Goodbye Sex Worries, Hello Good Sex

nude woman with black stockings painting

Most women and men want to please their partner. It’s (thankfully) a fact of life that sex is – at least usually – about feeling good and people have a vested interested in helping their partner to find sex pleasurable. After all, it if doesn’t feel good, they may not get invited back to the party another night. And no one wants to see a good French Maid costume go to waste.

Like anything, though, the desire to please can be a bad thing as much as it can be a good thing. Sometimes people are so concerned about pleasing their partner that they lose sight of the moment (or the lube). They get distracted with worries about their own performance: something we call “performance anxiety”.

This type of stress can cause problems with:

-       Men’s erections (in fact, performance anxiety is often at the root of most erection problems among young, healthy men)

-       Premature ejaculation: Many men with PE will say that sex feels anxious from the moment they kiss or start making out with a partner, or undress, because they worry that if sex happens they may not be able to last as long as they’d like. That they might go kapow before their partner goes “wow”.

-       Delayed ejaculation (ejaculation that takes a very long time): After all, if a guy is overly anxious about his own performance or too focused on his partner’s performance, he may not be able to build arousal to the point of ejaculation.

-       Women’s ease of orgasm: Relaxation and the ability to let go are not just at the heart of downward dog in yoga, but in the bedroom too. Learning to relax and embrace pleasure are at the heart of easier orgasm.

-       Enjoyment of sex. When a person is too worried about how their body looks (which is a part of sexual “performance” for some), the quality of their oral sex technique or their ability to give a hand job that rivals the local happy endings parlor, they may lose sight of the overall pleasures involved in touching and being touched or sharing intimacy with another person.

What to do? Try to:

-       Learn about sex. Performance anxiety is often built or maintained by myths about sex such as: Men should always be ready for sex; Men should be able to control when they ejaculate; Women should be able to orgasm during intercourse; Women should orgasm relatively quickly , etc. Check out books like The New Male Sexuality to learn more about what’s men’s sex lives are truly like or Because It Feels Good for tips on how women can combat sex worries.

-       Relax. When you start feeling worried about sex, try to relax. Breathe deeply. Re-focus on how it feels to touch each other, to kiss, to feel your bodies next to each other. Bring back the mindfulness exercises we talked about last week.

-       Share your concerns with your partner. Often, we live in our own little sex bubble, not sharing what it is we are going through with our partner. When you share your experience or concerns with your partner, you give them the opportunity to reassure you that it is all okay: that they don’t need you to last for 20 minutes during intercourse or, on the flip side, to come right away, or to come at all. You get to make up your own experience and figure out your own delicious delights together on your own terms.

Though many people experience bouts of performance anxiety at one time or another, you can learn to work your way around it and re-focus on mutual pleasure and connection. And yes, a fun little French Maid costume, too, if that’s your thing.

[Originally published in my weekly sex column at Cheeky Chicago.]

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at www.sexualhealth.indiana.edu.