. Hertlein. "General anxiety reducing strategies include mindfulness, breathing, and getting grounded. There are many resources, books, and apps that can help you to become more grounded and less anxious." But make sure you stick with them. "It helps if you do them for a period of time," adds Dr. Hertlein.
You could also try and join a program or sign up for an app that will lead through techniques to help sexual anxiety and will support your overall sexual wellbeing.
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4. TALK TO YOUR PARTNER
Never hide the fact that you're feeling anxious around sex – speak up, however embarrassed you feel. "Anxiety in your relationship is likely not a comfortable thing," says Dr. Hertlein. "But, it may be helpful to talk to your partner about your anxieties, especially if your initial reaction is to avoid sex. This will help them understand what you’re experiencing so you can work through it together. The more clarity and communication you have around the topic, the easier it will be for you to work through it together."
5. GET PROFESSIONAL HELP
"Finally, if you're still experiencing issues with your body or sex after trying these techniques, it’s important to talk with your doctor," says Dr. Hertlein. "It might be the result of an underlying health condition or a result of medication you’re taking."
And don't be scared about talking to a sex therapist on your own, or having sex therapy with your partner – both could help.
"Seek out help," says Dr. Hertlein. "Therapy for anxiety-reduction or a therapist who specializes in sexual health and couples therapy can be a life-changing method of support. Don’t suffer in silence."