Anxiety can take a toll on a person's life, including the sexual aspect. That's why knowing a bit about how anxiety affects sex is so crucial for the person suffering as well as their partner. Once a couple understands the body's reaction to this sense of panic, they can adjust their expectations. It can also help them both cope with what's going on (or not going on) in the bedroom and help them find possible solutions.
There are many people who suffer from anxiety and there are several types of anxiety people can suffer from, including generalized anxiety, panic disorders, social anxiety disorder and many more, according to the Mayo Clinic. Not to mention, anxiety affects everyone differently. What triggers anxiety in one person may be different for another. The main way you know if you're suffering from anxiety is if your fear keeps you from doing things you love and impacts crucial activities in your life like work, school, social interactions, relationships, and sex.
Many anxiety disorders lead to dysfunction and dissatisfaction in the bedroom, which can be a disappointing reality for couples on many levels, not just physically. Once the issues are identified, however, most can be worked through with time, treatment, and understanding. Here are nine ways anxiety can affect sex to help you identify your feelings and work through them.
1. You Can't Be Present
People who have anxiety often find it difficult to be fully present for many things in life, including sex.
"Anxiety doesn't allow you to be present during sex," therapist Kimberly Hershenson tells Romper. "It doesn't even allow you to have erotic thoughts and responses since your mind is often preoccupied."
Dr. Sarah Allen echoes this, and tells Romper that constant worry can be distracting and really take a toll on a couple's connection. "When people have anxiety they spend a lot of time in their head," she says. "Sex needs you to be feeling things in your body, so that disconnect can make it hard to enjoy the activity and your partner will also not enjoy it so much if you are not mentally present."
2. It Causes Low Libido
"If you're anxious, the thought of sex will be nerve wracking as opposed to arousing," Hershenson says. "Anxiety causes the mind to focus on the negative and it is difficult to overcome them with positive emotions such as sexual desire. This can lead to a low libido."
3. It Makes You Tired
Those who have anxiety often report that they have trouble sleeping, which can impact how sexual you feel. "One symptom of anxiety is fatigue, which may be due to poor sleeping habits or insomnia," Hershenson explains. "Being tired all the time makes the desire to have sex even more difficult."
4. It Causes You To Feel Physically Ill
"The physical symptoms of anxiety; restlessness, tension throughout the body, fatigue and stomach distress such a diarrhea or nausea can really interfere with a person’s ability to relax and enjoy sex," Allen says. I have anxiety when I have to fly in airplanes. In the hours and moments leading up to take off I literally feel sick to my stomach and can't imagine even thinking about sex.
5. It Impacts Your Performance
Anxiety can cause your whole body to tighten up, which can also affect how your body responds to being sexually stimulated. And not in a good way.
"Muscle tension can cause less lubrication and vaginal pain during sex," Allen says. "Therefore women worry before the next time that it might hurt again and that becomes a vicious cycle with fear of pain."
6. It Affects Your Relationship
This is probably the hardest part for many people when it comes to their anxiety. The toll it takes on sex and what that means for your relationship is a tough pill to swallow.
"If you have daily anxiety about general life stresses you don't have space to work on your relationship and good relationships need time and effort," Allen says. "Anxiety is mentally exhausting and who wants to make time for sex and relationships when they are exhausted."
Additionally, the lack of sex and romance can create a rift. "Anxiety can make it difficult to even enjoy your partner and their romantic gestures," Hershenson points out. "When in a state of panic, individuals often want to be left alone and not touched which causes distance in the relationship."
7. It Could Cause Intimacy Issues
"Anxiety can have a significant affect on intimacy," psychotherapist Maya Benattar tells Romper. "It's really hard to be in the moment and enjoy sensual, intimate moments when your mind is constantly racing, and pulling you either back to the past or ahead to the future."
On the flip side, this challenge provides couples an opportunity to explore other ways of being intimate with one another."If sex isn't possible for you now, engage in other romantic gestures," Hershenson suggests. "Hold hands, snuggle on the couch, and kiss each other good bye."
Hershenson recommends that those who suffer from anxiety talk to their partner and be open about their challenges. Bottling up your feelings will only make things worse. Talking to a therapist alone or together may be a good option because anxiety shouldn't make you feel shame. If you get treated and work on the sex component, the issues you're facing may just be a temporary bump in the road on your way to bedroom bliss.