Sexual-performance anxieties affect all of us—at least, at some point in time. (And if you try to tell me that’s not true for you, you’re either lying or transcendent.)
Interestingly, some research has shown that sexual-performance anxieties are largely the same for cisgender women and cisgender men. A 2016 Superdrug Online Doctor survey of 2,000 American and European adults found that the most common sexual stressors for cisgender men and women alike were STIs, body image, achieving orgasm and unintended pregnancy.
Dr. Keisha Downey, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, corroborates these findings, telling SheKnows that common sexual-performance anxieties for vagina owners include those listed in the Superdrug Online Doctor survey—plus one more big one: Many people worry if they’ll perform well enough to maintain a healthy sex life with their partner.
Here, four of the most common sexual-performance anxieties—and expert advice for overcoming them.
The Superdrug study found that contracting an STI was a chief concern among cis women. Whether you have an STI or you’re worried about picking one up, the best thing you can do is open up a conversation with your partner(s). Getting on the same page about when the last time you and your partner were tested for STIs is a great first step (people with multiple partners should aim to get screened for STIs every three to six months, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
Remember, 80 percent of sexually active adults will have HPV at some point in their lives, so contracting an STI is nothing to feel ashamed of. (There are even some dating apps, likePositiveSingles, that welcome and connect STI-positive singles.) That said, it is something you should make your care provider and your partner(s) aware of so you can properly treat it and prevent it from spreading further.
Being naked makes some people feel vulnerable. And considering our society has such a fraught relationship with body image, it’s not hard to imagine why. But these concerns can trickle into your sex life—leaving you feeling less fulfilled than you deserve to.
In 2016, researchers at the University of Guelph in Canada surveyed 88 women and found that cisgender women who felt negatively about their bodies often reported lower sexual desire, lower sexual arousal and more difficulty achieving orgasm.
Remember that your body is wonderful exactly as it is. No vagina is better or worse than another, and no penis is, either. If you feel comfortable doing so, open up to your partner(s) about your insecurities and work through them together.
If body positivity seems too challenging for you right now, aim for body neutrality (feeling neutral about your body, rather than positive or negative about it); many body image struggles are deep-seated, so be sure to cut yourself some slack if you don’t feel 100 percent body-positive 100 percent of the time.
Eighty percent of the 71 heterosexual women surveyed in a 2011 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior reported faking an orgasm during intercourse at least half of the time. (That’s, um, staggering—though that was a pretty small sample size.)
“Folks with vulvas are often overwhelmed by contradictory messages that are shaming, blaming and often just biologically inaccurate,” Shadeen Francis, MFT, a marriage and family therapist specializing in sex therapy and social justice, tells SheKnows. “As a result, a lot of people have performance anxiety around things like whether or not they will have an orgasm, what their partner(s) will think of their body or the smell of their vulva and whether or not their drive or desires are normal.”
Performance anxiety impacts a lot of people, not just the person experiencing it firsthand, but anyone they might be interested in having sex with, Francis explains. Which is why talking through any insecurities or concerns you have with your partner(s) before, after and even during sex is a good idea. Be vocal about what you like and don’t like so your partner can better meet your needs—giving you a better chance of having an orgasm.
Unintended pregnancy or condoms
For both cis males and cis women, pregnancy is a major concern, according to the Superdrug survey.
If this is something you feel worried about, be sure to use birth control every time. A condom is a good first line of defense, but doubling it up by taking birth control or getting an IUD can further decrease the risk of unintended pregnancy.
And as always, be sure to be honest with your partner about your birth control situation so you can establish an understanding before having sex.
When to get professional help
If you find yourself worried about any of these specific issues—or just experiencing anxiety in general—it might be a good idea to make an appointment with a sex therapist or educator, Francis says. These experts are specifically trained to help people overcome their sexual concerns, both by themselves and with a partner.
Sex isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. Everybody and everyone is different. Addressing any issues you come across by yourself, with a partner and with the help of licensed professional can help you overcome these obstacles and have the happy, healthy and fulfilling sex life you want.
Originally posted on SheKnows.