While there may not be a verifiable “epidemic” of performance anxiety, many people are unhappy in their sexual lives because they worry that they are not doing it right. They feel inadequate and unsure of themselves, and somehow sex isn’t so much fun anymore. (note: we’re speaking here primarily of heterosexual sexuality, though the basic approach also applies to same-sex lovemaking)
In fact, while worrying about whether your sexual performance is satisfactory, meeting up with your lover for sex can come to seem like just another household chore, or perhaps some kind of final exam, which you could flunk!
This pervasive sense of doubt about your sexual performance has a further insidious effect: it makes your performance worse. When you are worrying about how you are doing, you’re not in the moment. You’re not enjoying your partner’s touch or the pleasures of touching him or her. The thoughts are whirring around in your head: will I keep my erection? Can I get turned on enough for him? Am I moving OK? What is he thinking about my body (OMG I’m fat)? Can I make him (her) come?
These thoughts are highly distressing, and distract you from the pleasures of the moment. Just a reminder: sex is (supposed to be) fun and pleasurable. Making love should be much more like play than work. Being a great lover does not depend upon hitting some kind of performance targets.
Part of what makes this so difficult is our cultural myopia about sexuality and making love. We partake of these cultural notions through osmosis, from media depictions of sexuality, overheard conversations and adolescent fantasies. Unfortunately, much of it is not accurate!
These cultural assumptions are simplistic, condensing the rich tapestry of adult sexual possibility to a few bullet points:
- Sex equals penis-in-vagina intercourse;
- This necessarily requires an erection for the male, and automatic lubrication for the female; and
- It doesn’t really count unless both partners experience an orgasm.
Note that each of these steps indicates an expectation for the targeted behavior: this is where performance anxiety begins. What if I can’t have sex because of pain? What if I can’t keep an erection? What if I can’t make my partner have an orgasm? What if I don’t have an orgasm?
This is a tangled web. These expectations lead to worry about performance, which degrades performance and stifles enjoyment, resulting in unhappy lovers who don’t feel good about themselves.
There’s a better way to find satisfying, enjoyable and exciting sex with your Beloved. It begins with an honest acknowledgement that things aren’t going well, and a strong affirmation that you want to work together to create a more satisfying sexual relationship.
Since these cultural expectations about sex have contributed to the performance anxiety, you’re going to need a new framework so you can explore and express your sexual desires together without going to the anxious place.
Rather than stress about whether you are achieving the “milestones” of erection/lubrication, intercourse and orgasm it changes everything if you limit your focus to the giving and receiving of pleasure. Pleasure is a sensory experience, denoted by sensations of deliciousness in taste; good feelings in the nerve endings that sense pleasurable touch; the sweetness of special smells; the experience of harmony or melodiousness in sounds; the perception of visual beauty. Pleasure is what making love is about.
You don’t have to think about whether a particular sensation is pleasurable or not – you know it, in the bodily experience of a favorite food, sensual touch, a beloved song, an encounter with beauty. So it’s simply a matter of trusting your perceptions. If it feels good, it’s pleasurable. Our bodies are set up to perceive pleasure, with millions of specialized nerve endings devoted to this mission.
Making love consists primarily of giving and receiving pleasure – through word and gesture, through sound and sight and taste and touch. When you let go of the performance hurdles and deadlines and relax into playing together with pleasure, it is easy to relax into the moments which blur into timelessness.
But wait! What about orgasm/intercourse/getting off! I don’t want to miss anything!
Arousal, desire and direct sexual stimulation which may lead to the explosive pleasure of orgasm – all can be yours easily and directly, through this relaxed approach. Rather than straining to try to achieve orgasm, holding your breath and tensing all your muscles to try to make it happen, why not relax and allow your body to experience the natural progression of pleasure?
It takes practice to let go of a habitual anxious approach to sex. The desire for a quick fix is just another expression of performance anxiety, just another deadline you’re not going to make.
Optimal sexual experience occurs when partners care for each other, communicate about what they are doing together, and when they are relaxed. Relaxation is the foundation of healthy sex. Give yourself and your partner the gift of relaxing as you make love. Allow yourself to simply pay attention to and luxuriate in the pleasurable sensations you are experiencing, without attempting to go anywhere. Let delight wash over you; play with your partner, gently pleasuring him or her. Be curious and playful as you explore the erotic playground of your loving connection.