Are You Too Anxious To Orgasm? Here'S How To Deal
There's a tongue on your clitoris. It knows its way around your vulva like David Attenborough knows his chimpanzees, and nerve endings are firing. So why haven’t you come yet? You haven’t been counting the minutes, but if your partner was working their way through the alphabet, you suspect they’d be reaching Q by now – M, at the very least. You cast your eyes downwards, a reassuring glance that says, “I’ll come soon, I swear.” But surfing a wave of pleasure isn’t easy when you’re wondering when your last wax was, how badly their jaw must be aching and what the view is like down there. It’s female performance anxiety (FPA), and it’s a sure thing to keep you from coming...
“It’s anxiety about coming or not being able to come,” confirms sexologist Dr Gloria Brame.
The anxiety trigger could be that you’re fretting about taking too long to climax, whether you’re doing sex ‘right’, or a lingering issue with your partner. Throw into the mix decades of internalised misogyny that’s left you convinced your bits are best left covered up, and it’s no wonder you’re freaking out about the proximity of someone else’s face to your clitoris.
“The weight of those myths dissociates women from the pleasure they are having,” adds Brame. What’s responsible for your pleasure fading is that old killjoy cortisol. Released when you feel anxious, cortisol suppresses the feel good brain chemicals normally activated during arousal. And even if you go through the right motions, so to speak, a mind in fight-or-flight mode stops registering erotic sensations in the body.
“Orgasmic anxiety makes you unable to stay focused on pleasure because you’re constantly distracted by random thoughts,” adds Brame. Anxiety is then cemented when your default reaction to an AWOL orgasm is to point the finger back at yourself.
Performance anxiety doesn't just happen to men
The first simple step to overcoming performance anxiety is to quit thinking it’s only valid when it happens to men. Sex educator Chris Rose believes it’s a common gender bias.
“Because there isn’t an overt erection for women, you can’t see that the arousal system isn’t working,” she explains. “But know that it makes total sense that your emotions inhibit arousal.”
Anxiety’s effect on your sex drive is particularly common with a new partner.
“So many questions go through your head: ‘do they find me attractive?’ ‘Is this the kind of sex they want?’”
If you find yourself in a threesome with you, your partner and anxiety, actively turn your attention to inhaling and exhaling, deeply and slowly. This diffuses tension and refocuses your mind on sensations over thoughts. Rose also recommends activating slo-mo mode on shenanigans.
“It’s common to feel like you have bases to tick off, but staying in ‘make-out mode’ (that’s reaching orgasm or a high state of arousal without intercourse) and noticing what your body does when you slow down can be helpful.”
Relaxation is the emotional state that keeps you in the moment.
“Sexual excitement and sexual nervousness are similar,” adds Rose. “The difference is that when you’re excited, you’re also a little bit relaxed, [but] when you are afraid, you tense up around that excitement, your breathing constricts and you start projecting into the future.”
Oh! Interestingly, you can use your surroundings to get your climax clairvoyant back on side. A whiff of valerian root oil can lower frantic activity by boosting your levels of a zen-promoting neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid. Or upgrade on your Ikea tea lights and burn a lavender scented massage candle. They melt at a lower temperature and turn into oil – meaning they relax you via their scent and when brushed on your body as an ahh-that-feels good massage balm.
If your mind still won’t STFU, identify which orgasm-impeding anxieties you can deal with. The fear of getting an STI or an unwanted pregnancy, for example, can be addressed by finding contraceptive methods that work for you. Similarly, if it’s a technique that’s missing the spot(s), expand bedroom dialogue beyond their sheepish, “Er, did you come?”. Keep communication flowing like a fine sauvignon. Gentle directives like “keep going” and “right there” can go a long way. Even the anxious script in your head can be reworded. Instead of thinking (“it’s been ages, I bet they’re getting bored”) remind yourself that (“this feels good, I know they like doing it”).
Accept that there are some in-bed emotions that you have to make peace with, including body image. Hating on your naked parts can be powerful enough to screw with your arousal to the point where you avoid sex altogether, found a study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine.
“I call it making friends with the anxieties,” says Rose. It’s noticing an anxiety is there, but then setting it aside rather than blasting it on repeat like an advert jingle. “This calms the emotion, so you can still be present to the physical experience,” says Rose. In short, there is a way back from “Nothing to see here,” to, “Oh, hang on. Ohhhh…” Now, let’s get back to that tongue.
Tips for reducing anxiety during sex
1. Drop a Sense
Forget the lights-off stigma and purposefully have sex in the dark or wearing a blindfold. “When you turn off one sense, the others are magnified,” explains sex coach Courtney Cleman. That makes you zone in on every titillating touch, rather than zone out.
2. Practise DIY
Less flat-pack, more flat-on-your-back. Solo sex helps with everyday stress by releasing feel-good chemicals throughout your body. Plus, it’s a great way to learn the moves that satisfy you, and those that don’t, which can then be relayed to a partner.
3. See Real Bodies
The antidote to porn’s surgically altered images can be found on sites such as barereality.net, home to photographer Laura Dodsworth’s beautifully shot Bare Reality galleries of nudes. She has previously shot breasts; now Womanhood captures 100 vulvas.