Performance Anxiety
By Amy Otis, RN

The fear of sexual performance, or more accurately the fear of not performing sexually, can affect sexuality in a variety of ways. Though erectile dysfunction and other sexual hindrances can have biological causes, for many the problem is psychological. Performance anxiety can be a serious obstacle to a fulfilling sexual relationship, but it can also be overcome.

Performance anxiety is a common sexual problem in which anxiety about engaging in sexual activity becomes an overriding block to the spontaneous flow of sexual feelings and thoughts.

Performance anxiety can result in avoidance of sexual encounters, lowered self-esteem, relationship problems and sexual dysfunction. Typically, an awareness of performance anxiety produces so much preoccupation with the anxiety itself that the person becomes less fully involved in the sexual interaction, bringing about the very failure that is feared.

In one common scenario, as the anxious partner worries about how to be sexually responsive and spontaneous; he or she focuses on each detail of the lovemaking. One partner may focus on how rapidly the other partner is breathing, whether a shift in position is required, or how much lubrication or erection is present. The sexual interaction is dissected so deliberately that enjoyment is virtually impossible.

Anticipation of the next sexual encounter arouses the same anxiety coupled with the memory of the previous failure and often leads to avoidance of sexual activity altogether, or at least to minimizing the amount of sexual interaction that occurs. This may result in one member of a couple mistakenly interpreting the situation as a form of rejection. The underlying avoidance, however, is usually not to reject one's partner, but to save face in a way that helps the person feel more in control and less guilty about being inadequate.

Fears of sexual performance are likely to put a damper on sexual arousal and cause loss of erection. Eventually the fears may become so pervasive that they will become a self-fulfilling prophecy and the man will experience an actual inability to get or keep an erection. Over the long run, performance fears may lead to an avoidance of sex, loss of self-esteem.

Going to a certified sex psychologist, or psychologist or psychiatrist who has had experience in this particular area is often a good idea. Always make sure that they're well-referred and that they're people who are qualified, because you can go to someone who really isn't that well-educated or trained in the area and they can give you some misinformation that actually might be harmful. Also, take some time to learn stress skills and relax about sex.

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Amy Otis is a registered nurse, a writer and an educator. Amy is the founder of Coo lNurse a popular teen health website. Now she works on Sex Ed 101. For honest sexual health, stop by again at Sex Ed 101.

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