Americans are more anxious today than they were even a year ago, according to a new poll by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Anxiety can affect many aspects of life, and anxiety about nonsexual issues may be the cause of many common sexual problems.
If you are experiencing new sexual symptoms recently — for instance, difficulty with sexual desire or sexual arousal in either sex, or erectile disorders in men — perhaps anxiety is partly to blame.
The APA poll (which did not look at sexuality) covered a sample of 1,004 adults in March of 2018, and compared those findings with a similar sample from much the same period in 2017. People were asked to score their anxiety in five areas: finances, relationships, health, politics, and safety.
They found that respondents saw a particular rise in anxiety over issues like health, safety, and finances.
Being anxious in stressful times is normal, but it is unpleasant. When you’re occasionally anxious and you can express what you’re worried about, that is completely normal. But when you’re chronically anxious, particularly when you can’t explain exactly what you’re worried about, that’s worth talking to your physician about.
And when your body is in fight-or-flight mode for any reason, sexual functioning will not be optimal
I’m sometimes surprised that people don’t recognize their own anxiety. Common symptoms of what is called generalized anxiety include: a sense of dread or tenseness, a feeling of fatigue or lethargy, insomnia, digestive problems, muscle tension, breathing rapidly, and having a rapid heart rate.
When you are anxious, you might obsessively think about whatever you are worried about. Conversely, you might avoid things that remind you of the topic of the anxiety.
A lot of people misuse drugs and alcohol to deal with their anxiety. Covering up anxiety does nothing to help you master it.
As you read over those symptoms, you can see that the uncomfortable physical and psychological nature of the symptoms would be challenging sexually. Yet many of my patients deny their anxiety and try to have sex anyway.
Then, if they don’t have perfect sex, they feel inadequate and it further fuels their sense of anxiety and upset.
In my opinion, sex that is tender and slow, with a lot of touching — sex that is not so performance-focused — can be a great help for anxiety. Sex that is kind and feels loving makes the whole world feel safer. And touch helps to regulate the neurological system.
But for this to work, you have to recognize that you are anxious and be emotionally close enough to your partner to reveal your vulnerability. You’d have to say something like, “I’ve been really worrying about getting fired lately. I appreciate that you’ve been listening to me and have been supportive. I think I’d enjoy being physically close and being romantic with you, as long as you know that I might not be functioning at 100 percent. How would you feel about that?”
There are many kinds of sex. This is not lust sex, and it is not the sex you’ll see portrayed in the movies or on TV.
But if you are lucky enough to have a strong, empathic, emotional relationship with your partner, this kind of sex can help handle some of your anxiety.
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