What to Do About Sex Anxiety in a Relationship

Takeaway: Many people, regardless of age, sex/gender and relationship status can experience sex anxiety at some point(s) in their life. Maybe fear of sex or fear of performance is something you’ve experienced for years. Maybe you’re just noticing sex anxiety for the first time. This article can help address what sexual anxiety is, as well as common factors that contribute to anxiety during sex and what you can do about it.

Is sex causing anxiety in your relationship?

How is it that sex, something so magical and intimate, can once feel like an act of pure connection and pleasure, then seemingly turn into an overwhelming topic that only creates tension, insecurity, rejection and discomfort?

Many couples suffer from intimacy issues from time to time; some complain that they have incompatible “sex drives,” or they are experiencing a lull that is causing arguments and loneliness. I often hear complaints by my clients in regards to one or both partners experiencing sex anixety that is interfering with their ability to enjoy sex. The anxiety can often lead to full-blown resentment and avoidance, making both partners feel pressured, confused and frustrated.

When sex anxiety becomes prominent in the relationship, it’s easy for the entire partnership to suffer. 

What is sexual anxiety?

Like any form of anxiety, sexual anxiety can cause physiological, logical, emotional and physical symptoms that hinder one’s ability to initiate, perform, achieve orgasm, and/or enjoy sexual activities solo and/or with a partner. These (often normal) symptoms can cause sex or performance anxiety and in order to identify whether sexual anxiety is a cause or a symptom can be determined by a trained clinician.

anxiety during sexMy approach to understanding physical intimacy is largely influenced by emotional security and I want to firstly understand how the couple and/or individual feels emotionally close and trusting of each other.

  • Do they really trust each other?
  • Do they respect each other?
  • Are they on the same page about goals?
  • Are they equally supporting each other? Are they equally showing each other they love each other on a regular basis?
  • Are there any ruptures of trust such as infidelity, built up resentment, etc? 

This doesn’t mean that we forget about the sexual anxiety that is occurring, but for the initial focus, we peel back the layers of the other parts of their relationship, first. 

My belief is that in most cases, in order for both parties to feel desire, passion, and sexual confidence, emotional vulnerability within the relationship is truly key. (Of course there are exceptions such as past sexual abuse, sexual dysfunction caused by a health related issue, etc). Eventually, it is important to assess sexual history, (which will include any sexual trauma, etc), sexual schemas (belief systems around sex, gender and performance), physical health and menal health status. 

Sexual issues within a relationship are most often a symptom of a deeper misalignment. Identifying what that may be requires personal reflection, but also involves strengthening your communication and challenging yourself to be open about your own feelings about love, sex, and overall emotions.

Is anxiety normal before sex?

Anxiety is a normal part of human functioning and many people experience a little anxiety before sex. Physiologically, your body might be excited, but your brain interprets the excitement as anxiety/dread.

If you have sex anxiety, you may find yourself in a flight or fight stance and not be able to perform, perform too quickly, and/or want to flee and avoid sex altogether. A little anxiety before or during sex is common and normal, however, when anxiety hinders your ability to enjoy the pleasures of sex, masturbation, orgasm and/or intimacy after sex, it is time to seek support from a trusted professional.

How do I get rid of sexual anxiety?

Anxiety can often be the chicken or the egg scenario that can all negatively feed off of each other. If you find yourself in a constant cycle of anxiety when it comes to sex, the best approach is to seek a trained therapist or sex therapist to determine the root of your anxiety cycle.

sex anxietySometimes factors such as stress, relational disconnects, body image and/or embarrassment around bodily functions can be the culprit. Sometimes, the culprit could be misinformation, unrealistic expectations and/or maladaptive attitudes about your sex, body and/or relationship(s).

Without assessing and identifying the triggers, you may struggle with the cycle for longer than you need to. Make self awareness and de-stress exercises part of your everyday life.

Look into sex therapy individually and/or with your partner. Not ready for therapy? Try this Intimacy Guide to explore vulnerable conversations about sex that can help the two of you identify potential root causes of your sex anxiety. Don’t be afraid to ask your partner about sex, even if you feel these are things you “should” already know.

