I get panic attacks. All in all, my anxiety doesn’t affect my daily life that dramatically, but it’s enough to warrant bi-weekly therapy sessions and the occasional prescription for Paxil in particularly difficult moments. It can also affect my interest (or lack thereof) in any kind of sexual interaction. I’ve found that if I’m going through a particularly bad bout of anxiety, the last thing I want to do is to get naked and freaky, even if I’m in a relationship.
Turns out this feeling is really common. In preparation for this article, I sent out a note on Facebook to see if anyone I knew had experienced sexual anxiety, and I am STILL getting messages from people wanting to talk about this. The responses are all across the anxiety spectrum. The following anonymous quotes are just a few of the many sex-related worries I heard in response to my Facebook post.
So if you ever get anxious about having sex, or worry that you’ll never feel fully comfortable getting busy, know that you’re not alone.
Damned if you do…
“When my anxiety was at its worst, sex was something that made me anxious if I didn’t have it and anxious if I did. Every moment that my partner did not initiate sex with me filled me with dread that he was no longer attracted to me, was cheating on me, was going to break up with me any second, etc. And when we did have sex, I became absorbed in my own anxious thoughts.”
“I feel like with dating and being intimate there’s all sorts of expectations, and a lot of the time I’m worried I won’t live up to them, and a lot of times when i’m intimate with someone…I worry about what they’re thinking of me. There are definitely times when i’ve initiated physical contact and it’s fun and enjoyable but I think the minute it gets out of a domain where I feel like I know what i’m doing I freak out.”
“Sometimes, when my anxiety gets bad, I really hyper focus on how much time simple things like a hug hello can take. It makes me a lot more uninclined to be sexual (which can lead to more anxiety because then I worry about how my husband is feeling, if he’s satisfied, etc). Especially if things do take longer than usual, I start to worry about it more. Usually, similar to before, I just have to rationalize with myself about the idea that this is a good thing and also it’s a form of self-care and whatever else I’m worried about will still be there later.”
“It’s like an irrational fear of screwing up, or not doing it right. I find myself stifling any sounds that I would make with less inhibitions because I’ll embarrass myself. And now, I’m much more confident self-esteem wise. I know I can get it. And I go for it. But I still can’t just have sex with anyone when I want to and I’ll only get so far before I freeze up, can’t do it anymore.”
It’s all about the company
“Given that my anxiety tends more toward social issues, I would say that it makes sex with people whom I don’t know well less enjoyable, since I’m constantly in panic mode. Because I know I’m bound to be in panic mode in that scenario, I almost never seek out sex with people I don’t know well. However, sex with people I’ve gotten to know well can calm my anxiety, because I’m not worried (or less worried) about what they think, and the endorphins involved can sometimes ease the anxiety itself.”
There’s no cure-all remedy for sexual anxiety—every situation is specific. Sometimes the solution could be as simple as changing your birth control method to a method you don’t have to worry about. Other times it can involve a lot more mental work and extensive communication with sexual partners (which is always a good idea anyway). It may involve seeking professional support. It may involve self-care that isn’t directly about sex at all.
Whatever your unique situation, it’s important to validate your needs and recognize what kind of sexual situations you’re comfortable with and what ones you’re not. If that means talking to your partner and taking things a little slower, that’s fine. If that means staying away from sex entirely, that’s fine too. Above all, remember that your mind deserves patience and care, just as your body does.