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Sexual Performance Anxiety & Tips to Overcome It

by Dr. Justin Lehmiller

Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Dr. Justin Lehmiller

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institu...

Social Psychologist, researcher at The Kinsey Institute

 

improves sexual performance anxiety

Ideally, sex should be a way to release stress and tension—it shouldn’t be a source of it.

Unfortunately, however, for some guys, sex causes them nothing but anxiety, self-doubt, embarrassment, and even shame.

Men who suffer the worst of these sex-related symptoms sometimes resort to avoiding sexual encounters altogether. However, by completely avoiding sex and intimacy, these sufferers can wind up feeling depressed and alone, and they may be too embarrassed to seek out professional help.

That is no way to live.

If you feel this way, you're not alone. Many men experience things like this at some point in their lives.

Fortunately, there is hope. Sexual performance anxiety (SPA) is something that can be overcome.

Quick FAQs

Yes, performance anxiety can lead to quicker than normal ejaculation times. High levels of anxiety can also lead to issues gaining and maintaining erections too. 

Understanding your body is important. When you feel aroused your heart rate increases. Learn to control your breathing and relax your body to avoid over-excitement. Focus more on your partner and their needs rather than your own.

Some of the leading causes of sexual anxiety stem from a low self-image, lack of confidence, lack of experience, or fear of the inability to satisfy your partner.

What is Sexual Performance Anxiety?

Sexual performance anxiety is not an officially recognized medical or psychiatric condition; nonetheless, it is one of the most common sex-related complaints among men.

The lack of a precise medical diagnosis or a least a mention in medical or psychological texts can make getting help harder for men who are experiencing it.

At a very general level, sexual performance anxiety is the state of being anxious before, during, and/or after sex. That covers a lot of ground, from worrying about whether you’ll even be able to perform to being anxious about pleasing your partner to measuring up to your partner’s previous lovers.

While the factors contributing to sexual performance anxiety are mostly attributed to psychological causes, it can potentially spill over and lead to physical problems, such as erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation (PE), and difficulty reaching orgasm.

In fact, research shows that performance anxiety is an important risk factors in developing sexual difficulties like PE.

The most insidious aspect of sexual performance anxiety is that it is easy to fall into a vicious circle: anxiety before a sexual encounter can lead to physical performance issues that then feeds into even more anxiety the next time around.

This can lead to persistent difficulty getting it up, prematurely ejaculating, and lacking enjoyment­, all of which can lead to even more sexual and relationship problems down the line.

In other words, what may initially start out as a minor anxiety issue may quickly warp into a huge problem

Let's take a look at how sexual performance anxiety often starts.

What Are the Causes of Performance Anxiety in Men?

causes performance anxiety men

There are a lot of potential reasons why a guy might experience sexual performance anxiety.

Most of them stem from the mistaken belief that you will somehow do something—or not be able to do something—that will end up disappointing your partner.

Sex is not like a TV show or movie that needs to be reviewed and critiqued, but turning it into that is just about the quickest way to make sex anxiety-provoking instead of fun.

Even the most confident guy is bound to be a bit nervous if he thinks his partner is going to be overly critical of his sexual prowess.

Let's take a quick look at five of the most common reasons guys might experience performance anxiety.

Poor self-image

People want to feel good about themselves.

Yet, all of us have certain aspects of ourselves, especially our bodies, that we don't particularly like. Lots of guys fear that by being intimate with another person, they may expose some of these flaws and, ultimately, experience rejection.

Typically, guys have the most concerns about their weight and muscle mass, as well as their penis size and appearance.

Worrying that your penis won’t work the way it should?

Guys judge themselves pretty harshly when their penises don’t work the way the want them to.

Will it get hard enough? Will I climax too early? And will I be able to reach orgasm at all? These are all questions that many guys grapple with going into a sexual encounter, especially if they’ve experienced sexual difficulties in the past.

These uncertainties can weigh heavily on your mind and contribute to sexual performance anxiety, leading to more severe issues over time, especially if you find yourself preoccupied with them during sex itself.

General relationship problems with your partner

Even for guys with the most active sex lives, intercourse itself makes up only a tiny fraction of the daily interactions they have with their lover. There’s a heck of a lot more to a relationship than sex, and the overall quality of your relationship has important implications for your sex life.

Indeed, a poor relationship outside the bedroom can increase performance anxiety between the sheets.

Men who have trouble communicating openly and honestly with their significant other often fall into this category.

A new relationship or lack of previous sexual experience

New and different things can potentially be scary and stressful, and not all of us deal equally well with this. That is true for life in general, but also when it comes to sex.

