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Anxiety and Sexual Dysfunction: The Imperfect Pair

For those who are dealing with sexual dysfunction, anxiety is often not far behind. Comparison, control, and social fears can all complicate sexual relationships. Whether it's a lack of self-esteem, insecurity about sexual ability, or fear of an undesired identity, anxiety plays a role.
06/01/2016 03:04pm ET | Updated June 2, 2017
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For those who are dealing with sexual dysfunction, anxiety is often not far behind. Comparison, control, and social fears can all complicate sexual relationships. Whether it's a lack of self-esteem, insecurity about sexual ability, or fear of an undesired identity, anxiety plays a role.

When clients come into my office for help with a sexual problem, there is often a sense of urgency to "fix" the problem. These clients want to get the issue taken care of immediately. But there is another significant issue as well. Many people who are dealing with these issues also want minimal self-exposure in therapy. They struggle to share their stories with someone else.

Anxiety in sharing your story can be a microcosm of a larger issue with anxiety. Some of the most common issues that people need sexual help with include erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, a lack of sexual desire, and pain with sex. If you're someone who is dealing with any one of these problems, it's likely that anxiety might be part of your problem. Your body has a story to share about your life, just as much as your words do. When you have unrecognized fear, disconnection and tension make your body protect itself, rather than open up.

There are physiological responses to this too. Blood pressure, heart rate, breathing changes can impact your body's sexual ability or desire.

It's not as easy as it sounds to know that anxiety is a problem with sex

There are many strategies that you can use to decrease sexual dysfunction symptoms or increase sexual desire. Some of these sex therapy strategies can be quick solutions to the problems that you might have. However, if you have an unaddressed anxiety problem, the symptoms are more likely to return.

Falling into a viscous loop is common with sexual problems. When you experience sexual dysfunction, anxiety can turn a one-time incident into a more serious, long-term problem. The next time you have sex, anxiety can make you question yourself in ways that you hadn't before. Your body then can respond accordingly. This can lead to the problem happening again. You can start to over think about things, which can further increase the anxiety and a desire for control.

Anxiety that Energizes vs. Anxiety that Destroys

Some anxiety can make sex exciting. This energy can create passionate sex that you'll always want other encounters to live up to. Such exciting sex is something that many relationships strive to discover or maintain through their lives. With this kind of sex, you uncover a mystery about a person.

Immobilizing anxiety is different than the kind that is energizing. When stress begins to transform into fear, you're taken into a different threshold. Your mindset and your body respond to get back to safety, which leads to disconnection.

Giving up control to get over self-consciousness

The best cure to rediscovering sexual safety is by practicing giving up control of the perception of others. This takes a lot of practice, and there are times where it won't work out well. However, the more that you let people in, the more that you will trust that you're worthy of being accepted. The more that you trust this, the more that your body will follow along.

It's not that you should give your anxiety up, it's that you should build evidence to support that it doesn't need to be so high.

If you're reading this, and you're someone who is emotionally rather flat in your expression, explore anxiety as a symptom. Many people who don't express a lot of emotion will describe themselves as "laid back" or "easy going." Yet, they're puzzled when they have a problem sexually connecting with their partners. This is another example of trying to hold too much control over the perception that others have of you. This is based in an anxiety.

Practice doesn't make perfect

Giving up such anxiety isn't something that you'll ever perfect. You don't need to perfect it. Instead, you need to practice being aware of it, and walking through it. In time, the rest will likely take care of itself. So if your sexual problems don't go away quickly, trust that they'll diminish over time.