Performance anxiety is worry about one's ability to perform a specific task. Men and women with sexual performance anxiety often worry about successfully completing a specific sexual function before sex has even begun. They are consumed with worry that failure will result in humiliation, shame, or rejection by their partner.
Other times, the performance anxiety only kicks in once sex has actually begun.
People act as if only men have performance anxiety, and it certainly plays a huge role in erectile difficulties.
But women get performance anxiety too. Any time that you put pressure on yourself to achieve something that is not under your conscious control — like erection, lubrication, or orgasm — it can create performance anxiety.
Performance anxiety is marked by the prevalence of critical self-talk, whether it is conscious or subconscious. For instance:
• “I should be more aroused by now.”
• “Why is my penis getting soft?
• “This ______ is taking too long.”
• “What must he/she be thinking about me now.”
Sex is a normal function, and with the right stimulation and most people are able to enjoy the touching they are receiving, at which point their bodies will kick into a state of arousal.
However, a focus on what might go “wrong” with our performance tells our nervous system that we are in danger, and that shuts us down sexually.
Sex can become a burden with this kind of a focus. This is a major reason couples stop having sex.
One image I often use for couples to describe good sex is a travel image. There is a difference in feel between a trip to a pleasant location via a picturesque route, enjoying all there is to see along the way, maybe stopping at a scenic overlook or to get ice cream at a little country store, and putting the pedal to the metal and taking the interstate to get there.
If you take the scenic route, the whole trip is enjoyable, even if the actual destination is not as wonderful as you hoped.
If you take the interstate, with the terrible traffic and complete lack of scenery, the actual destination had better be fabulous, or the trip was a failure.
Overcoming intense performance anxiety is possible on your own, but it can be intransigent, and you might benefit from some sessions with a sex therapist.
One of the best techniques for overcoming performance anxiety is learning how to do a technique called Sensate Focus. I heartily recommend reading “Sensate Focus in Sex Therapy” by Linda Weiner and Constance Avery Clark.
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