Guys who don't have much experience with sex and those who are expanding their horizons by trying new and different sexual activities are likely to encounter more anxiety-provoking situations.

However, feelings of uneasiness can quickly overcome even a very skilled lover when he is getting physical with a brand new partner, especially if he starts worrying about how he looks or how he’s performing.

Worrying about your inability to satisfy your partner

Whether you are having sex with someone for the first time, or with your spouse of ten years, concerns about pleasing and pleasuring your lover have the potential to rattle your nerves.

This is particularly true immediately following a sex session that did not work out as well as you might have liked. Perhaps you feel your own performance fell short or your partner did not seem fully content.

Whatever is causing you to feel intimidated when it comes to having sex, it’s important to know that sexual performance anxiety solutions exist and that, yes, you can learn to enjoy having sex again.

How Can I Overcome Sexual Performance Anxiety?

man stressed sexually performances

Nope. Stop the negative thinking right now.

Sexual performance anxiety should not rest on your shoulders alone.

There are steps you can take to reduce these negative feelings. Here are four simple tips that can help you get past the thoughts that are screwing up your sex life, so you can get back in bed with more confidence

1. Show yourself that it works

If your penis works when you masturbate, you know your equipment is working from a physical perspective. However, if you’re also having the same problems during masturbation, that may be the sign of a more serious issue that requires medical treatment.

Understanding your sexual response by practicing when you are by yourself is a good way to reinforce that there is nothing wrong with you and can help you start to build up your confidence.

2. Change your attitude and recognize that it’s okay if you don’t perform at 100% every time

Try to clear your head of those concerns that something won't work perfectly.

Are you fearful that your penis won't rise to the occasion, or that you might orgasm too quickly or not at all?

Stop stressing out about those kinds of thoughts and recognize that whatever does or doesn’t happen is okay. It’s perfectly normal for penises to not always work the way we want them.

When this happens, don’t let it get to you. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you, or with your relationship, so stop heaping so much pressure on yourself to achieve sexual perfection. Seeking perfection is an unrealistic and unproductive way to approach sex.

3. Get out of your head and get into the moment

Shifting the focus off of evaluating your performance and onto enjoying the sensations you’re experiencing is one of the keys to great sex.

Live in the moment and think about the journey as a whole instead of mentally fixating on one destination: orgasm.

Try to be present at every stage of the process from foreplay to climax and beyond.

If you or your partner get stuck somewhere along the way—for example, perhaps your erection goes away—that’s okay. This doesn’t mean it’s not coming back!

Shift to other activities like kissing and pleasuring your partner and try to clear your head. By tuning back into the physical sensations and tuning out the distracting thoughts, you’ll likely find that you’re “up” again in no time. 

And if your erection doesn’t return, you ejaculate early, or you don’t orgasm at all, remember that the experience can still be fun and enjoyable for everyone and that next time can be different.

4. Know the facts

If you think that every woman should experience orgasm from vaginal penetration each time they have intercourse, think again!

The truth is that not all women climax through vaginal intercourse alone. Only about half of women report that they can even experience orgasm through penile movements in the vagina alone. However, there are lots of things you can do to increase the odds of your partner orgasming during sex.

According to research, this includes spending more time building up arousal, providing clitoral stimulation during intercourse, not rushing through sex, and trying new and different sexual activities.

In other words, it’s important to avoid going into sex with unrealistic expectations or incorrect beliefs about how the female body works. The more you know, the less anxiety you’ll likely feel.

All of the above tips are likely to be helpful for men who suffer from mild to moderate anxiety when it comes to their sexual performance.

But what about ways to help the more serious physical problems that often stem from anxiety, such as erectile difficulties and premature ejaculation?

Not to worry—there are things you can do to reduce these symptoms as well.

Erectile Dysfunction and Sexual Performance Anxiety

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a health issue that affects a lot of guys. ED is especially common in older men due to a variety of medical conditions.

In fact, about 50 percent of men in their 50s and 60s have moderate symptoms of ED; however, younger men are not immune, and many experience situational or episodic cases of erectile difficulties.

Most of the time, men below 30 who have problems getting it up have no underlying physical issues. Many of these guys are probably just feeling the effects of sexual performance anxiety instead.

erectile dysfunction performances anxietyerectile dysfunction performances anxiety

No one wants to deal with erectile problems, there are numerous ways to treat them. In addition to reducing or eliminating the causes of sexual anxiety, there are a number of medical and non-medical approaches you can consider in order to tackle the symptoms.

