Getting Over Performance Anxiety: What Works and What Doesn't?
Performance anxiety is a problem many people struggle with, in which anxiety over the ability to sexually perform can lead to problems with erectile dysfunction. It can be caused by a few factors, primarily centered around self-perception, how your partner views you, and your sexual ability. (Learn More) Changing a negative self-perception can be hard, but it is rewarding in many ways. It can help to reduce performance anxiety. Learn to focus on the causes of your performance anxiety rather than your ability to perform. Support from a partner greatly help this process. (Learn More) Performance anxiety can be a reinforcing cycle. You worry about your performance, the anxiety gives you ED or other performance problems, and then your worries get reinforced. Breaking this cycle is important. View your performance anxiety and associated ED as normal, even as you focus on ways to overcome the problem. (Learn More) One way to work on performance anxiety is to masturbate in a mindful manner. Engaging in mindful masturbation for the purpose of overcoming performance anxiety warrants your own research, but the basic premise is that you can learn to think through your anxiety and better keep an erection. (Learn More) There are a variety of helpful tips to overcome performance anxiety, from exercise to guided imagery programs. If nothing seems to work, it is time to see a trained professional, such as a doctor or sex therapist. A professional can help you get to the root of your problem. They can also confirm there is no underlying medical cause contributing to any problems with sexual performance. Performance anxiety reduces quality of life and takes away your ability to engage in certain intimate ways. It is common, and it can be effectively addressed. (Learn More)
Sexual Performance Anxiety
Performance anxiety is anxiety over your ability to sexually perform. It is usually referring more specifically to anxiety that leads to erectile dysfunction (ED). In short, it is when you get so anxious that you cannot keep your penis erect enough to have sex. Performance anxiety is primarily caused by:
Feeling sexually inadequate.
Feeling unable to please your partner.
A negative perception of your own body.
A negative perception of your “manliness.” Some issues are generally specific to cisgender men, including this one.
Dealing with these issues can be complex and feel embarrassing at first. However, consistent ED caused by performance anxiety can impact your life enough that you should consider trying to make some changes. You can also see a doctor or specialist who will take these issues seriously.
Changing a Negative Self-Perception
Perhaps the biggest cause of performance anxiety is simply perceiving yourself negatively. As you get anxious about your partner’s perception of you, your own inadequacies, and whether you will be able to bring your partner or yourself to orgasm, that anxiety can cause you to go flaccid. This can then cause you to feel anxious about the entire experience, especially if you begin to worry about your partner’s perception of your ED on top of everything else. This often leads to the end of a given sexual encounter. It can be a stressful experience for both partners, and it leads to a cycle of anxiety that causes further issues (discussed below). Altering your negative self-perception can be difficult, but it will bring more benefits than just better sexual health. It will improve your overall quality of life. Stop comparing yourself to other people. The only people you need to worry about are you and your partner. If you have trouble overcoming your negative self-perception, being open and honest with your partner can help. It can also help to see a mental health professional.
Cycle of Anxiety
The unfortunate truth of performance anxiety is that it can feed into itself.
You worry about maintaining an erection and satisfying your partner.
You go flaccid and experience erectile dysfunction due to anxiety.
Your perception that you may be unable to maintain an erection is then reinforced since you now have one or more experiences where that was the case.
Certainly, the above noted issue of self-perception feeds into this, but the cycle of anxiety goes further. You must learn to see your sexual experience as a perfectly normal event. While you may work on preventing it in the future, it should not be seen as shameful or an inevitable outcome. Dwelling on erectile dysfunction caused by performance anxiety makes it much more likely to occur again. It is not a healthy mindset to be in. Viewing it as a normal event is recommended because it can help to prevent future issues, but this is also genuinely true. Many people deal with occasional ED. The goal is to identify the stressors that may have led to it and to learn how to achieve a better outcome next time. Focus on the cause of your performance anxiety rather than the ED. This can help you feel like you do not need to perform well in every sexual encounter. If you alleviate that pressure, it can help to break the cycle of anxiety.
There are mindful ways to masturbate that may help some men learn not to dwell on performance anxiety. This process can be slightly complicated and may require you to do some research. Mindful masturbation mostly relies on you developing a healthy mental view of sexual experiences and divorcing erectile dysfunction from a feeling of shame or failure. This type of masturbation can be a sort of practice for controlling your anxieties when engaging in other sex acts. For sex and other intimate acts, performance anxiety can be controlled by first having an honest and healthy conversation with a partner about your needs and how to control your anxiety. This can help both you and your partner get less nervous or otherwise thrown off if you experience ED. An open dialogue can help to reduce nervousness and the frequency of your performance anxiety.
Guided imagery is a type of self-help material designed as a simple but powerful relaxation technique. These materials (generally sold in some audio form, such as a CD or download) are meant to unconsciously guide you away from negative feelings about sex, essentially rewiring your brain. While guided imagery itself is helpful, research whatever you are considering to make sure it is well-reputed and effective. Guided imagery is evidence-based. It will have you envisioning sexual imagery, helping you learn to get erect and maintain your erection. If you are able to maintain an erection with guided imagery, you may become more likely to maintain it with a partner. Lifestyle changes can help with erectile dysfunction. Diet and exercise can increase fitness, boost your sexual endurance, and improve blood flow. Additionally, eliminating unhealthy habits like smoking and reducing stress can lessen ED symptoms. Some self-help techniques will solve many men’s performance problems, but sometimes, it’s necessary to see a doctor. A professional can provide valuable insights into the best way to deal with your problems. A medical condition, on its own or in conjunction with psychological factors, could be contributing to your ED, and it’s important for a physician to assess this possibility.
Unhelpful Myths and Misconceptions
There are some toxic myths and misconceptions about performance anxiety and ED that are often perpetuated online.
Myth: Only men deal with performance anxiety and ED.
Many transgender people who do not identify as men deal with ED.
Myth: Performance anxiety means you are weak or deserve to be shamed.
Performance anxiety is a problem many people deal with. Just as no one would blame someone for having depression or the flu, people should not be blamed or shamed for having performance anxiety.
Myth: ED is always just in a person’s head.
While psychological problems and anxieties can certainly cause ED, there are other legitimate medical causes for the issue. For example, many conditions that affect the heart and blood flow can trigger ED.
Myth: You will always suffer from performance anxiety once you have it.
Performance anxiety is almost always a problem that can be solved with time, effort, and help from medical professionals. It is rarely a permanent condition.
Overcoming Sexual Performance Anxiety. (January 10, 2018). MedicalNewsToday.
Erectile Dysfunction and Performance Anxiety – Two Powerful Treatments. (February 13, 2019). BBH Internet Marketing.
Male Sexual Performance Anxiety. National Social Anxiety Center.
Negative Self-Perception and Shame. July 2008. Psychology Today.
Erectile Dysfunction. Mayo Clinic.
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