There’s nothing more normal than performance anxiety.
I’ve been working with men who have had frequent or occasional bouts of sexual dysfunction (erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, etc.) and performance anxiety for the past six years. Let me start off by saying that there is nothing more normal, human, and healthy than going through phases of each of the aforementioned things at any age in your life.
Nearly all men have had instances of E.D., P.E., and performance anxiety at some point in their lives. Many of them bounce back almost immediately, while others are more prone to getting stuck in their minds about it. I was most definitely in the latter camp.
After an emotionally painful sexual experience with someone that I didn’t have full trust in, I battled with E.D. for just over a year in my early twenties. This condition was made worse by the fact that I knew on a logical level that I was supposed to be in a stage of life where my testosterone levels were their highest and I should be able to get hard at the drop of a hat. Of course, this only made me harder on myself (pun intended) and I felt like a sexual failure. After a while I started to avoid sexual contact with anyone for fear of not being able to perform properly.
But the unfortunate underlying assumption of performance anxiety is that you are expecting yourself to perform for your partner. The idea that you’ve somehow intuited is that you’re the dancing monkey that needs to impress the person you’re having sex with, as opposed to sharing an experience that you co-create.
While working through my journey with performance anxiety, I found some high leverage, simple, actionable things that helped me get through my suffering a lot faster than I would have trying to keep my head down and power through it.
Want to eliminate performance anxiety? Here are the top five things that I learned that worked surprisingly well for me (and for countless clients of mine since then).
1. Tell your partner about it
I’m going to start with one of the more difficult ones first because it’s one of the highest leverage things you can do to ease your anxiety.
The mental block that you have from the pressure you’re putting on yourself is only making matters worse. Keep all of your fears and worries to yourself and you’ll be even more in your head.
By involving your partner in your internal struggles you will be able to name the elephant in the room. Whether you have told them about it or not, they’ll be able to feel the fact that you’re struggling with something in your mind. You might as well ease both of your anxieties by verbalizing what’s going on in your mind. By naming the issue in your mind the internal demons will seem less scary. It is the vocal equivalent of looking your demons in the face and waving hello.
What we resist persists. So cease to resist the anxieties by talking about them out loud. It might be uncomfortable at first, but you’ll be glad you did if you have a loving and supportive partner who can receive your news with grace and compassion.
The fastest way to rush towards an orgasm is to hold your breath (or breath quick, shallow breaths) and to tense all of your major muscle groups.
The opposite is also true. Consciously relax your body and breathe deep, slow breaths during your sexual play in order to get out of your head and into your body.
3. Slow down your foreplay
Many men (especially those born after 1980) honed massively unproductive masturbatory habits in their youth. They became aroused to an external stimulus (often porn movies) and masturbated to ejaculation as quickly as possible (to avoid having their family members walk in on them). This, on a neurological level, trained your mind to expect that whenever you began to become aroused your mind would expect to orgasm within a couple of minutes. Thus, there is widespread erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation for men under thirty years old.
One way to gain more control over your arousal response is to slow down the pacing of your foreplay. For many men, it’s the first five minutes of sexual stimulation that is the most difficult time to refrain from ejaculating. After those first five minutes, your mind is much more settled into the idea that “Just because I am aroused right now, does not mean that I need to race to orgasm. This is a different situation than when I was masturbating as a teenager. This is slow. This is safe.”
So even if your partner likes to quickly jump to penetration, you are fully within your right to ask them to slow down the foreplay and do whatever you need in order to settle in and get your body as turned on as your mind (or vice versa).
4. Focus on your partner
If it’s the anxiety of receiving pleasure that makes you nervous, then you might want to start by focusing your energy and attention on your partner during foreplay.
Whether you give them a massage, perform oral sex, or just kiss/hold/cuddle them for an extended period of time, it may help you relax in to the sexual play if you put your attention on them to begin with. It’s not uncommon for people to feel a lot less anxious after their partner has reached orgasm first… so this aspect of foreplay might help you in settling in to the sexual experience.
5. Focus more fully on your pleasure
You know the old “Think of baseball…” trick to help you gain more control over how long you last in bed? It doesn’t work for the majority of men. The reason is that this is an exercise that disassociates you from your body and your arousal response further. It makes you more in your head, and less connected to your body.
The opposite strategy actually works a lot better for most men. Try focusing all of your attention on the sexual pleasure you’re receiving. Become hyper cognizant of awareness exercises (where you ask yourself questions like “how is this sexual pleasure registering in my feet? In my legs? In my back? In my hair? etc.”)
Sex Isn’t A Performance To Excel At, It’s An Experience To Be Shared
A lot of the reason that performance anxiety is so prevalent amongst men is that we set unrealistic expectations in our minds of what we’re supposed to do in bed.
We see these stallion-like men in porn films who seem to be able to last for hours on end without breaking (when in reality porn scenes are filmed over the course of hours, days, or sometimes weeks and edited together).
Sex isn’t something that you’re meant to perform for, or do to, your partner… sex is a shared experience that two (or more) people co-create. There is no clock that you need to impress. The vast majority of women that I know would rather have three minutes of passionate, intimate sex with a present and love-filled partner, than an hour of non-stop sex with a man who they can feel is in his head in order to ‘impress’ her/the clock.
So let go of your expectations and relax into your sex life. Talk to your partner about how they feel about your sex life. It might even turn out that they’re perfectly happy with how things are and all of the pressure is being placed unnecessarily on you BY you.
I wish you the best of luck in your journey, and I hope that you and your lover can find your way to a sex life that you’re both deeply fulfilled by.