Can Anxiety Cause Sexual Problems? The GASM Guide
At GASM we believe that Sexuality Wellness is super important to our health and sense of well-being (see our GASM guide on Sexual Wellness if you want to catch up on the basics.) But there’s a lot which can get in the way of enjoying our sexual experiences and anxiety is a big one. In this GASM Guide we’ll explore how anxiety manifests and the potential repercussions on our sex lives. We’ll then dive into a whole range of strategies to combat general anxiety and anxiety specifically around Sex.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a natural response to stress, characterized by feelings of apprehension or fear about what's to come. Everyone feels anxious from time to time, but anxiety can creep into the bedroom in ways we’d really rather it didn’t.
Anxiety and Sexual Health: The Direct Link
Anxiety is a particular problem because of the ways in which the body responds physiologically to anxiety and stress. None of them are good for getting turned on or enjoying sex.
Anxiety can be related to a huge range of issues going on within your life. This can cause big secondary issues in the bedroom. However, some anxiety is specifically targeted towards sex. These kinds of anxiety can be a vicious cycle as when things don’t go exactly as we hope in the bedroom anxiety increases which then compounds the issue. These issues can arise from the following:
Body image issues
Fear of intimacy
Worries about satisfying a partner
Recognizing the specific fears and anxieties you face, whether they’re specific to sex or not, is the first step in addressing them effectively. We’re big fans of therapy or getting professional medical help but this isn’t always the only option. It is possible to help yourself by writing, reflecting and talking with friends about the issues you're experiencing.
Fight or Flight Response: Anxiety can activate the body's fight or flight response, releasing adrenaline. While this mechanism is useful in genuinely dangerous situations, constant activation due to chronic anxiety can lead to physical symptoms that interfere with sexual arousal and performance.
Decreased Blood Flow: One of the effects of the fight or flight response is the constriction of blood vessels. This can be a problem, especially for men, as enjoying sex often requires an increased blood flow to the genitals.
Muscle Tension: Anxiety can lead to muscle tension, which can interfere with the body's ability to relax, a state often required to properly enjoy sex (although not always; for instance if you enjoy very energetic sex or many types of kink.)
Sexual Problems Attributed to Anxiety:
Erectile Dysfunction (ED): Anxiety can hinder a man's ability to achieve or maintain an erection. Performance anxiety, in particular, is a leading cause of ED in younger men.
Premature Ejaculation: For some men, anxiety can lead to ejaculating earlier than desired.
Decreased Libido: Chronic anxiety can lower one's sex drive, making sexual encounters less frequent or appealing.
Difficulty Achieving Orgasm: Both men and women can find it challenging to climax due to anxiety-related muscle tension and distractions.
Vaginismus: Some women may experience involuntary muscle spasms in the vagina, making penetration painful or impossible. Anxiety is a recognized trigger for this condition.
Secondary Causes: Anxiety Medications and Libido
Many medications prescribed for anxiety, including SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), can have side effects which affect both desire and your bits functioning properly. If you're experiencing sexual problems and are on anti-anxiety medications, do talk with your doctor about alternative meds or therapies which might work instead.
The bedroom can become a battleground of nervous thoughts and inhibitions. At GASM we want to help. Here's our guide on how to combat bedroom anxiety and embrace a more relaxed, intimate experience.
Getting it sorted
1. Communication is key
Talk with Your Partner: Honesty is a powerful tool. Discussing your fears or nervousness really helps with anxiety. Your partner might be able to offer reassurance, understanding, even share their own insecurities.
Seek Professional Guidance: If discussing anxieties with your partner feels overwhelming, or difficult, consider couples therapy or individual counseling. A therapist can provide strategies which specifically target what you’re going through.
2. Create a Relaxing Environment
Sensory Experience: Soft lighting, calming aromatherapy scents, and soothing music can create a more relaxed space.
Comfort is Key: Invest in comfortable bedding and wear something you feel good in. The more physically comfortable you are, the easier it will be to mentally unwind.
3. Mindfulness and Meditation
Use mindfulness techniques to stay present when you’re trying to connect:
Deep Breathing: Taking deep, deliberate breaths can slow down a racing heart and calm the mind.
Body Scanning: This meditation technique involves mentally scanning your body from head to toe, noting sensations, and releasing tension.
Grounding Techniques: If you feel overwhelmed, grounding exercises like the "5-4-3-2-1" method can help bring you back to the present moment.
4. Prioritize Foreplay
Engaging in longer foreplay builds intimacy and allows both partners to feel more relaxed and connected. It's also an opportunity to communicate what feels good and build trust.
5. Educate Yourself
Knowledge is empowering. Understanding your body and your partner's can alleviate some performance-related anxieties:
Read Books: There are countless educational books on sexuality and intimacy. We like RECOMMENDATIONS. GASM has lots of tips and explainers including
Attend Workshops: Many therapists offer workshops on intimacy and sexual health. GASM will run workshops on ETC
Explore Together: Researching and learning with your partner can strengthen your bond and boost confidence.
6. Get active
Regular exercise can significantly reduce anxiety:
Cardio Workouts: Activities like running, swimming, or dancing can help burn off adrenaline and release mood-enhancing endorphins.
Yoga: Combining physical postures with mindfulness techniques, yoga can be particularly effective for relaxation and mental balance.
7. Nature is your friend
Some people find relief from anxiety through natural means:
Herbal Teas: Chamomile and valerian root are known for their calming properties.
CBD: Cannabidiol, or CBD, has gained popularity for its potential anxiety-reducing effects.
Always consult your doctor before trying new supplements.
8. Cut out Stimulants
Cut back or cut out caffeine and sugar, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime. These stimulants can increase anxiety and prevent relaxation. Alcohol is a complex one as technically it acts as a depressant and in the short term creates a feeling of relaxation. However, alcohol materially impedes blood flow and reduces sexual performance and has a marked impact on anxiety. You’re better off cutting back on alcohol if you want to see improvements in your levels of anxiety.
9. Get well rested
If you think that any of the techniques above sound similar to techniques for getting a good night’s sleep you’d be correct. The same processes which help us to sleep well are the processes which help us to relax enough to activate our centers of arousal. Whilst you’re working on your anxiety around sex, use some of the strategies above to also get more sleep. More sleep means less cortisol, the stress promoting hormone, and with less cortisol you’ll be naturally more relaxed and able to get aroused and enjoy sex more. Getting more rest also improves your libido.
Bedroom anxiety is a common issue, but with the right tools and strategies, you can reclaim your bedroom, and anywhere else you want to have sex, improving your sex life and your partnerships. Remember, everyone's journey is unique, so it's essential to find what works best for you and your partner(s). With understanding, communication, and a few of the above tactics, more relaxed and fulfilling sexual experiences are within reach.