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It may be one of your favorite ways to spend time, but the truth is that sex can sometimes make us anxious. As awesome as intimacy is, all of us have experienced a wandering mind, self-conscious thoughts and worries about how our body looks and feels to a partner. And that’s perfectly normal.
Sure, these feelings are most common the first time you have sex (or the first time with a new partner), but if being unable to relax is causing sexual problems like intimacy avoidance, you might be looking for a bit of Zen between the sheets.
Nobody should give you a hard time for being anxious, and we’re not here to do that either. Below, we’ve explained why it’s normal to be anxious sometimes, what happens when “sometimes” becomes “often” and some strategies for how to not get too wound up the next time you’re getting down.
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Sexual performance anxiety isn’t something many men want to admit, especially since all of us have heard that prospective partners want someone confident and capable. That said, it’s not uncommon to fear that you might not measure up in your love life.
Your sexual performance anxiety may be based on a variety of underlying worries, like:
Does my partner find me attractive?
Will I be able to get an erection?
Will my partner reach orgasm?
Will I ejaculate too soon?
Will my partner experience pleasure?
Is my penis big enough?
A negative body image can also cause problems. A study of male military personnel under the age of 40 found that one in three men experienced ED as a result of worries about body image — particularly penis size.
And some men even say that they find that watching porn can create unrealistic expectations for their bodies and skill, and lead to feelings of inadequacy.
Past traumas, mental health issues and other more ambiguous triggers can also make it hard to relax in bed.
The bottom line? The list of potential causes of sexual performance anxiety is pretty big.
There’s a very real biological explanation for performance anxieties and ED too. Nervousness triggers your sympathetic nervous system, which can cause your blood vessels to constrict and your body to release the stress hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol.
The result? Not enough extra blood in your penis, your body going into flight or fight mode and struggling to get or stay hard.
One study even called sexual performance anxiety one of the most common causes of sexual dysfunction in both men and women.
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The good news is that sometimes sexual performance anxiety disappears on its own as you get more comfortable with a partner or with your body. To get more comfortable, taking care of your sexual health and general wellbeing can give your confidence a boost, as can talking to your partner about your fears
But if your anxiety doesn’t dissipate — if you still feel wound up — we can give you some tips on how to relax before sex.
We know a lot of guys hate the idea of therapy, but cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and sex therapy are safe places to talk about what’s causing your anxiety, as well as any depression that might be affecting your love life.
CBT essentially posits that psychological problems are the result of unhelpful ways of thinking and behaviors. It teaches you to recognize distorted thoughts (I’m not good enough) and cope with them in a healthy way (that’s just my anxiety talking — hush up, anxiety). This can help you overcome psychological ED.
Likewise, a sex therapist may begin with the goal of helping you become more self-aware. They might ask about your sexual history, sex education, beliefs about sex and sexual concerns, and then help you trace your hangups to central anxieties that can be dealt with.
Coping skills may be something you learn in therapy, but they may also be as simple as quick calming strategies that don’t require any professional guidance. You can think of them as warm-up exercises.
Mindfulness and deep breathing — and even some less-than-official relaxation techniques like masturbation — can help you feel calmer ahead of intimacy, especially if your sexual performance anxiety is related to your stamina.
Premature ejaculation is fairly common among men (more on that in a moment) so if you want to boost sexual performance, one coping skill may simply be having a pre-foreplay routine to help you relax.
If you have underlying physiological causes of ED — like blood flow issues — that are in turn causing your anxiety, medication may help. Prescription ED meds like Viagra® (sildenafil), Cialis® (tadalafil), or Stendra® (avanafil) can reduce or eliminate anxiety around getting or staying hard.
These PDE5 inhibitors work by opening blood vessels and increasing blood flow to the penis. They won’t give you an erection, but they will make getting and keeping one easier — and knowing that you have some assistance in this area may help you relax.
If premature ejaculation is at the core of your inability to relax, there are plenty of products and techniques to deal with it. You might want to try topical products like our Clockstopper benzocaine wipes and Delay Spray or antidepressants like sertraline and paroxetine, which are sometimes used to increase men’s time to ejaculation.
Sexy time should be enjoyed, and while we’re all for self-care and self-pleasure, it should be equally enjoyable with a partner. If you’re finding that this isn’t the case for you, it’s time to get some help.
Not sure where to go? Start with these essential facts and talk to someone.
A little anxiety before or during sex is perfectly normal. Maybe you’re with a new partner or maybe you’re just feeling a bit nervous about ensuring the other person finds maximum pleasure. Good on you for being such an attentive partner!
Anxiety shouldn’t define your sex life. Everyone deserves to have positive sexual experiences.
No matter what’s at the root of your anxiety — premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction or body image — there are ways to relax during sex.
Medication, communication, therapy and coping skills can give you back control and a sense of ownership of your body and your intimacy.
Ready to do something about it? Reach out today.
Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!
Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership.
She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH.
Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare.
Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.