I am beginning to notice a chief complaint amongst both men and women is performance anxiety. Yes, you read that right… men AND women. Someone gets too worked up, someone has one bad experience due to too much alcohol or trying something new too quickly – anxiety. The anxiety then snowballs downhill like a caricature and now sex becomes a bad, even dreaded, experience. All it really takes is one experience perceived as bad, and that mistaken perception can bleed into subsequent endeavors. The anxiety looms larger than life, and the person suffering becomes avoidant.

I know it sounds like a cliché, but it is all in his/her head. Literally.

So, what can you do? Well, I will offer a few suggestions used with clients that can assist with performance anxiety.

  1. Visualize your success. People who visualize their successful endeavors first tend to be able to carry out said endeavor. You actually have to believe you can to be able to do.
  2. Believe in catastrophizing. Imagine the absolute worst case scenario in your mind for the next time you attempt sex. Worst possibility – sex doesn’t happen, right? Ok, that sucks. However, is it the end of the world? Can you and your partner do other things that will be enjoyable and pleasurable to you both? Yes. Sex doesn’t have to end with penetration and ejaculation. Be creative! Think outside the box.
  3. Get zen. How do you manage other stressful situations in your life? Do you head into a presentation completely unprepared and a ball of nerves? I don’t. When I am getting ready for something stressful, I subscribe to whatever behavior helps me manage that anxiety. Try music, meditation, or any other behavior that helps prepare you for sex without added to your stress.
  4. Have fun. Don’t focus so much on the end game. Sounds like what you might tell a kid, right? It’s not about the winning/losing, but about the game and sportsmanship…. Well, why do we lose that when we get older? If sexual activity were to cease being a race to the finish line, then maybe we could just focus on experiencing the pleasure of participating. Enjoy the in between by extending foreplay, or removing orgasm off the table for the night completely.
  5. Laugh. Taking oneself too seriously just leads to disaster. I’ve also written how important it is for couples to be able to laugh during sex. Things will happen that are not according to plan. Is one minor thing going to really ruin a whole night of sex for you two (excluding pain, etc, that prevents performance)? Make laughter part of the experience. Tickle each other – it actually helps lower defenses and laughing will release those feel good chemicals that will put you in a better frame of mind for sex. Plus, it’s kind of hard to be freaking out and worrying about what’s about to happen if you’re too busy laughing.

Post by Karen Washington, AMFT. Check out Karen’s bio for more information and how to contact her.