Whether we’re worried about life generally, or if the thoughts just extend to getting down and diiirty, anxiety can wreak havoc with our sex drive.

In fact, being anxious is the literal opposite to being turned on, relaxed and experiencing pleasure.

Knowing more about how anxiety affects us, as well as why, can be really helpful to consider the best way to manage its impact.

1. You’re stuck in your own head 

Instead of engaging in the moment, our head space has been hijacked by anxious thoughts.

These could be around how you look, whether your partner might judge or laugh at you, whether sex might be uncomfortable or painful, whether you’ll be able to get turned on. Any kind of future worry about sex! 

Anxiety causes us to have a monkey mind- constantly flipping between thoughts like a monkey jumping from tree to tree. Ultimately, as Dr Lori Brotto points out in her book about “Sex and Mindfulness”, our mind pays less attention to our bodies and the sensations or triggers that elicit a sexual response. This distraction impairs our ability to register being turned on. Instead we’re lost in our minds and disconnected from the sexual experience. 

2. You might worry about your performance

You might find you have specific worries about how you look, sound or act in bed.

This can leave you feeling anxious about the thought of sex, and even dreading it. This is known as performance anxiety, and you can read more about it here. 

3. You start “spectatoring”

Spectatoring (a term coined in the 60s by the great Masters and Johnson) is the feeling of watching yourself have sex accompanied by a critical inner voice.

If you become a spectator (as opposed to a participant), you might be so busying judging yourself or analysing the situation that it becomes much harder to concentrate on the task at hand, harder to become aroused, and generally saps the enjoyment out of sex. It can even feel quite distressing to have intrusive thoughts when you’re trying to enjoy yourself. 

These are two really good articles about spectatoring by I news and InStyle for further reading.

4. You start overthinking

When we’re having sex, it’s instinctive, animalistic, innate, and certainly happens in the body and the senses rather than in the “thinking” part of your brain.

But when you worry, and the more you worry (and even worry about worrying), you feel under pressure, and the focus on sex becomes less innate, free and easy, and instead our bossy brain takes over.

In high stress situations (like putting pressure on yourself to get turned on), the area of the brain that first learned whatever skill it is you are doing is put in charge.

Your brain switches itself off tries to “actively” perform the skill, as if you were learning it all over again.

And, once you start thinking about doing something, it suddenly becomes very difficult and awkward to perform.

This is why some athletes have a tendency to “choke” under pressure, because their conscious brain kicks in to try and perform rather than letting their muscle memory, instinct and senses do the job.

5. This triggers the fight or flight response 

The feeling of anxiety and uncertainty may lead to fear. This could be of displeasing your partner, performing badly, looking silly, being judged, feeling pain, never being able to enjoy sex again….

This triggers a fight or flight response in our brains

Our stress hormones recognise this red alert and actively shut down our libido, meaning we’re in survival not sexy mode.

6. Our body then reacts

We might feel tense, be actually unable to have penetrative sex, or get wet enough. These bodily responses can then loop back into our anxiety, making us even more worried. Sex can become quite a distressing experience!

While we’re caught in these debilitating spirals of worry, sometimes we become paralysed or completely disengaged (e.g. laying on our backs in the missionary position) which can seriously impact on your sex life- read more on this here.

7. You can’t get wet because it’s hard to relax

You overthink getting turned on, and so this became a horrible catch 22 where you just became more and more stressed about not being wet… so then you can’t get wet. The struggle is real. And it’s exhausting!

8. You can’t talk to your partner because you’re worried about being judged

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Because anxiety is also incredible pervasive into other areas of your life, it can be difficult to express yourself in bed because you’re worried about your partners response.

But the problem is that expressing what you want and need in bed is the secret to making sex a thousand times better. It’s another cycle that’s tough to break!


So anxiety can be a powerful inhibitor on our desire.

Want help on how to minimise the impact of worry on your sex life? Click HERE for my top tips on managing anxiety  and THIS article for 19 tips on how to stay present.

P.S. Check out this article for more stories from Bustle on how other people with anxiety deal with having sex

I’d love to know how you feel– does anxiety impact on your desire or ability to have sex? Let me know in the comments.