Sexual performance anxiety is probably more common then we believe. With porn being so easily accessible, there are increasing unrealistic expectations surrounding how we do sex. What we see depicted in mass media about sex is very often untrue and places undue pressure on both men and women to perform in a specific way during sex. These impressions can impact how we perceive ourselves as sexual beings, sometimes causing doubt or feelings of inferiority. These feelings can spark thoughts about our sexual selves resulting in an anxious approach to sexual relating.

Many men who suffer with premature ejaculation or erectile dysfunction describe a detailed yet rapid thought process which anticipates the sexual failure and often prompts another disappointing sexual encounter. A trigger usually precedes negative thinking and with performance anxiety the trigger may become sexual arousal, excitement or stimulation, very often whilst in the presence of a lover or partner. Feeling sexually deficient in front of another person can lead to even more unconstructive thinking, compounding discomfort and apprehension. It becomes like a vicious cycle and the more the mind gets involved, the more evidence is sought around sexual failings.

What strikes me is that the men who see me for these issues often don’t have the same problems when they are masturbating, which tells me that the real issue is sexual performance anxiety. The experience of a floundering erection or rapid ejaculation is mostly when involved in a partnered sexual encounter. Sadly, these encounters sometimes cause men to feel lack of desire around sex, because the accompanying feelings are too fraught. This can mean that masturbation or self-pleasure is abandoned too as the incentive for sexual pleasure becomes reduced.

The “use it or lose it” concept is often vital when it comes to sex, both with men and women. The less you use your sexuality or sexual nature, it may increasingly become less available to you. If you want to remain sexually active it is important to consistently experience desire or arousal. Ignoring your sexuality due to previous failures will only compound the problem. What might be more useful is to remain in touch with sexual feelings in a mindful manner. A good way to start with this is to notice your levels of arousal while masturbating. Do you reach the point of orgasm in a short amount of time? Do you lose your erection when you are at a certain point of arousal? Or perhaps, when masturbating, you experience a more flowing kind of arousal than you do during sex? Just notice what happens and in the process get to know your levels of arousal and pleasure.

Becoming mindful during masturbation can be a useful way to understand what happens when you have sex. If you are experiencing performance anxiety, it is likely that concerns arise during the act of sex with another, rather than during masturbation. Just knowing this might make a difference because once you realise that your body is functioning perfectly normally it becomes easier to see how thoughts about performance could be having an effect. If you still can’t seem to shake the anxiety when you are with someone else, seeing a sex therapist could be a good idea to learn ways of overcoming the anxiety and feeling more relaxed in sexual situations.