Here's How Anxiety Affects Your Orgasm

Photographed by Ashley Armitage.
Are you an anxious person? Does anxiety seem to creep up during the most inopportune times? You’re just hanging out, catching up on the latest episode of “American Horror Story” and you begin to worry about every single little thing in your life. Or maybe you’re simply worrying about nothing at all but are panicking nonetheless. Symptoms of anxiety include ruminating in your own thoughts, focusing on past regrets, a racing heart, sweaty palms, and a general feeling of impending doom. It’s a sneaky little bastard, and can happen at any moment. And one of the worst moments it can strike is when you’re having sex and trying to orgasm.
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During sex you probably want to be focusing on what’s happening with your body, but if you’re feeling anxiety during the act that’s unrelated to sex that can be a problem for your pleasure and your partner’s. You might be thinking about that project for work — you know, the one that isn’t even due for three weeks — an unpaid bill, or a fight you had with your parent earlier in the day. Your boo’s head is between your legs and you’re thinking about Google spreadsheets or whether or not you’ll be able to make up with your mom before Thanksgiving.
This inability to concentrate on the act before you — sex — can affect your ability to climax. Of course, orgasming isn’t the only goal of sex, but for many it an important part of the sexual experience. And if you’re feeling anxious during foreplay, intercourse, oral play, or other sexual activities, reaching that promised land becomes harder, making it feel almost unreachable. But if you’re aware of how exactly anxiety and feelings of anxiousness can mess with your orgasms, you can take some pressure off yourself.
Staying in the moment
For women, focus is a critical element in experiencing an orgasm. Society has long given precedent to the male orgasm over the female. We’re told to cater to our partner’s pleasure (especially if that partner is male), putting it above our own. The female orgasm is secondary, a happy accident if it occurs, but certainly not necessary for a complete sexual experience. Focusing on our bodies, without shame, can prove very difficult given this context.
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No wonder we’re so apprehensive about giving ourselves over to pleasure, even when we have a kind and patient mate. Though it varies from person to person, it takes the average woman about twenty minutes to become aroused enough to have intercourse. Allowing yourself the time to relax and get to that place is essentially an anxious person’s personal hell.
When you’re anxious, you cannot focus long enough to orgasm. According to Aaron Harvey, founder of the mental health organization, Intrusive Thoughts, anxiety has the ability to disrupt sexual energy and pull you entirely out of a positive headspace.
In other words, when your mind is elsewhere, it causes a barrier to sexual pleasure. If you’re unfocused, you can’t focus on pleasure or sex.
Stress causes vaginal discomfort
Anxiety and stress have long been linked to sexual concerns for women. Most notably, vaginal discomfort. According to Calm Clinic, an anxiety-focused website devoted to mental health, stress disrupts many of the bodies hormones and healthy bacteria critical to sexual health.
This can lead to pain, spotting, or tearing during sex. In short, anxiety impedes your ability to create the hormones needed to become properly sexually aroused. You can’t get wet when anxiety is breathing down your neck like the Grim Reaper on steroids.
When you are aroused (and when you orgasm), the body is flooded with dopamine, the brain’s motivation hormone, and oxytocin, the “love hormone,” which promotes feelings of tranquility, closeness, and pair bonding. It’s a delicious cocktail of all things that feel good.
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When you’re stressed, your body releases cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. It is basically the arch-nemesis of orgasms. Studies have linked cortisol to poor sleep, weight gain, and overall feelings of personal distress. When you’re stressed, not wet, and distracted, your orgasm is going to shoot underground faster than the groundhog does essentially every single spring.
The Solution
How do we have more orgasms and quiet the insidious thoughts inside our noggins? By taking pressure off and focusing entirely on sensation.
When you put pressure on yourself to orgasm, you become more stressed about not orgasming, which only makes experiencing orgasm that much harder. It is a treacherous sexual Catch-22. The only way around it is by taking orgasm off the table. That’s right, stop making orgasm the goal. We need to give weight to sexual pleasure in and of itself, rather than holding orgasm as the Mac Daddy of sexual fulfillment. If you take away the pressure, the orgasmic energy has more room to flow.
If you come, awesome. If not, that doesn’t invalidate your sexual experience.
A way to combat anxiety when it comes creeping in during sex is to simply breathe.We often forget to breathe during sex! Consciously pull your breath into your body, letting it fill you, release it slowly while thinking intently about how good your body feels when it is touched this way.
Another technique is to get your adrenaline pumping. While a sweaty round at the gym is not a cure-all for an anxiety disorder, studies show it can help manage symptoms. When we workout, our brains release dopamine, the same motivational hormone we experience during sex. You’ll also receive a boost in serotonin, which regulates mood and positive feelings. Getting your heart rate up and body moving allows you space to clear your mind and center yourself.
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But most important, don’t panic if you’re feeling anxious. If you box yourself in and tell yourself you’re “crazy,” or inadequate for having anxiety, you’ll exacerbate your symptoms. Nothing is solved by negative self-talk. Be open about your feelings with your partner. Accept this challenge as a part of your life and commit to alleviating anxiety, when possible. Remember, it’s OK to ask for help.
Anxiety, whether it’s a disorder you struggle with daily or something that happens sporadically, is a huge pain — but if we take time to recognize it for what it is and develop skills to cope, it shouldn’t have to mess with our orgasms. At the same times, it’s important to recognize the kind of anxiety you experience, whether it is sporadic or a more far-reaching mental health issue.
If you experience debilitating anxiety on a regular basis, seek professional help. Society shames mental health almost as much as it shames sex. It’s time to put an end to it. An anxiety disorder requires the help of outside sources, and taking the steps you need to have full control of your life doesn’t diminish you.
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