How to overcome sexual performance anxiety

Kate Taylor 29 August 2019

If the thought of having sex fills you with panic rather than passion, here’s our relationship Kate Taylor with her top tips on conquering your fears, and coming out on top…

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t suffer from performance anxiety sometimes. It’s usually depicted as a male problem; most articles are illustrated with images of miserable men sitting on the edge of the bed, having their shoulders stoically patted by patient wives. But in my experience, the roles are equally likely to be reversed. Physically, the results are the same: stress and anxiety lead to our brains releasing cortisol, which narrows our blood vessels and stops erections (if we’re male) or our arousal and climax (if we’re women).

But there are ways to make it better.

beat performance anxiety

A lot of performance anxiety is caused by feeling inadequate. If it’s a new relationship, you might worry your partner is comparing you to their ex. If it’s an established relationship, you might worry your partner is getting tired of your tried-and-tested moves. You might worry that your body doesn’t look alluring any more, or that health problems have curbed your vitality, or that your partner’s new job is filled with sexier, fitter people… Anything can spark a feeling of being less-than.

How does that cause performance anxiety? It leads to your becoming more focused on performance than on pleasure. Instead of taking in the glorious view of your partner’s body, or the erotic feel of their kisses, you’ll be fixated on what you’re doing, how you look, and whether you measure up.

On a date, you might spend every moment from the main course onwards worrying that you might not please your partner in bed later on. And once you’re in bed, you might be so obsessed with your own technical skill that you forget all about enjoying the moment. Sexy? Nope. Stressful? Yes! Fixable? Read on…


How to boost your sexual confidence

beat your sexual confidence

This depends on if you’re an anxious person in general, or just worried about your sexual performance. You’ll know if you’re usually anxious: you worry about most things, from how you’re doing at work, to what other people think of you. Your brain will buzz with thoughts that begin, “What if…” and you’ll often lose yourself in unhappy thoughts that dramatise stressful events. Essentially, your brain is run by the scriptwriters of Casualty.

If you’re always anxious, visit your GP. There are many treatments available for anxiety, and you could find that calming your nerves overall will cure your performance anxiety too. But if you’re generally serene outside the bedroom, you can use some targeted help. Try these tips…


Improve your sexual knowledge

worried about

Most of us learn about sex as teenagers and spend the rest of our lives fumbling round in the dark—literally.

If you’re someone whose nerves are calmed with knowledge, try reading a friendly, accessible sex guide like Hot Sex: How To Do It, by Tracey Cox, or She Comes First, The Thinking Man’s Guide To Pleasuring a Woman, by Ian Kerner. (You’ll be relieved to know they’re both available as ebooks, and won’t scare away everyone else on the bus.)


Get more exercise

exercise for sex

The good news is that you won’t have to sign up for a 10K to boost your sex life. But the bad news is, a stroll to the shops won’t do it either.

A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine revealed that the optimum amount of exercise to improve mental health and happiness levels and reduce anxiety is 20 minutes of strenuous activity every week.

Strenuous means enough to raise your heart rate and make you sweat. For you, that might mean a weekly gym class run by a strict instructor. For me, it’s just trying to get into my sports bra.


Get more feedback

feedback sex

If you’re worried about your performance, you’ll naturally look for signs from your partner that they’re enjoying it. But when we’re anxious, our brains spot more negative cues than usual, making us find a million little signs that we’re failing. So don’t rely on your own interpretation of how things are going: ask your partner.

Before sex, tell them that it really turns you on when they show you their enjoyment during sex. And once you’re having sex, pay attention to positive cues.


Stay in the moment

reduce sex anciety

As soon as you feel anxious, your attention will reduce down to a microcosm of panic, and you’ll miss everything else. Mindfulness helps you stay in the moment. So practise the 5-4-3-2-1 Mindfulness trick as soon as you feel anxious during sex.

Go through your five senses and name five things you can see at that very moment, four things you can hear, three things you can feel, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This trick works very well wherever you feel anxious, but it’s a lot more fun in bed.


Believe in baby steps

performance anxiety couple

Curing your performance anxiety and boosting your confidence won’t happen overnight, or even during a particularly steamy afternoon. Change will happen over time. It can help to keep a record of your starting point, to track how you improve. So write a list of your most common sexual worries, and store it somewhere private.

Try these tips (above) as often as possible. Then revisit your list again in three months to see how far your confidence has come. You should see that you’ve improved in lots of small ways.

You might not quite be up to live-streaming your romps on Facebook yet, but you might not be writing the idea off altogether, either…


Good luck! 


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