Overcoming Performance Anxiety

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Struggling in Bed? Here’s How to Overcome Performance Anxiety

Overcoming Performance Anxiety

Struggling in Bed? Here’s How to Overcome Performance Anxiety

It’s no secret that men are expected to be good at things — from this perspective, weakness, insecurity, and ignorance are things you should hide and avoid admitting to.

Of course, this is unrealistic. The only way to become good at anything is to embrace that you’re not good yet, and keep trying.

But lots of guys get so caught up in the unrealistic ideals of what they should be, they don’t allow any space for developing into what they could be.

This is sort of how it works when it comes to sex. There’s a cultural script that guys should be powerful, dominant, perfect lovers — they should always be in control and never enjoy letting their partner take over, in addition to having big dicks, lots of stamina, and never going soft.

Does that sound like a recipe for a good time? Or does it sound more like an onerous set of restrictive rules that are likely to stress you out?

If it’s the latter, well, you wouldn’t be alone. The truth is, many men experience what’s known as performance anxiety — the fear that they will not be able to live up to the expectations (real or imagined) of their partner or partners. In addition to being generally not very fun, this state of mind is also a surefire way to have bad sex.

That’s in no small part because of an important aspect of how erections work — being anxious makes it incredibly difficult to achieve and maintain them. So if you think you need to have super-hard erection in order to have good sex, and worrying about this prevents you from just that, well, you’re kind of screwed — and not in the good way.

Luckily, performance anxiety isn’t a permanent condition. In order to better understand how it works — and how to overcome it — AskMen spoke to three sex experts. Here’s what they had to say:

What Is Performance Anxiety?

“Performance anxiety is the general term for a whole bunch of different, inter-related worries about whether or not we will be ‘good at sex’ and pleasure our partner/s,” says sex educator Kenneth Play, author of Beyond Satisfied: A Sex Hacker’s Guide to Endless Orgasms, Mind-Blowing Connection, and Lasting Confidence.

Those different, inter-related worries Play mentions could include things like “anxiety related to getting an erection, lasting longer, having an orgasm, or any other expectation with regard to how you ‘perform’ in bed,” says Jess O’Reilly, sexologist, relationship expert and co-host of the Mindful Sex course.

Some other factors that may contribute, says SKYN Condoms’ sex and intimacy expert and author Gigi Engle, are “anxiety/stress in general, negative body image, penis shame, fear around sexual performance, or embarrassment about sexual dysfunction (E.D., premature ejaculation, etc.).”

The end result of this anxiety?

“For men, one of the most common side effects of performance anxiety is […] psychological erectile dysfunction,” says Play.

While experiencing this kind of thing in a sexual context can make you feel very much alone — unless your partner has a penis and is experiencing the same thing — it’s actually quite common, says Engle.

“Performance anxiety in the bedroom plagues at least 25% of the cis male population,” she says. Meaning, at least one in four guys you know has most likely experienced this at some point.

Why Do Men Experience Performance Anxiety?

In short, men experience performance anxiety for a variety of reasons.

O’Reilly lists a few potential sources:

“Sociocultural messagesGender stereotypesUnrealistic expectations from pornPersonal feelings around virility and sexuality and worthA lack of sex education/opportunities to learn that sex need not look one specific way A lack of conversation around pleasure and connection and a hyper focus on being good in bed and performing”

Ultimately, for O’Reilly, performance anxiety is tied to a common conception of sex as something guys should “perform” (hence the name) rather than something they can experience.

“Sex is usually better when it’s an experience as opposed to a performance,” she says. “That’s not to say that you can’t enjoy being performative (some people do get off on it), but if the pressure to perform is detraction from the pleasure of the experience, you might want to consider reframing your expectations around performance.”

Easier said than done, you might say. The expectation for men to perform is not a new one, nor are the cultural threads that tie “masculinity” to “being in charge in bed” easy to sever.

