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with Nagma V. Clark, Ph.D., LPCC

How Anxiety Dampens Sexual Pleasure

Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life and even expected or beneficial at certain times.

It’s normal, for example, to feel anxious before a big test or a job interview, and some level of anxiety is needed to ensure that you are well-prepared.

However, chronic or generalized anxiety is problematic because it keeps your body in the fight-or-flight mode, increasing the overall levels of stress. High levels of stress and persistent anxiety greatly reduce our ability to enjoy sex.

An anxiety-ridden mind is in a constant state of heightened awareness, hyper-vigilant, and always scanning for the next threat. When you are dealing with feelings of fear, apprehension, impending doom, and dread on a continuous basis, you are unable to feel sexual pleasure.

Anxiety is one of the major psychological factors underlying most sexual issues.

Its effects are not limited to men struggling with performance issues. In fact, anxiety impacts all aspects of human sexual functioning. If you think anxiety might be at the root of your sexual concern, read on to see how it could be impacting you.

1. Anxiety kills libido

Talk about anxiety being a buzzkill! It truly is. People who struggle with generalized anxiety disorder often report a decline in sexual desire. The reason is that their body and nervous system are stuck in survival mode, preparing for the next threat even though there is no need to be in such a heightened state of emotional arousal. All of the energy is being devoted to keeping oneself safe from whatever is around the corner. Since sex is not needed for survival, libido takes a back seat.

2. Anxiety inhibits arousal

The ability to get aroused – erections in men and lubrication in women – is severely inhibited if anxiety is present. The overproduction of the stress hormone adrenaline gives you the feeling of being on edge all the time. The overly anxious, panic-like state is not conducive to recognizing the presence of sexual sensations and responding to them; resulting in low or absent arousal.

Anxiety plays a central role in performance anxiety and erectile dysfunction. Men who struggle with generalized anxiety are prone to problems with erections. Overly focusing on penetration as the main goal of sex, thinking about past unsuccessful attempts at penetration, and the feeling of being in a performer’s role as opposed to giving and receiving sexual pleasure, are all factors that exacerbate performance anxiety.

3. Anxiety overrides pleasure

You can’t be anxious and feel pleasure at the same time. The two feelings don’t mesh, and anxiety almost always overrides pleasure. This means that if you are feeling anxious during a sexual experience, you won’t be able to stay in the moment and actually experience the pleasure sensations. Anxiety does not let you get out of your mind and into your body – something that you need to do to feel pleasure. If you are trying to keep a panic attack at bay, you won’t be able to feel relaxed enough to take in the sensual feelings of touching or kissing.

4. Anxiety obstructs orgasm

The peak of sustained pleasure is orgasm. Anxiety not only interferes with letting you feel pleasure, but it also disrupts your orgasmic threshold, which is the level of stimulation needed to reach orgasm. Men who struggle with delayed ejaculation, and women who are unable to have regular orgasms, often have a higher orgasmic threshold.

Being able to let go of control is also needed for reaching orgasm. Anxiety only makes you hold on to the feeling of being in control even more because it feels like an antidote to a state of panic. When you are not able to releasecontrol, it makes your sexual scripts rigid. What I mean by that is being limited in how and when you can orgasm. Rigidity, as opposed to flexibility, contributes to sexual boredom and monotony.

If anxiety is keeping you or your partner from experiencing true sexual satisfaction, it might be a good idea to seek help from a trained sex therapist.

Sex therapy can help you recognize how anxiety is impacting your sexual functioning, how to make new connections between your mind and body related to pleasure, and ways in which you can eliminate anxious thoughts from interfering with your sexual pleasure.

How Anxiety Dampens Sexual Pleasure

Dr. Nagma V. Clark, Ph.D., L.P.C.C.

Nagma V. Clark, Ph.D., L.P.C.C. is a sex & relationship expert, founder of Tri-Valley Relationship Therapy, Inc. - a thriving sex therapy & couples counseling practice in the Bay Area, CA. Dr. Clark is an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist & PACT Level I Certified Couples Therapist. She specializes in working with couples & individuals struggling with low or mismatched libido, weak or absent orgasms, performance anxiety, erectile dysfunction, sexual pain, sexuality & aging, general sexual dissatisfaction etc. She also works with people interested in exploring sexual orientation, gender identity, kink, BDSM, polyamory, and atypical sexual behaviors. She has been in the field of sexuality since 2006, including 4 years of clinical experience in the area of forensic sexuality, treating sexual paraphilias. She is a licensed professional clinical counselor (L.P.C.C.) with license to practice psychotherapy in the states of CA, PA & LA. She holds a doctorate in human sexuality with specialization in sex therapy from Widener University, PA. Since 2002, her clinical experience has spanned individuals, couples & families from diverse cultural, ethnic & racial backgrounds in the United States as well as abroad. As a bi-cultural, multilingual woman of color, she possesses an expansive & versatile view of the world which she brings into her work and her writing. For more information or to reach Dr. Clark, please visit Tri-Valley Relationship Therapy, Inc.


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APA Reference
, . (2018). How Anxiety Dampens Sexual Pleasure. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 12, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex-talk/2018/09/how-anxiety-dampens-sexual-pleasure/

 

Last updated: 22 Sep 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 22 Sep 2018
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.