Sexual Performance Anxiety: What it is & How to Overcome It

Sep 21, 2023

Therapist doing online therapy Telehealth

It is natural to feel nervous before having sex for the first time with someone. When it comes to intimacy, we’ve all experienced first-time jitters. However, for some people, this sexual performance anxiety is persistent, causing distress and preventing them from enjoying their relationships. Sex therapy and couples counseling can benefit anyone who is having difficulty with intimacy and struggles in their relationship.

What is Sexual Performance Anxiety and How It Affects You

Sexual performance anxiety is a form of performance anxiety in which a person feels stressed about their sexual abilities and performance. You may worry that:

  • You won’t be able to satisfy your partner sexually.
  • You won’t get or maintain an erection.
  • You won’t become aroused or reach orgasm.
  • Your partner will seek sexual pleasure elsewhere.

Your self-fulfilling prophecy may raise the likelihood of you not performing up to your usual standard, increasing your anxiety. These worries can manifest in physical symptoms such as sweating, racing heart, trembling hands, etc.

Moreover, sexual performance anxiety can lead to erectile dysfunction (ED) in men or the inability to become aroused and achieve orgasm in women. This can further diminish their ability to perform sexually and cause relationship difficulties.

Feeling like you can’t meet your partner’s sexual expectations or perform to your standards can make you doubt your worth and abilities. Your self-esteem issues brought on by these feelings may result in sexual dysfunction, such as ED, low libido, and a lack of sexual desire.

Examples of Sexual Performance Anxiety

  • You are about to have your first sexual encounter with a new partner in whom you have great interest. But when the moment comes, you are paralyzed and unable to enjoy yourself because you are concerned that you will not meet their expectations.
  • You’ve put on some weight lately. Maybe how you think about your body makes you believe that your long-term partner no longer finds you attractive. Body image issues often make people stressed about their sexual life.
  • Do you constantly compare yourself to your partner’s exes, becoming stressed because you believe you must meet or exceed their previous experiences?
  • You may have trouble getting an erection and be concerned that it will happen again during sex. Worrying may cause anxiety, which makes it more likely to happen, trapping you in a vicious cycle of anxiety and making it difficult to relax and enjoy yourself.

These examples show how sexual performance anxiety can manifest differently in different people, affecting them in various relationship stages.

Causes of Sexual Performance Anxiety

Sexual performance anxiety occurs for various reasons, including:

  • Pressure to meet our unrealistic expectations
  • Body image issues
  • Worry about penis size
  • Past sexual problems
  • Inexperience or insecurity
  • Problems in a relationship
  • Various medical conditions
  • Medication
  • Alcohol or substance use

Additionally, in online dating, many people experience concerns about their sexual performance. You may, for example, feel anxious about getting intimate with a new partner you met on a dating app, grappling with the pressure to live up to a picture of yourself you created online.

Five Ways to Overcome Sexual Performance Anxiety

Various strategies can help you address anxiety and start having positive sexual experiences.

Relaxation methods, such as mindfulness meditation or yoga, in addition to sex therapy and couples or individual counseling, might help. These techniques aim to break the cycle of stress and anxiety and give you the tools to enjoy sex more openly and satisfyingly.

So, here are five strategies for overcoming sexual performance anxiety.

1.    Prioritize Open Communication with your Partner

Sexual dysfunction can lead to other issues in a relationship, such as poor communication, a lack of understanding, loneliness, and infidelity. So, open communication with your partner is essential to overcoming anxiety and sexual difficulties.

Communicate your concerns to your partner to avoid misunderstandings and get their support. Remember that your emotional reactions around sex may confuse and upset them, so try to be open about your thoughts, feelings, and needs.

Sharing your feelings and concerns honestly can help you feel supported, reducing the pressure and creating a safer environment.

2.    Try Stress Reduction Techniques

Mindfulness and relaxation techniques like guided imagery, deep breathing, or body scan can help relieve stress and anxiety. Mindful focus and deep breathing can help you be in the moment instead of dwelling on your negative thoughts, making you aware of your negative thought patterns, improving your self-image, and calming your mind and body.

3.    Try Intimacy without Sex

Learning to be intimate without sexual intercourse can help relieve pressure while still feeling connected and enjoying each other. For instance, you could try sensate focus.

4.    Give Yourself Time

Don’t feel bad if you need some time without sex or spend some time alone to focus on yourself, work through your feelings, and relax.

5.    Seek Counseling or Sex Therapy

Couples counseling or sex therapy might provide a secure environment for you to work through your sexual performance anxiety. A qualified sex therapist may help you and your partner become more comfortable discussing intimacy and sex, explore the sources of your fear, and focus on intimacy in ways that strengthen your connection.

Let’s connect soon so we can set up a consultation.

Filippo M. Forni, LMFT is a certified AASECT individual and couples sex therapist in Los Angeles, CA. His goal is to provide high-quality and effective goal-oriented therapy services to the Los Angeles and Century City community. He has extensive training in sexuality and multiculturalism and serves as an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology.