Here's what a sex therapist wants you to know about sexual anxiety

It's time to get help

Sexual anxiety: woman in bedroom looking stressed
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Feeling anxious about sex is normal, but you don't have to live with it forever.

Just started dating someone new? Then most of us can relate to feeling nervous about taking things to the next level. But what happens if you have been married for years and you suddenly start to feel sexual anxiety? Turns out, these feelings can develop at any time. And, you can't simply get over it by spicing things up with one of the best vibrators or acting out a sexual fantasy with your partner. Expert advice is key. But, the good news is we've asked a sexuality educator for their best tips on how get a handle on sexual anxiety.

"Anxiety associated with sex or sexual activity can be experienced by people of all ages in all sorts of relationships," says experienced therapist Dr Katherine Hertlein, expert advisor at Blueheart. "Whenever it happens and whoever it happens with, it's often rooted in fear or discomfort of a sexual encounter."

Here's everything you need to know:

How to tell if you have sexual anxiety

Not sure if you have developed anxiety around sex, or just have "normal" nerves about a sexual relationship? Knowing the signs to look out for can really help.

"Feeling anxious about sex can manifest in different ways," says Dr Hertlein. "This is mainly through symptoms of sexual dysfunction. For example, those who suffer from sexual anxiety can report an inability to hold an erection (for men). Or, both men and women might have the inability to climax. And this may still be the case if you find your partner sexually appealing. Sometimes it can also cause premature ejaculation or a disinterest in sex. "

What causes sexual anxiety?

The causes of anxiety around sex differ. "It can be related to your state of mind and the fear of being unable to please your partner when it comes to being intimate," says Dr Hertlein. She explains, that this might stem from:

  • Body image issues. Especially if you’re self-conscious about the way you look.
  • Low sexual confidence.This is a feeling of inadequacy when it comes to ‘performing’ in bed. It can sometimes be caused by a previous negative experience.
  • Increased amounts of stress.Stress in your daily life, from work, relationships, or general life, can cause you sexual anxiety.
  • Loss of sexual desire.Loss of libido might be because of stress or even a side-effect of medication.

Plus, there are other reasons why you may be experiencing sexual anxiety. "Sexual problems can also be the result of an underlying medical condition," says Dr Hertlein. "It could berelationship factors, power struggles, fears, mood disorders and other mental health issues. Or even cultural or religious factors."

Going slow can help you deal with sexual anxiety

Keen to make your sexual anxiety a thing of the past? Patience is key. "Try to move away from making sex a goal-oriented experience," says Dr Hertlein. "It’s about taking your time, enjoying each other and finding intimacy and connection. Not only will this take the pressure off of yourself and your partner, but it’s also a chance to learn what you find sensual. Think of it as a blank slate. This is a chance to explore what you enjoy without the time pressure or end goal."

Try to improve your lifestyle

Constantly rushing about during the day? It won't be helping things at night."Our life events can sometimes cause us to feel stressed or anxious, leaving our minds running even when we’re trying to relax," says Dr Hertlein. "You might experience stress or anxiety because of something that happened at work, an argument with your family, or perhaps something else. Unfortunately, we cannot always take the stress out of our lives, but you can make lifestyle changes to help with how you deal with them."

Luckily, the best ways are the easiest to implement. "Some of my best advice is to make sure you’re getting the advised seven to eight hours sleep every night," says Dr Hertlein. "And make sure you are having a healthy balanced diet, and regular exercise even if it’s just an hour of walking per day. These lifestyle changes sound simple, but they enable us to put our best selves forward to deal with whatever life throws at us."

There are techniques to help reduce sexual anxiety

Feelings of panic rising? "The goal here is to move away from focusing on the anxiety around our body and sex," says Dr Hertlein. "General anxiety reducing strategies include mindfulness, breathing, and getting grounded. There are many resources, books, and apps that can help you to become more grounded and less anxious." But make sure you stick with them. "It helps if you do them for a period of time," adds Dr Hertlein.

Talk to your partner

Hiding the fact that you're feeling anxious around sex? The best thing to do is speak up, however embarrassed you feel. "Anxiety in your relationship is likely not a comfortable thing," says Dr Hertlein. "But, it may be helpful to talk to your partner about your anxieties, especially if your initial reaction is to avoid sex. This will help them understand what you’re experiencing so you can work through it together. The more clarity and communication you have around the topic, the easier it will be for you to both work through it."

Don't shy away from professional help

"Finally, if you still experience some issue with your body or sex, it’s important to talk with your GP," says Dr Hertlein. "It might be the result of an underlying health condition or a result of any medication you’re taking."

And don't be scared about talking to a sex therapist. "Seek out help," says Dr Hertlein. "Therapy for anxiety-reduction or a therapist who specialises in sexual health and couples therapy can be a life-changing method of support. Don’t suffer in silence."