“Performance anxiety is oftentimes tied to layers of identity, including gender,” O’Reilly says. “Messaging around gender and sex is so deeply ingrained that it can be hard to break free from gendered expectations.”

As a guy, for instance, you may be feeling pressure to:

Have a big penisEasily achieve an erectionMaintain an erection for a long timeNot orgasm too soonNot orgasm too lateProduce a significant quantity of semenBe physically bigger/stronger than your partnerDominate your partnerPleasure your partnerBring your partner to orgasmMake your partner squirt

Of course, these aren’t necessarily bad desires, but when they shift from desire to expectation — and when they all (or many of them) apply at once, it can be a tall order.

Play points out that people with vulvas can also experience sexual anxiety — “it just looks different because the erection (genital engorgement) isn’t as prominent,” he says. “Some of these worries are similar: such as body image issues or genital self-esteem.”

“But there’s a whole subset of different anxieties as well, like: What if it hurts? Is my partner really attracted to me? Will I enjoy myself? Will I orgasm before my partner finishes? Am I taking too long? Do I smell bad? Will my partner be kind to me afterwards?”

In these scenarios, the typical markers of arousal, such as vaginal secretions or “wetness,” may be harder to achieve as well.

The truth is that sex, like anything humans do with our bodies, is subject to the reality that our bodies don’t always behave as we want (or expect) them to. Any mentality that ignores this is akin to setting foot on a race track and expecting yourself to come first in a competition just because you think you “should,” regardless of whether you’ve done any training beforehand.

However, realizing you’re not as fast as you thought you were on the racetrack isn’t likely to make you incapable of running at your own personal top speed. But when these unrealistic expectations play out in a sexual context, they run into an inescapable reality of the way human sexuality works: It’s almost impossible to be aroused when you’re anxious.

“It’s often said that the brain is the biggest sexual organ, [and] that’s absolutely true,” says Play. “If your mind is too stressed out to focus on the sensory stimuli right in front of you, parts of your body won’t work like you expect them to.”

“When you’re nervous about performance, it can create a negative feedback loop resulting in more of the result you’re trying to avoid,” says O’Reilly. “For example, if you’re nervous about losing your erection, it may activate a stress response accompanied by the release of cortisol, as opposed to the relaxation response that supports the possibility of an erection.”

“This stress isn’t just confined to your thoughts,” Play agrees. “Concerns like these can lead your body to pump out stress hormones like adrenaline, cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. These hormones are the ones responsible for the fight, flight, freeze, or fawn responses we have in the face of danger.”

In short, when you’re stressed out, your brain switches from the parasympathetic mode (relaxed, capable of arousal) to the sympathetic mode (anxious, incapable of arousal) to help get you out of whatever scary situation you find yourself in. The only problem is, in a sexual context, the scary situation is one you want to stay in.

However, as O’Reilly points out, if you’re able to start thinking of sex as an experience rather than a performance, “you can tune into the sensations, the pleasure, the connection and more rather than counting minutes or measuring the experience in terms of narrow outcomes.”

So how do you do that, exactly?

How to Overcome Performance Anxiety

Unsurprisingly, given the fact that different people experience performance anxiety for different reasons, not all potential solutions will apply to everyone.

“The way you address performance anxiety may be different depending on the source of your anxiety,” says O’Reilly.

That being said, here are four approaches you could try to help you overcome your performance anxiety issues:

Talk to Your Partner Honestly

“If your anxiety is tied to a partner pressuring you (e.g. expecting you to get hard right away), you probably want to have a conversation with them,” says O’Reilly. “Approach with curiosity to understand where their expectation comes from. What do they gain from it? Why do they want it?”

Then, you can talk to them about what the experience is like for you. Play suggests you say something like:

“This is a pretty sensitive topic, and it’s challenging for me to share, but I don’t want to exclude you from my inner experience. I’d rather let you in on what’s going on with me. Sometimes, by sharing this up front, it helps lower my anxiety.”

