Everyone has insecurities — it's just part of being human. No matter how outwardly confident you are, just about everyone has some sort of self-doubt, whether it's in regards to your appearance, your career, or your sex life. Experiencing anxiety during sex is totally normal, and it can happen to men and women of all ages and orientations. Doing something as intimate as having sex can make you feel vulnerable, and naturally, vulnerability breeds insecurities, meaning it's super common to feel some sort of anxiety during sex, no matter how 'experienced' you are.
Sarah Watson, sex therapist and counselor, tells Bustle that most sexually active adults have experienced some sort of sexual performance anxiety at least once, if not more often, and some can even experience it regularly. "It differs for everyone; we are all different in our anxieties and confidence so our symptoms will differ," Watson says. "It might seem a bit more common in men due to the impact it can have on erections, so we can visually see the impact of sexual performance — but women experience it as well."
Regardless of your gender, there are tons of things that can impact your attitude about sex. Maybe you struggle with depression and that affects your libido, maybe you have body image issues that cause you anxiety during sex, or maybe you just worry a lot in general, and that manifests in your sex life, too. No matter what the cause, though, it's possible to work through your sexual anxiety and get back on track to having a healthy and fulfilling sex life.
"The first way to work on performance anxiety is talk with your medical provider to make sure everything is in healthy working order," Watson says. "Next... communicate your concerns with your partner. The key to a great sexual relationship is communication. Another step would be to connect with a mental health provider who is trained in sexual health. Sometimes we need an unbiased, trained professional to help us uncover what our barriers." Additionally, taking care of your body — through exercise, eating right, staying hydrated, and more — is important to sexual health, so getting into healthy habits could help, too.
No matter what you personally struggle with, it's important to be aware of what your body is telling you, and always make sure you're self-aware and on the lookout for signs of mental health issues. That being said, here are five signs you might be struggling with sexual performance anxiety.
1. You're Not Getting Enough Sleep
Sleep deprivation is a classic sign of anxiety, and unfortunately, having sexual anxiety might make matters even worse. Because we typically have sex and sleep in the same room, bedtime and sex become intertwined in our minds. Thus, your brain might have trouble disassociating the bedroom from sex (and the stress it causes you), making it difficult to fall asleep. Then your problem becomes two-fold, because research has shown that in addition to being a symptom of anxiety, a lack of sleep can also trigger anxiety.
2. You Suffer From General Anxiety
If you suffer from anxiety in everyday life, it makes sense that it would also affect your love life. Those with anxiety know that having sex is a different experience for them than it is for someone without anxiety: You might have trouble opening up about your desires, have difficulty reaching orgasm, and have trouble having casual sex. Though your anxiety doesn't have to impact your love life, it's worthwhile to know that it can affect you, so you can be on the lookout for signs that it's getting in the way of your sex life, and seek help from a professional if need be.
3. You're Not Initiating Sex
If you find yourself not wanting to engage in sex with your partner in the first place, that might be a sign that there's something about sex itself that makes you anxious and reluctant to initiate. While every couple experiences natural sexual lulls, if the thought of having sex fills you with an inexplicable sense of dread, clearly there is a much deeper issue. If you can't bring yourself to initiate sex, first try communicating with your partner about any problems in your sex life. If that doesn't work, talking to a sex therapist or doctor might be necessary to help you get things back on track.
4. You Cry During Or After Sex
Because of the massive rush of hormones (like oxytocin) that are released during sex, it's actually totally normal to tear up while you get it on. However, if you're regularly crying during sex, it could be a sign that something deeper is happening, like a bad case of sexual anxiety. It can be hard to untangle what you're feeling after sex, but if you know that something is off, it's worthwhile to ask yourself what might be wrong. Have you had a traumatic sexual experience? Are you ashamed to have sex for some reason? Are you embarrassed about your body during sex? If there's something that causes you to be nervous about sex and perceive it negatively, it's worth talking to a professional to get to the bottom of things.
5. You And Your Partner Aren't Communicating
The healthiest habit you can have to overcome any sexual anxiety is to practice good communication with your partner. Unfortunately, the embarrassment of sexual performance anxiety and the stigmas associated with it can cause people to clam up when what they really need to do is have a frank discussion about anything that's bothering them. If you know something isn't right but are afraid to actually communicate it, it might be because you have anxiety about sex and don't know how to address the issue when it's probably something even you don't fully understand. But the first step to fixing things in the bedroom is to talk about things outside the bedroom.
Images: Andrew Zaeh for Bustle; Giphy (5)