Overcoming Sexual Anxiety Are you avoiding sex with your husband or wife? Use these simple tips to get back and make a real connection with your spouse. BY DENISE J CHARLES
One of the first steps in overcoming sexual anxiety is to discuss sexual performance with your spouse.
“ It is important that a couple moves away from the childish, larger-than-life expectations of standard romantic fare, or of porn movies for that matter.”
If we are honest, most of us want to be assured that our spouse is sexually happy with us. We sense instinctively that this is necessary for the survival of the union. Of course there are a few who claim not to care or who can’t be bothered. For the rest of us, however, there is that innate desire to keep the sexual fires hot and blazing, if only we could overcome our sexual silence.
I recently read an article that touted seven sure ways for a woman to know how good she was in bed. Amazingly, not one of those involved her spouse telling her how she was doing or how he felt about their sex life. It was all about reading his body language cues during and after sex, like whether or not his hands and feet were tightly clenched in absolute ecstasy. Body language might be fine, but why are we afraid to say what we want, like or hate in the bedroom? I believe that this fear mirrors an underlying anxiety many of us have about sex. In other words, our sexual anxiety keeps our mouths closed, and the fact that we’re not communicating about sex robs the experience of some of the joy de vivre it should have.
The reality is that sex remains a difficult topic to broach by even those sharing the experience. And because we are inundated by so much information about sex, those of us who do care can begin to wonder about our partner’s sexual satisfaction and about our own ability to bring sustained pleasure. This is particularly true in a relationship like marriage, which can seem to suffer from a case of over-exposure; after all, we are repeatedly having sex with the same person and possibly in the same space over an extended period of time.
So how is this anxiety manifested and how can it be remedied? The experience of sexual anxiety in a context like marriage will occur in different ways at different stages of the relationship and it is also likely to be experienced differently by men and women.
The Passionate Years
In the early years where passion is hot and in great supply, anxiety may be centered on creating a good first-impression and maintaining it. While we women may worry about how imperfect our bodies appear in bright light, our men may tend to worry about controlling their sexual excitement long enough to prevent premature ejaculation. The fact that we are now learning each other’s bodies adds to the sense of excitement and sex becomes wonderfully expressive and spontaneous. This may especially be so since there are likely to be no kids around to cramp our style. Unless there are serious issues with sexual inhibitions or with sexual control, bedroom anxiety at this stage tends to be short-lived and surmountable—even when there is little dialogue.
The Middle Years
As life becomes more complicated and sex is affected by the humdrum of life, our anxiety in the bedroom may also go up a notch. Dealing with our kids, their activities, our bills, work pressure and growing financial responsibilities can all take a toll on bedroom activity. While men may become anxious about the lack of frequency, women may tend to be concerned that sex has become routine, predictable, and lacking in romance. The major issues are therefore sexual quality and quantity. Since sex may be had mostly in survival mode at this stage, both partners may become concerned that their best years are behind them and the temptation may be to "settle" for less. The sense of sexual boredom, which may set in, coupled with a lack of communication about it, can also make the marriage vulnerable to something like infidelity, as either partner may seek assurance from outside the primary relationship that he or she is still sexually desirable.
The Empty-Nest Years
With the children going or gone for the most part, there is the expectation of sexual rejuvenation. This can be a source of sweet anticipation or downright worry. For us women, with the possibility of babies behind us, we might feel that there is a whole new lease on our sex lives only to find that our spouse might be struggling with the issue of erectile dysfunction. A husband who may experience problems with diminished desire or who may have a challenge maintaining an erection may deliberately avoid sexual intimacy because he has performance anxiety. Diminished sexual activity can result in a whole slew of worries for the mature wife who can become concerned about her own sexual desirability and her ability to keep her husband "turned on" to sex.
While life-change is inevitable, exposing our fears and vulnerabilities at each juncture of a marriage is the only way to experience couple-growth. Although we may never completely eradicate a tendency to worry about the quality of our intimate lives, the following relationship "best practices" should help us navigate each stage with greater clarity and less anxiety.
5 Marriage Best Practices
Set realistic sexual expectations: It is important that a couple moves away from the childish, larger-than-life expectations of standard romantic fare, or of porn movies for that matter. While sizzling, orgasmic sex is a wonderful goal to have, couples should realistically understand that in the context of an extended relationship like marriage, sex will have its share of ups and downs. When these are expected, there is no cause for major panic or for foolish decision making, like chasing after a new sexual thrill. When a couple understands that the novelty-phase of their sex life will eventually wane, they can then go about the business of redefining their sexual relationship during the different phases of their lives.
Establish your own unique sexual rhythm as a couple: Never mind what the national average is, it is important that couples understand that they’re not in a competition with the neighbors next door. What you decide to do in your own bedroom and how often you decide to do it is basically your own business as a couple. While reading books and articles is great for offering ideas, each couple is responsible for emerging their own sexual rhythm and identity, which suits the tone and texture of their own marriage.
Have regular sex: While establishing a unique rhythm is good, understanding the benefits of regular sex should also not be less counted. Studies do show that regular sex triggers increased libido, romance and attachment in couples. Apart from its much-touted physical health benefits, regular sexual intimacy reinforces a couple’s desirability for each other. This is ego-boosting and affirms sexual self-esteem. When a husband and wife feel sexually affirmed, there is far less to worry in the sexual department.
Talk about your sex life: Keeping the channels of communication open is a great way to allay fears and anxiety. This includes being upfront about what you like, dislike or desire. Sexual desires should also be communicated in a caring, non-confrontational way. The emphasis here is not on making unreasonable sexual demands because you think your partner is a lousy lover, but it is about engaging with him or her in more dynamic ways which are guaranteed to enhance the relationship. This often means marrying sexual assertiveness with sensitivity. Owning what you want or expect, instead of blaming your partner for what is lacking, is also a far less intrusive approach. Openness and honesty also breed intimacy, which is likely to reinforce the desire to be more sexual.
Extend your concept of "great sex:" When we worry about our sex lives, chances are we are focusing on what happens in the actual bed (or wherever we do it). We are likely to be thinking about the logistics of straight-up sex. Even where erectile dysfunction may be an issue, apart from seeking medical help, it is important for a man to know that his penis is not his only sexual organ. In allaying our sense of anxiety as we seek to improve our married sex, it is critical that we extend our concept of a great sex life. The truth is that what happens in the bedroom begins a long time before we get there. Spending quality time together, giving compliments, being thoughtful, touching, hugging and kissing outside the bedroom, are all ways to preserve a sense of sexual tension in the relationship. Hopefully, as the relationship becomes more integrated, there is less pressure to view the bedroom experience as the only source for physical and emotional intimacy.