Overcome Sexual Anxiety! Tips to Reclaim Fully Functional Intimacy

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By Jill Baumgarner, MA

Do anxious thoughts, self-sabotaging behavior, and a troubling disconnect with your partner seem to accompany attempts to get close physically? You may be experiencing sexual anxiety.

Doubt, insecurity, and worry are not the kinds of feelings that you want to characterize your sex life. Yet, if you’re experiencing them on a regular basis during intimacy, the joy of sex may now be seriously hindered. But don’t worry. You and scores of others can overcome sexual anxiety, recover your confidence, and make mutual satisfaction a reality again.

How? The following suggestions and strategies can help turn things around quickly:

How to Overcome Sexual Anxiety

First, extend yourself some patience and your partner some credit.

No one wants to feel that they are disappointing someone they care about. Especially during such an intimate act. However, anxiety tends to test our ability to remain logical and maintain perspective.

Therefore, try not to get bogged down in thoughts of how badly you are performing. In fact, shift your thoughts from your sexual performance:

  • Breathe and look at your partner.

  • Remember that they want to be with you.

  • Intentionally interrupt the cycle of worries thoughts in your head.

  • Focus in on who you’re with and why. You may find you’re better able to relax.

Second, get mindful.

To reduce anxious feelings when it comes to sex, it’s important to slow things down and pay close attention to what’s happening in your body and mind.

Try to get quiet and notice how you feel when you think about sex. Do certain memories arise? Are various sensations uncomfortable? What thoughts recur?

Don’t judge yourself or beat yourself up. Simply use the information as a path towards self-understanding and consider ways to ease into sex and intimacy more comfortably.

Next, give your body the appreciation it deserves.

Body image is a huge contributor to sexual anxiety. Many of us experience real apprehension in intimate situations. Some of us hide our bodies beneath the sheets or the cover of darkness and even more of us run ourselves down before sex with unhelpful self-talk or self-deprecating remarks. None of this, of course, paves the way for desire or confident exploration of each other’s bodies.

To overcome such unproductive and automatic thinking requires two practices:

  1. Intentional attempts to notice and challenge negative self-talk. Pay attention to what you say about your body. Make a habit of rejecting internal shaming with prepared positive, encouraging, thoughts or mantras to help stem the negativity fueling the anxiety.

  2. Routine celebration of your body as it is. Remember, your body is not simply a mass of flesh and bone to be compared to fashion models and professional athletes. It has its own strengths, power, and gifts. Reflect on them, write them down, review the list often and show your body the appreciation it’s due. Teach yourself to value your body for its uniqueness and inherent worth.

Then, release yourself and your partner from your sexual “shoulds.”

Often, we get caught up in the sexual programming of society, media, and our childhoods.

Give yourself permission to look at how your parents, faith, past relationships, social position, and even the movies you watch might inform your ideas about sexual performance. Talk to each other about how you’re affected and make decisions about what really matters to you.

Do you like certain positions, activities, or locations? Decide that the only things you “should” do in your sex life are to please each other and enjoy the experience thoroughly.  It’s perfectly okay to customize your sexual relationship. If you and your partner are on the same page, you can express yourselves however you wish.

Finally, open your mind to support and good ideas for your sexual anxiety.

Sex is such a private thing that we sometimes get stuck regarding problems in that area of our lives. Why? Because we let shame, stigma, or self-criticism keep us from our best selves and our most connected relationships.

Sexual anxiety can go on too long if we let our worries overwhelm our desire to connect intimately. 

That’s why a safe, experienced counselor may be a good option for you individually or for you and your partner. Therapy can help you with tools to address sexual anxiety. You can explore the thoughts and emotions involved, how communication affects your connections with your partner, and whether any past issues need to be resolved.

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If you are experiencing sexual anxiety in either your single life or your relationship, Jill Baumgarner, MA, LPC Intern, can help. Jill works with both couples and individuals at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin to reclaim fully functional intimacy. To schedule an appointment with Jill, call her at (512) 270-4883, ext. 108, or request an appointment online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page.