Everyone knows what mild anxiety feels like, and in the case of sexual performance, it’s perfectly natural to be mildly anxious. Issues about whether we’ll satisfy our partner and at the same time avoid clumsy or annoying distractions are common. It’s once we amplify these or other anxieties that problems actually start to be seen.
Male and female anxieties
In 2016, the website Superdrug Online Doctor published the results of a survey they had conducted with 2,000 American and European men and women on the topic of sex anxiety. According to the results, men and women share many of the same issues:
- Whether the partner has a sexually transmitted infection
- Whether the partner will find your naked body attractive
- Whether the partner will achieve orgasm
- Whether a condom will break during intercourse
- Whether you are bad at sex
Anxieties expressed by men were:
- Not being able to perform
- Penis size
- Lack of experience
- Awkwardness after sex
And with women:
- A partner not wanting to wear a condom
- A partner not taking “no” for an answer
- A partner wanting to do something they are not comfortable with
- Embarrassing bodily functions during sex
This is far from the definitive guide to sexual anxieties but it shows that both men and women are affected by similar concerns. More severe anxieties in men tend to revolve around erectile dysfunction, specifically whether they can achieve and maintain an erection. Fear of failure, having unrealistic expectations, or fear or rejection, can lead to men avoiding sexual contact altogether.
For women, fears about body odor, vaginal dryness, or fear of vaginal penetration may be problematic. Vaginismus, an involuntary muscular spasm that makes penetration impossible or intercourse painful, may have a number of physical or psychological causes. Chief amongst the anxiety related causes are past trauma’s or unpleasant sexual experiences, guilt, emotional detachment, or concerns over injury or pregnancy.
It’s quite possible for some of these issues to cluster together but still not cause undue problems. For other people, just one issue can dominate their thinking prior to and during sex.
Self-help and treatments
In mild cases of anxiety, the situation may be self-correcting simply by facing up to the issue. These minor hurdles quickly become forgotten once replaced by confidence. If this seems impractical, then the next step is conversation and honesty. You will expose your vulnerabilities by declaring your anxieties but as you’ve just read, both men and women have a variety of fears around sex, so it’s unlikely you’ll be embarrassed. In fact, it’s far more likely that your partner will offer reassurance and understanding, and perhaps declare their own concerns.
More formal treatments for sex anxieties and dysfunctions are generally not difficult to find. Sex therapists typically come from counselling or psychological backgrounds before specializing in sex. In the case of erectile dysfunction, or vaginismus, it is advisable to rule out potential physical causes. A visit to your family doctor should hopefully establish whether there are known causes (e.g. medication side-effects, diabetes, heart conditions) or whether talk-therapy is the next best option.
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Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.