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Dear Ask Lust,
"How to overcome sexual performance anxiety in bed for men?"
— Hector from the Bay Area
Hi Hector, thank you very much for getting in touch with your question. Sexual performance anxiety is a very common sexual problem that can affect anyone at any time. It’s most prevalent in men and people with penises, and it affects everyone in a different way. It’s usually associated with a feeling of nervousness and anxiety before or during sex. For some people these feelings may lead to premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, inability to orgasm or a lack of interest in sex.
There are many causes of performance anxiety as I’m sure you’re aware, ranging from negative thoughts about your ability to perform well during sexual activity, to the inability to please a partner, to negative body image and concerns about ejaculating too early or too late.
When you have these worries your body may release stress hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine. According to Webmd , “One of the effects of the stress hormones is to narrow blood vessels. When less blood flows into your penis, it's more difficult to have an erection. Even guys who normally don't have any trouble getting excited might not be able to get an erection when they're overcome by sexual performance anxiety.”
Unfortunately, this means that a loop can be created — you become anxious about sex, stress hormones are released into your body, you’re unable to have sex that you desire (aka “perform” in a certain way), and this leads to more performance anxiety the next time you want to have sex.
I can imagine the stress that you’re going through but do not worry! It’s perfectly normal to experience sexual performance anxiety and for penises to not always work the way we want them to, it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you.
Firstly, I would recommend seeing a doctor or medical professional to check that there is no other underlying health condition or medication that is causing the problem. If it’s an accessible option to you, you could also try therapy with a sex therapist or a professional who has experience with these issues to help you understand and manage your anxiety.
Aside from medical professionals, here are some tips that you could try to help you cope with your symptoms. Note that these tips are not meant to replace medical advice!
First things first, as always, communication is key. If you have a partner, talking to them about your sexual performance anxiety can help take away a lot of the power of it. It’s very likely that your partner will be understanding and willing to help you work on ways to address your anxieties. Sharing your concerns is likely to not only lessen the burden for you but also give you a bit of reassurance that everything is ok.
Try to shift your attention from yourself and your performance to the sensations that you’re experiencing during sex. I understand that this is easier said than done and requires some practice but you can start by tuning into the physical sensations - How does it feel when your partner touches or kisses you there? What are your hands feeling?
Try being intimate without penetrative sex. There is so much you can do without needing a hard penis! Give your partner a sensual massage, engage in mutual masturbation, have a bath together, body worship your partner, cuddle, dry hump, kiss…there are so many ways to connect and pleasure your partner without engaging in penetrative sex.
Unfortunately we have all been conditioned to believe that the goal of sex is orgasm - usually male ejaculation. Rid yourself of this belief and start to enjoy being intimate for the experience, not for the end goal of an orgasm. Try to think of sex as a journey, enjoy the entire experience without focusing on the destination.
Stress can be a huge contributor to sexual performance anxiety and a big boner killer, so trying to find ways to manage your everyday life stresses can have a great impact on your sex life. Whether it’s meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, morning routines, journaling – find the thing that works for you.
Remind yourself that whatever happens, it’s fine. As I said before, it’s perfectly normal for penises to not always “perform” how we want them to, it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with them. Sex isn’t perfect for anyone and that’s part of the fun of it! Don’t compare yourself to what you see in adult films or Hollywood movies, there is no standard way to have sex, everyone is different.
I hope these tips have helped. For more on this topic you can check out these Lust Zine articles on Performance Anxiety & Delayed Ejaculation in Penis Owners and Sexual Health 101: Premature Ejaculation.