You can then explain that when you experience performance anxiety, it detracts from your sexual experience, and, if applicable, hinders your ability to achieve and maintain your erection.

Play then suggests that you could reassure your partner that this isn’t about your attraction to them, if that’s a concern, and you can provide alternatives for keeping things going when you’re more flaccid:

“If my erection goes away periodically, switching to oral sex or fingering or making out will keep it hot and make it more relaxing for me.”

Alter Your Erection Expectations

Whatever that conversation is like, it’s useful to try to do some inner work around how you think and feel about your erection.

“If your anxiety is tied to gendered expectations, you’ll likely want to dig into where those messages come from and whether or not they’re serving you,” says O’Reilly. “This, of course, is a going process, as gender roles are so deeply ingrained — especially when it comes to sex. But if you start to think about how to shed shame more generally and what activities, processes and people help you to counteract shame, that can be a good place to start.”

For instance, you might start to think about what sources of sexual information in your life contribute to the idea that men always have to be “on” and “perfect lovers” in bed, and how much you trust them. Do you have friends who use the phrase “limp dick” as a pejorative? Do you over-rely on porn as a form of sex education?

In fact, Engle says, maybe the best thing you can do to help with performance anxiety with a partner is to temporarily agree that there are zero expectations for you to have an erection.

“This may sound a bit counterintuitive, but achieving more reliable erections means removing erections for a hot minute,” she says. “When we put a ton of pressure on ourselves to maintain erections, we wind up upping our performance anxiety. Taking erections off the table for a week or two is a great way to remove that pressure and therefore, have better sexual experiences.”

Engage in Mindfulness

“Practical interventions might include mindful masturbation — to give yourself a chance to tune into pleasure,” says O’Reilly. “Pleasure has the potential to be the antithesis of pressure, so if you practice touching yourself for pleasure of all kinds, with no pressure to respond in any specific way, it can help you to overcome pressure and reduce anxiety.”

“Mindfulness is a huge help when it comes to performance anxiety,” Engle agrees. “It brings your focus back into your body so that you can stop dissociating. It may sound off that you’d want to pay more attention to your penis in order to decrease anxiety, but it does work. When we disconnect or try to distract ourselves in order to avoid ejaculating, we actually lose the ability to control our erections. When you get better acquainted with your body, you gain a closer relationship with yourself.”

O’Reilly also recommends general mindfulness practices throughout your day, not just in a sexual context. That being said, in the moment, she advises you “choose one sensation to tune into.”

“For example, focus on the temperature of your lover’s skin. Or you can grab the bed sheets tight to feel them against your fingers. When you tune into a sensation in the present, it can help you to focus on your body’s current state as opposed to worrying about what might happen.”

Try Slowing Down

Our timelines for how long we think sex should last don’t always line up with reality. Men sometimes expect to be able to last for an hour at a time; data shows penetration on average tends to last well under 10 minutes, and that people with vulvas often require around 20 minutes of stimulation before orgasm. In short, the time factor is a little bit all over the place.

But the lack of any clear timelines can also work to your advantage, because it means there may be less pressure for sex to last for a specific amount of time. And in that context, you can focus on taking your time a little bit more, says O’Reilly. .

“You can always slow down, reset and start again if performance anxiety leads to a shift in your body,” she explains. “If you lose your erection, it doesn’t need to be a big deal. You can enjoy pleasure and connection in other ways (and when you do, the erection will likely come back).”

If you lose your erection, or ejaculate too soon, O’Reilly notes, “It doesn’t mean that sex or pleasure is over. Play with your hands, tongue, lips and full bodies so that you both enjoy yourselves. Some reframing of sex can help you to refocus on enjoying yourselves as opposed to timing yourselves or honing in on some other metric.”

How to Get Harder Erections How to Treat Your Erectile Dysfunction Never Have I Ever: Experienced Erectile Difficulties (and Dealt With Them)

Source: AskMen


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