Sex is a mega worry-inducing activity, #amIright?
From the sounds to the smells to how we look, letting someone else all up in our intimate places is bound to make even the most steady of us doubt ourselves and the strength of our showering skills.
However, sex and mental health are still probably two of the most taboo topics in the English language.
Such a high percentage of women experience anxiety, AND difficulties with their sex drive… yet we’re all so twee and embarrassed to talk about them. There must be a correlation.
That’s why I want to dedicate some time to shout from the rooftops about how anxiety can impact on your desire to have sex.
And trust me, it’s a lot.
Anxiety shuts down your sex drive quicker than your Mum walking in whilst your bonking. It’s not nice, it’s not fun, and it deserves a lot more air time than it gets so, here we go.
The three types of sexual anxiety that dampen desire
Anxiety has three ways in which it decides to rain on your sexual parade.
- The first is what I like to call the frequent caller.
It’s the “stage fright” nerves… the on-the-night worries about whether you look OK, if your bum is jiggling, if the great thrush of the summer of 2008 has returned, whether you filed your self-assessment return. All of those worries that come flooding into your brain when you sit down and try to get in the mood.
This anxiety is a pesky nuisance, because one of the main ingredients for great sex is relaxation. And you can hardly relax when your brain is a cacophony of squiggly thoughts that makes trying to focus on the task at hand feel like herding thought cats. NOT fun.
What frequent caller anxiety feels like:
An honest review? Having sex feels horrific when you’re this worried. Trying to relax is like telling yourself not to think about a white elephant when that’s ALL your brain wants to do. It feels paralysing, like an out of body experience. My boyfriend probably thought he was literally having sex with a corpse because I’d just lie there, with a vacant expression, head bobbing gently with the thrusting, yet inside my mind was going crazy over work deadlines and how the man in the corner shop will pay his mortgage if I don’t buy anything. Crazy right? That’s mental health for you
2. The second type is anxiety in stealth mode. And it’s this one that I know I have to watch out before, because it’s sneaky and creeps up on you like rising damp in the airing cupboard.
The more anxiety strikes when you’re trying to/actually having sex, the harder to stay focussed on sex and stay in the moment it becomes.
Good, relaxing, lovely sex is linked to pleasure- if it feels good, you want it more. If it doesn’t feel good (AKA makes you worry or panic), you’re less likely to want it.
The more this happens, it can lead to sex becoming something associated with distress in your brain. You can then get stuck in a vicious cycle in which any time sex is then on the cards it triggers a worry reaction- so even initiation of sex can feel stressful and unpleasant.
What stealth mode anxiety feels like:
Sex feels like such a chore or effort because you know you’re going to need to engage a ton of brain power to chill out enough to have it. Sometimes, your head is so full of anxiety you get annoyed that your partner tries to initiate sex, OR you get mega worry triggered by the simplest of actions, e.g. them putting a hand on your bum, or the dread of the pre-breakfast sex request. The strategy then becomes AVOID AVOID AVOID when they are in the vicinity- headaches, hair washing and thrush all become rather useful excuses to get out of jail free rather than go through the stress of sex. All rather backwards hey, as sex is supposed to be stress-relieving?!
3. The final type is what I’ve lovingly deemed shitshow anxiety.
Just when you thought you had enough anxiety to go around, this fucker rears its ugly head. This worry is where experiencing a loss of desire (because of anxiety) can actually CAUSE anxiety.
Yep… it really doesn’t get any more ironic than this.
What shitshow anxiety feels like:
You worry there’s something’s wrong with you, that you’re broken, whether your relationship will make it through, if they’ll eventually get fed up and cheat, whether you’ll need to take pills or see a sex therapist, that you’ll have terrible (or no) sex for the rest of your life, that sex will always just be stressful, hard work and just not very fun, that your vagina is DEAD. It’s exhausting, and just a complete shitshow-hence the name!
What kind of anxiety do you experience? I’d love to know in the comments!
How to manage the 3 types of anxiety and get back your sex drive
Managing your anxiety is an incredibly personal journey, and one that is unique to you and your own worries and ways of coping. It’s often not something that is solved overnight but requires patience, care and time.
Yes, no-one wants to hear this but it’s true. There’s no snake oil here gang, just honesty, love and home truths!
Obviously, step one is trying to gain more control generally over your anxiety.
This has been a lifelong issue for me, but here’s some ideas:
- Here’s one I made earlier: six tips to manage anxiety with some of the more random things that have helped me.
- Coffee can have a huge impact on anxiety- find out what happened when I gave it up here
- How exercise has an impact on stress and anxiety.
Step two is learning how to combat the sexual anxiety, and the vicious cycle of worry that a low libido has created. Here are some of the things I’ve tried/am trying:
“Getting better at staying present”
- Cultivate sensuality: getting out of your head and back into your body is actually quite helpful both before and during sex.
- Sex and mindfulness (coming soon)
“In the moment tips”
- How using lube is a great way to take the pressure off getting wet
- Distract yourself: how pleasuring your partner first can help with anxiety
- Creating a sex soundtrack (coming soon)
- This is an article on Star Wars… how to use the force to stay present, which details some in-the-moment tips for trying to stay more present and focused in bed
With anxiety, as mentioned it spreads across into other areas.
So if you’re here because that’s your experience, I’d also recommend checking out the other blog sections on control and initiation under the Relationship patterns and habits, body image and self-esteem as well as the section on stress.
Check out the useful resources page for more general resources and support on managing anxiety.
“May your anxiety be long gone and your brain be occupied with sexy things”.