All of these questions included in the Intimacy Guide require vulnerability when answering. These questions will help you both understand underlying meaning(s) of your relationship, sex in its entirety, and help you both identify how you feel about your sexual selves.

Answering these questions may allow you both to uncover hidden issues that haven’t been discussed or haven’t been fully understood. Ironically, by discussing these things, anxiety may actually decrease significantly. 

Communication: the key to curing sex anxiety

Our brains are wired to protect us from perceived threats, so it is natural to want to avoid communicating about sex if you are experiencing sex anxiety for whatever reason. When we feel anxious about sex, it can start to fill like a negative trigger, rather than a pleasure filled one. When we are anxious, our sympathetic nervous system fuels our bodies with anxious energy that causes our bodies to negatively perform sexually. Nothing is wrong with you; you are most likely experiencing a misalignment somewhere with your thoughts/feelings/behaviors/relationship(s).. Like any form of anxiety, once you confront it head on versus trying to control it, you will actually find that it naturally dissipates. 

Sex may feel like a dark cloud hovering over your bed, but once you start understanding the elements that have contributed to it, you may find that it’s an opportunity to really bond with each other rather than be the perceived cause of disconnection. You may also uncover each other’s perception of sex altogether, which can be very helpful when identifying each other’s needs and overall differences that have been fueling the sexual anxiety.

Bottom line, “sex” changes as the relationship changes and it’s important to realize that sex in relationships may have underlying meanings to each person that aren’t easy to address. Best practice is to remember that if sex in your relationship is creating anxiety and frustration, there is a good chance that both partners aren’t feeling secure in their relationship and there is something you can do about it. 

Start working on your anxiety about sex

Like I said, communication is key to battling sex anxiety. Our sister company, Modern Love Box, offers date night boxes and digital subscriptions meant to prompt communication and fun in your relationship. Try a free month today!

Try the Modern Love Box

If you are struggling with sex in relationships and live in the Denver area, feel free to contact our experts at  Modern Love Counseling.

8 thoughts on “What to Do About Sex Anxiety in a Relationship

  1. Relationship anxiety describes someone’s anxiety towards romantic mates, family members, or indeed platonic connections (though it’s not a formal opinion). You may look for ways to keep the other person close by adhering to them, or you may push them down, doubtful if they feel the same way you do. Remedy and stress operation ways can be effective in reducing the situations of anxiety people witness about their connections

  2. How to Get Life Back in Your Relationship?

    Written By James Deppa

    What is the best way to get life back in your relationship?

    What is a way to keep something in common as your goes on through out the years?

    How do you end the roommate syndrome?

    The best way is to talk about your future together? It isn’t a one time discussion. It is a topic you should have at least once a year.

    Having the discussion once a year helps keep your vision with each other alive and well. It gives you a chance to adjust and grow.

    Planning your future together is a perfect way to stay in with a Honeymoon Mindset.


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  3. I honestly think if you are having anxiety before sex, you are with the wrong person. The energy that is being swapped isn’t feeding your soul. It’s taking away from it. I also think being in our heads too much prior to sex can contribute to anxiety before sex. There has to be some healing

  4. I enjoyed your article. Also I would like to give advice to the men as well that performance from a man is expected from most women. I suggest that men talk and discuss the do’s and don’t of what type of sex they enjoy and do not. Have the discussion with your female partner about not expecting too pressure from sex and having an anxiety about it. Please note that from a man’s perspective, many men suffer from sexual anxiety, in which they are very conscience about their sexual organs size and what a women would think of it when they see it. Relax and talk to your female partner about expectations of performance and that love overrides everything in the relationship.

  5. I could use advice about my current relationship. I love my boyfriend very much after being together for about a month. But, I’m scared about having sex with him since I’m a virgin. I’m scared if I wait too long then he will leave me. I understand communication is a key in maintaining a healthy relationship..but what do I do about my anxiety?…is it normal to feel this way about having sex for the first time? Please give me some advice from anyone who can help out a girl.. Please and thank you!

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