Four Ways to Help Relieve Erectile Dysfunction 

1. Take better care of yourself.

Lifestyle factors like smoking, excessive drinking, and poor diet can contribute to ED. Cutting back on alcohol and tobacco, getting in better shape—especially by building cardiovascular fitness—and making sure that you get plenty of rest are all, therefore, ways of potentially improving erectile functioning.

In fact, research has shown that lifestyle modifications can actually reverse ED.

As a bonus, improving the way you look can go a long way toward making you feel better about yourself in general. This can lead to a better self-image and can help reduce or eliminate performance anxiety.

2. Relax, and things may get better.

Stress can be a major boner killer. Unfortunately, however, in today's world, it can be almost impossible to avoid stress, so you will need to learn how to manage it.

For example, many guys find that getting involved in meditation, yoga, or even circular breathing is calming—the same goes for practicing mindfulness techniques, which involve learning to be in the moment. Others find working out to be a great stress reliever.

It can also be helpful to establish more work-life balance. Bringing your work home with you can really interfere with an active and satisfying sex life. And when work is constantly on your mind, it can make it more difficult to perform.

3. Don’t let depression go unaddressed. 

Depression and other mood disorders often co-occur with sexual performance problems. So if you are feeling depressed, talk to someone. Being in a good headspace is one of the keys to enhanced sexual performance.

However, be aware that if you require clinical treatment for depression, some medications may cause negative sexual side effects, so don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about how to manage them or to try treatments that won’t interfere with bedroom performance.

4. Talk to your doctor about sexual performance medications, such as Viagra. 

Sometimes a little blue pill is all it takes to get your erection back and regain confidence when it comes to sex. Viagra is probably the best-known performance pill; however, there are many others, such as Cialis and Stendra.

There are also other options, including injections and urethral suppositories. Talk to your doctor about finding the right approach for you.

Premature Ejaculation and Sexual Performance Anxiety

Like erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation is a very common sexual issue.

Approximately one-third of men under the age of 60 have at least occasional issues with PE. Doctors define early ejaculation as regularly reaching orgasm within one minute after penetration during vaginal sex.

Whether you have chronic symptoms or symptoms that only occur from time to time, PE has the potential to increase the odds of sexual performance anxiety.

As mentioned above, sexual performance anxiety can potentially lead to PE, which can further increase anxiety. It can therefore become a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, there are numerous solutions to help you overcome this issue.

Four Ways to Help Relieve Premature Ejaculation 

1. Open up about PE.

Premature ejaculation is a problem that causes many men to feel shame—but it shouldn't, and it’s important to talk to your partner about it.

This is particularly important if PE is making you completely avoid sex. Odds are, your partner will be understanding and willing to work with you on ways to address it to ensure everyone is getting the sex they want. Sometimes that bit of reassurance may be all that’s necessary for mild PE to go away, especially if it stems from anxiety.

2. Take the problem into your own hands.

There are a number of manual approaches you can use to reduce the frequency of PE. Two of the best known are the stop-start method and the squeeze technique. Choose one and practice either by yourself or with your partner.

In many cases, these exercises can solve the problem with no additional treatment necessary.

3. Start using a condom or choose a thicker one.

Adding an extra barrier is an easy way to reduce sensitivity and prevent premature ejaculation. Look for condoms that are advertised as "Extra Strength" or "Extra Safe."

If you’re new to using condoms, remember to use lots of lube in order to improve enjoyment and avoid causing pain and irritation.

4. Use a numbing spray or cream.

For immediate relief from premature ejaculation, consider a topical medication to help desensitize your penis.

There are a variety of over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription-only products on the market. For example, one OTC product, Promescent, is recommended by over 2,000 urologists and is well-reviewed by customers.

There are a variety of OTC and prescription-only products on the market. One product, Promescent, is recommended by over 2,000 urologists and is well-reviewed by customers.

Takeaways

man improves performance anxiety

 

Sex should be a fun and enjoyable experience for everyone; however, sexual performance anxiety can really put a damper on sexual pleasure and intimacy.

Overcoming sexual performance anxiety is possible with the help of an understanding partner and a variety of male performance anxiety solutions.

Whether it’s practicing mindfulness exercises, deep breathing techniques, or getting yourself a sexual enhancer like Promescent, there’s probably a great option out there for you.

You may feel all alone on this, but take solace in knowing that most men will experience sexual performance anxiety at some point in their lives, too, and that it can be successfully addressed.

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Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Dr. Justin Lehmiller

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He is author of the blog Sex and Psychology and the popular book Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life. He is also a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works, including a textbook titled The Psychology of Human Sexuality that is used in college classrooms around the world. Dr. Lehmiller is one of the media's go-to experts on sex and has been interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and CNN; he has also appeared on dozens of radio, podcast, and television programs.


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