Sexual Anxiety

It is not possible to be extremely anxious and sexually aroused at the same time. This is a simple truth about the way the body and mind work together. Unfortunately, many people, predominantly men, do not understand this.

Sexual anxiety is often part of social anxiety (see the article on ‘social phobias’ on this site) where people may feel that they are inferior to others in some important way or where they are too concerned about other people’s reactions to them. When self-confidence is low we are primed to accept negative beliefs about ourselves on the flimsiest of evidence. With about 40% of the population having social difficulties at one level or another, it can be seen that this is, potentially, a major community problem.

The human mind has a tendency to look for reasons for everything and then to seek out exclusions even to the ‘truth’ we then decide upon. That is, even as we decide on something we are looking around for reasons why this decision is wrong. As a small, soft bodied species, this would have been a useful survival trait for our distant ancestors: not being very concerned about change or something new and being unwilling to fully explore its potential problems, could have proved fatal in a dangerous environment.

The difficulty is, in the world today, we still cling to these traits even when they are not useful. When self-doubt is linked in, this means that the person concerned searches for reasons within themselves for any perceived problems. For example, the anxious and self-doubting man does not see a lack of sexual interest in someone whom friends find attractive as an example of personal taste, but rather as a sign that there is something wrong with him. If he then tries to generate such an interest in order to be ‘normal’ and fails, he is then likely to seek reasons within himself for this. And these reasons are unlikely to be rational ones; rather they will tend to be of a kind that is more ready to accept personal worthlessness as the cause than anything else.

With men coming to Anxiety Care, this often leads to doubts about sexual orientation. The anxious man begins to wonder if he is attracted to other men. This almost inevitably leads to excessive concern when he detects any positive feeling within himself for another man. Unaware that everyone has a sliding scale of interest in others, he will police his thoughts and emotions. Again, inevitably, this will mean that he will have thoughts about sex when he comes in contact with any man he doesn’t find totally repellent, because he has linked attractive men, fear and sex in his mind. This is another trait all humans have. When something is flagged up in our heads as very important, that link always occurs. So ‘see a good-looking man, think of sex’ becomes a chronic response to this sexually worried man and plunges him deeper and deeper into self-doubt.

Another area of sexual doubt is when the person concerned becomes worried about ‘performance’. Again, this is almost invariably a male concern as women don’t tend to worry much about this area of sexuality. When they do, it is often because the male partner has brought this into the bedroom. As said earlier, maintaining physiological excitement, an erection, is virtually impossible when the man is very anxious; so it becomes a vicious circle: for one reason or another, the man has become concerned about his sexuality and/or performance, so when intercourse seems likely he becomes worried about his ability to ‘do it’. This is very likely to result in loss of erection and a subsequent huge increase in anxiety, ready for next time, and the time after that.

When the anxious man manages to maintain sexual performance, another difficult area is ‘spectatoring’. This means the man is watching himself perform, monitoring his success with little or no concern for his partner. Not only does this tend to mean that the partner’s needs are not being met as the man is not in touch with her ongoing changes during intercourse, it also takes away from the natural intercourse cycle where the sexual attractiveness of the partner plays a major part in eventual sexual release. It might also mean that the man’s involvement in the sexual act is all about orgasm rather than the intimate celebration of a relationship.

This can lead to the situation sometimes seen within the Anxiety Care groups, where a man with an anxiety disorder involving his self-worth has a personal total in his head of the number of orgasms he requires each week to be ‘a real man’. This will have virtually nothing to do with a loving relationship – the partner’s needs just don’t come into this apart from a willingness to be sexually available. A man with this attitude may also be prepared to give up medication that is helping with the anxiety disorder if it’s side-effects interfere with his perceived sexual requirements.

Any sexual difficulties that mean that the man is involved simply with his own needs will, by definition, result in the act of intercourse not being as pleasant as it might be for either party. If the man is unable to see beyond filling his needs – reaching the ‘real man’ goal in his head – he might find it extremely difficult to work out why this is true, why his sex life is so unfulfilling. This, for the man with self-worth problems will, again, set him to looking inside himself for probable causes. These are very unlikely to involve the real causes: his self-absorption.

A final sexual difficulty can arise when a man clings to the erroneous belief that men are always ready, willing and able to perform sexually. This simply isn’t true. All sorts of things may get in the way: tiredness, illness, anxiety as already discussed, or just not being in the mood. If self-worth is too closely linked to sexual interest, then the person concerned may view sexual arousal as a means of checking on normality: a desire for intercourse means everything is all right. Disinterest in intercourse means that this person is abnormal. 

As with every area of anxiety, it is vital to question ‘truths’. That is, catching oneself in the thought, ‘I don’t fancy her, that means I’m gay!’ The response then must be: Why does it? What proof do I have of that? What other reasons could there be? We all have areas of ‘truth’ in our lives, absolutes we no longer question, but it is an unfortunate fact that we often integrate things into this area that are far from true. If a ‘truth’ is giving us pain, then it is time to take it out and look at it. The odds are it will then prove to be a piece of nonsense that we have swallowed whole, given to us by some person or some group that we respect. We seem to be genetically programmed to accept without question a great deal of what we are told as children and aspects of that may well linger on throughout life, attached to little chemical punishments, like anxiety or fear, if we allow doubt in. But we still have to make the effort to doubt. Questioning a ‘truth’ does not mean disrespect to the person or group that fed it to us, it is instead a requirement of anyone who wants to grow and develop emotionally. It is hard work but it is essential activity for the person who truly wishes to be free of anxiety disorder.