Sex can be any number of adjectives — fun, awkward, light-hearted, passionate, intense — the list goes on. But whichever way you're having it, one thing remains constant: Sex is inherently intimate and personal, and can open the door for us to feel vulnerable from time to time. No matter your age or your sexual history, everyone still has moments of insecurity in bed. And if you're one of the more than 40 million Americans who suffers from some type of anxiety disorder, you're probably all too familiar with the added effects of anxiety on your sex life.
"Anxiety is a normal part of life — we all have experienced anxiety at some point [in] our lives" says Dr. Martha Tara Lee, Clinical Sexologist of Eros Coaching. "More specifically, performance anxiety refers to self-consciousness about the quality of one’s performance that actually, in turn, decreases the quality of one’s performance. Typically, there is so much preoccupation with the anxiety itself that the person becomes less fully involved in the sexual interaction, bringing about the very failure that is feared."
Basically, it's a vicious cycle: If, for some reason, we start to feel anxious and worry about things that might go wrong during sex, it makes us less likely to enjoy ourselves in the moment, creating the 'bad sex' we were trying to avoid. Anxiety during sex is hardly a black-and-white issue, and it can affect all of us, no matter our gender or orientation. "For men, the most common issues are around struggling to get or maintain an erection or ejaculating too quickly, and for women it may be around uncomfortable penetration or soreness," Kate Moyle, Psychosexual & Relationship Therapist & Founding Partner of Pillow Play App, tells Bustle. "However, anxiety may come from other issues such as low self-confidence or high levels of stress in general life or outside of sex."
Fortunately, there are plenty of options for overcoming sexual anxiety, and the first step should always be communicating with your partner openly and honestly about any issues you're having. "Attaining the understanding and support of your partner should reduce some of your symptoms," Lee says. "If you find other sexual activities that you can do in bed, this should take some of the stress off sex."
Whether you suffer from anxiety in bed regularly or just want to try something new, here are five positions that might help decrease any stressful feelings you get during sex. (Of course, these are just suggestions, and if you have persistent anxiety about sex, you should speak to a professional.)
1. Mutual Masturbation
Masturbating together is an easy and fun way to have sex without stress. Because you're each 'taking care' of yourselves, there's no pressure to perform well. "[Mutual masturbation] may be used as foreplay, while, for others, it is the primary sexual activity of choice," Lee says. "This is especially relevant in situations where the participants do not feel ready, physically able, socially at liberty, or willing to engage in any penetrative sex act, or a particular penetrative sex act, but still wish to engage in a mutual sexual activity."
Frankly, mutual masturbation is an underrated sex position, probably because many people don't consider sex 'real' unless penetration is involved (which is super problematic, BTW). Masturbating together is a great way to learn about each other's desires while also enjoying an awesome orgasm.
If you find eye contact too intimidating, Lee says, spooning might be a good option for low-stress sex. It's intimate (because of the skin-to-skin contact), but also tends to have a slow pace, which might help if you're looking to ease into intercourse after foreplay.
3. Doggy Style
Doggy style also involves minimal eye contact (unless you want to strain your neck and look backwards the whole time) so it's good for anyone who finds it easier to orgasm without a captive audience. It allows for deep, satisfying penetration, but is a tried-and-true classic sex position that's hard to mess up.
"Missionary position, which facilitates more eye contact and assists in being more in the moment, can help some couples and not others," Lee says. If you want a position that's low-maintenance and guaranteed to get the job done, you can't go wrong with missionary. Because it's not as performative, it can be a solid choice for people who have anxiety about sex.
5. On Top
If you feel anxious when you have less control in bed, try switching it up so you're on top — that way, you can set the pace and rhythm.
Ultimately, there's no one position that can eradicate any little insecurities and anxieties we have during sex. Being totally comfortable in bed comes with practice, communication, and trial-and-error of different activities. The best thing you can do is be mindful of your anxiety, and work with your partner towards feeling at peace.
"Until you let go of what you ‘ought’ to be doing, or of what is ‘right’ or ‘best’ for you or your partner, you are not going to be able to enjoy the experience," Lee says. "We need to learn to let go of control, receive, release and feel."
Images: Caroline Wurtzel/Bustle (5)