Performance anxiety sucks. You have an opportunity to enjoy intimacy and sex with someone you’re really attracted to–either on a date with someone new in your life or with your partner–and your stupid brain just won’t let you enjoy it. You’re too busy worrying about disappointing your lover, about what you’ll say when you can’t “perform,” about how your own body looks, about how to fulfill expectations without embarrassing yourself. Your palms are sweaty, your heart’s in your stomach, and you’re definitely not having fun.
Performance anxiety (PA) can develop for many reasons. Maybe you’ve had some traumatic sexual experiences or are just inexperienced. Many of the men I work with develop PA in conjunction with a porn-induced sexual dysfunction, like this man.
Thank you Noah for your inspiring reply to my previous message. I understand now that no fap, no porn is a way of life. I think I have pretty much been rebooted as I can get erections now from kissing and hugging etc but I am afraid that performance anxiety has taken over now (due to the last unsuccessful attempts for sexual intercourse). Once I am about to have sex, anxiety and stress really possess me and I immediately lose my erection. I have pretty much told my gf the truth but I still don’t get an erection. Please help me, I really love my girlfriend and I don’t wanna lose her.
While they may not start with this sex anxiety, when they’ve had many negative and shame-inducing attempts at sex, it’s easy to start dreading future attempts. Even after they have rebooted and rewired enough to be physically capable of sex, anxiety can prevent them from performing.
If you’re stuck in your head, focusing more on your erectile response than on enjoying the moment, worried about disappointing your partner, etc., then you’re not likely to be very turned on. Many guys will find themselves with a strong erection while making out on the couch or something, but when the clothes come off and the prospect of sex becomes real and immediate, they stop enjoying themselves and start worrying, which can kill their libido and pleasure. When the performance anxiety is bad enough that you cannot achieve or maintain physical arousal, it really becomes crippling.
How do I deal with performance anxiety? I get so nervous when I’m about to enter, heart rate shoots up, dick falls… Since it happened so many times before it messed with confidence and my head is all fucked up. Full of frustrations and emotions and doubts.. I want to let it all go and heal and be normal for once in my life. I am so sad… Some days I just sit and cry with no one to talk to.. No real friends.. What can I do next to deal with this completely!! Please help me Noah!
So, let’s talk about some various ways to break out of this cycle.
- If you’re in a relationship, what will make the biggest difference is to foster a really good communication dynamic with your partner. You want to root out the fear of failure. If you feel safe failing, you’ll be much more likely to enjoy yourself and ultimately succeed. Therefore your girlfriend needs to understand that the ED is not because you’re not in love with her or don’t find her attractive. She needs to know how much her pain hurts you and how much it has caused you to fear failing her. You both need to know that it’s OK to fail and that the quality of your erections doesn’t have to determine the quality of your intimacy. You can still have a great time and bond and bring her sexual pleasure even if your erections aren’t working, safe in the knowledge that this situation is only temporary.
- If you start feeling dread, anxiety, etc. again in the moment, then call a time out. Talk through how you’re feeling. In the dark those feelings will grow like mushrooms. Shine some light on them by sharing them and you’ll probably feel much more relaxed.
- If you’re not in a relationship and are trying to have sex with people you don’t know well and don’t want to reveal your deepest struggles and insecurities to, you can still use the following tips. You can also open up and be truthful in a more limited fashion. If you don’t want to say that you made yourself impotent by masturbating to extreme fetish porn every day and are in the process of recovery, you can still say that it’s been a long time since you’ve been intimate with anyone, that you’ve had some negative sexual experiences in the past, that it takes you some time to get comfortable with a new person, etc.
- Feel free to take your time. You don’t have to rip each others’ clothes off and start ravishing each other as soon as you trip into the bedroom like a scene from a lifetime movie. You can kiss, cuddle, chat, laugh, play, massage each other, etc. for hours. Nudity doesn’t mean that sex has to happen right away. You can spend as much time as you like naked together, getting comfortable and having fun. You have permission to set the pace. At some point, you’ll likely forget to be nervous and get aroused instead.
- Follow your desires, rather than trying to live up to expectations. You’ve probably seen 1000x more love/sex scenes in movies and in porn than you’ve lived in your own life. You have so much bullshit clogging up your conception of what these moments together with your partner are supposed to be that you forget that intimacy and sex are supposed to be about having fun. No one can tell you how you and your partner like to have fun; that’s up to you two. Forget about what you’re “supposed” to do and listen to your own desires.
- Don’t use your memories of pornography as a benchmark to live up to. Pornography is choreographed, edited, and highly performative. The performers are probably not having as good of a time as it looks like they are, and what happens on the screen is very far from what most people really enjoy in the bedroom. Do your best to sweep away those expectations.
- Ask good questions. “Is this how you like to be touched?” “Harder or softer?” “What makes you feel good?” “What turns you on?” If you’re worried about pleasing your partner, you have to get to know your partner. Everyone is different. What drove your ex wild might do nothing for your current partner. The best lover is the one who pays attention, who takes the time to get to know the individual.
- Learn about mindfulness. The practice of mindfulness meditation is all about recognizing the thoughts and emotions that are taking you out of the present moment, taking a step back from them, and returning your focus to the task at hand. When your mind has a problem of being overactive in the bedroom and getting in the way of enjoying yourself, this can be a valuable skill to develop.
- If you lose your erection mid-sex, just take a break. It doesn’t have to mean failure or an end to the fun, but if you let it get to your head then it will likely mean the end to the good times. If you instead take it in stride and use it as an opportunity for a breather, 10 minutes later you may be aroused again and you can give it another go.
- Understand that you have no conscious control over your erections. An erection is an automatic function of your body, like digestion or sweating. It’s not your job to make an erection happen, and the more you try to take that job, the more you get in the way. It’s your job to have a good time and show your partner a good time. It’s your job to remain present and follow your desires. You have to release control in order for your body to start doing its job, and in time you’ll be able to just trust your body again and continue to let go of the anxiety.
- Lastly another client recently told my about a free hypnosis video for overcoming PA that he says helped him a lot. Give it a try here.
Sexual performance anxiety does not have to run your life or interfere forever with your enjoyment of sex and intimacy. Review these tips frequently and really practice them, and you can rediscover the fun and joy in sex. Happy travels.