Performance anxiety: what it is and how to deal with it
Raise your hand if you have NEVER felt excessive concern before a sports competition, a school exam, a job interview or a performance in front of an audience.
Well yes ... performance anxiety, as well as in school, sports and work, can also commonly occur in the relational context, before or during sexual intercourse.
Having to perform often takes on a strong meaning.
We create expectations and we want to achieve "success" at all costs.
A sort of "exam to pass with flying colors" ... but is this really the case, or are we asking too much of ourselves?
Why does this happen? What are the main causes?
In the sexual sphere, this phenomenon affects men and women who attach a very strong importance to performance.
Am I giving pleasure?
Will I be hitting the right spots?
Will I be up to the situation and the person I'm with?
It is anticipatory anxiety because it precedes sexual intercourse.
Thoughts pass from a mental state to a somatic (physical) state, preventing a peaceful relationship. In this case it is a question of a dysfunctional activation, an excessive reaction, which produces negative responses on the body risking to turn into real situations of discomfort.
It usually happens for different reasons and in particular moments that we can summarize as follows:
1. When you are too young or lacking experience, where the goal is to demonstrate virility and skill
2. When approaching a new partner whose judgment we fear and we are not sure we like it if we want to make a good impression of us through the performance
3. When you have a very competitive personality and having sexual intercourse is equivalent to a "race" or a goal that can only be reached with excellent performance
4. When you have a insecure personality and the partner is identified as a "dominant" figure (perception of the "virago" woman in the relationship)
5. When we come from a very strict sexual education, families in which it is forbidden to talk about it, taboos deriving from a closed or very religious surrounding environment that triggers feelings of guilt towards the extramarital or premarital act
6. When we do a excessive use of pornography without considering the amplified cinematic aspect, often very different from reality
7. When we give too much importance to existential aspects (it is. penis size) often caused by bad information
8. When we do a unregulated life, we sleep little, abuse coffee, alcohol or use drugs
9. When, with theadvancing in age, we do not take into consideration the different way in which our body reacts to stimuli, the change in the stable couple that "settles down" to everyday life, the presence of children who absorb energy, space and time, society and work that demand maximum affirmation or in any case make the most of it. It seems that 40-year-olds are, for these reasons, the most subject to performance anxiety.
What happens? What does it feel like?
Remember that mind and body they talk to each other!
Going from a game situation to a dangerous situation is a matter of seconds.
Anxiety, in fact, sends real signals to our brain, which has the task of facing it (exactly as happens for dangerous situations in which fear is unleashed).
What happens in man? The brain releases substances, hormones and neurotransmitters such as adrenaline, capable of obstructing the flow of the corpora cavernosa, causing vasoconstriction and preventing the maintenance of an erection.
The feelings that accompany performance anxiety include a sense of shame with the partner, demoralization and discomfort, a sense of inadequacy and inability, sometimes anger and frustration.
What are the risks if the situation is not addressed?
The number one danger is the "vicious circle" in which anxiety recurs more and more frequently, until it becomes chronic in an involuntary mechanism that causes a radical change in sexual and couple life.
Whenever an episode related to performance anxiety occurs, it reconfirms to the brain that "maybe something is not working as it should or as I would like" by continuing to give negative signals in any similar situation ... then being remembered and transformed into fear!
Fear of this happening again.
Fear of losing control.
Fear of not being up to the situation anymore.
Remember what happens when anxiety turns to fear?
The brain asks the body to flee and subsequently to avoid the same situations.
The life of a couple risks putting oneself in danger, avoiding facing the situation, setting aside requests, looking for each other, looking for plausible excuses, from the classic headache and fatigue, to believing that you do not have the necessary time for the couple.
And remember that avoidance leads to a decrease in desire over time!
Dos and Don'ts!
1. Avoid trying to keep control of the situation at any cost, the more you seek control the more you lose focus on the rest
2. Avoid listening to every slightest change in your body during intercourse, risking losing sight of the person you are with and their pleasure
3. Avoid listening to any slightest change in the other's body during intercourse, risking losing sight of yourself and your pleasure
4. It is essential to find that balance as a couple that allows you to dedicate yourself both to yourself and to the other, with words, thoughts and distractions. The balance between my pleasure and yours!
5. Avoid asking for help from inappropriate sites in the belief that "if they talk about sex then they can help me"
6. Avoid listening to the "bar chat" of your friends or colleagues, we often tend to show off our skills to be accepted by the peer group rather than dealing with difficult moments. Instead, try to open up to someone who is trustworthy and sincere, ready to listen to you and not judge you.
7. Avoid self-diagnosis and with do-it-yourself treatments, apparently useful drugs and pills, they can be dangerous if not accompanied by detailed visits. Don't you think it's better to go back to the cause than to find a temporary solution?
8. Do not run away from situations, even when you are fully convinced of the certainty of a failure ... the certainty does not exist ... rely on the possibility of living it differently from the previous time!
9. Avoid spending too much time: time does not always "heal wounds" !!!
10. If you can, expose yourself! Talk to the person involved in your intimacy and find a way to communicate the tension! It helps relieve the tension itself and also makes the relationship more open and ready for any eventuality. Talking to your partner doesn't make you less manly!
Last but not least ... ask for help from psycho-sexologists who can evaluate your anxiety from both a physical and psychological point of view. It is important, right away, to evaluate and exclude any dysfunctions (erectile dysfunction, dyspareunia, problems related to libido and desire, vaginismus, etc.) perhaps involving other professionals (andrologist, urologist).
So why a psycho-sexologist?
Because in most cases it is only anxiety, and the problem can be solved with psychological tools, a good sex education, knowledge of the mechanisms and how we work, without necessarily a pharmacological support.
If, reading this article, you feel the need to ask questions or investigate a situation, you can contact me by e-mail at this address: email@example.com
Maura Montagnini, born in 1979, is a psychosexologist working in the Brescia area.
Graduated in Psychology in 2004 with a thesis entitled "The boundaries of the body image" and with a Master in Psychosexology in 2020 with a thesis entitled "Voyeurism: a journey through history, theories and representations".
She deals with well-being in couples and with investigating how sexuality is often a mirror of impulses and desires coming from life outside the sheets.