How Anxiety Can Affect Your Sex Life

Getting in the mood, being honest about what arouses you, and orgasms all suffer when you're gripped by panic and worry.

Anxiety and anxious feelings can affect all parts of your life, from your career to social interactions. As such, the worry, apprehension, and fear that are hallmarks of the condition can also affect your sex life.

"All anxiety is a distraction that limits sexual success," said Laurel Steinberg, PhD, a New York-based sex and relationship therapist and adjunct professor of psychology at Columbia University. Whether you have anxious feelings or a diagnosed condition like general anxiety disorder, these emotions can affect how you connect with your partner and experience pleasure.

Most of the issues anxiety can cause in the bedroom can be worked through, especially with the help of a therapist. But first, you have to recognize just how the emotions it brings on are affecting your sex life. Sex should be fun, pleasurable, and stress-relieving. If it's not, read on to see how anxiety could be playing a role.

Can Lower Your Libido

Anxious feelings can reduce your sex drive in a number of ways, both psychological and physical. The feeling of being overwhelmed can drown out your other thoughts, preventing you from being in the mood even if you were aroused earlier in the day.

Panic and worry also have a physical effect on your body, ramping up the production of stress hormones like adrenaline that make you feel on edge. When your body can't physically relax, enjoying sex can be a lot more difficult.

And then there's the libido-lowering side effect of certain medications used to treat anxiety, Steinberg said. Unfortunately, untreated anxiety and anxiety medications can both decrease your interest in sex.

Keeps You From Being Body Confident

People with anxiety are more likely to feel intensely self-conscious and obsess about perceived body flaws. They "can be self-conscious about their body shape in general, or about a particular part, like their breasts, or about the way they smell, taste or perhaps move," Steinberg said. When you have anxiety, that self-consciousness is heightened.

If people "are continually being self-critical of themselves due to body shame, they shut down the ability to receive sexual pleasure fully and are unable to be fully present emotionally and physically during sexual scenarios," said Sari Cooper, director of the Center for Love and Sex in New York City.

Holds You Back From Intimacy

When you're seized by fear and panic, you may not want to be physically or emotionally close to your partner. And for people who have anxiety from past trauma, sexual touching and sex itself can be scary. If someone "is triggered by past trauma, it can cause [their] whole body to go into shutdown mode, unable to experience enough arousal to tip [them] over the edge to a climax," Cooper said. Without realizing it, you might avoid sex or any foreplay, and that can create a strain on your relationship.

Can Keep You From Asking for What You Want

It can often be difficult for even close partners to share their preferences and fantasies. But anxiety can increase that challenge. However, being honest will only make your sex life better, and it can be a relief to talk about any bottled-up feelings.

"Whatever you want in bed is 100% normal and okay, and you will have a better relationship when you feel that you can be completely transparent with a partner," Steinberg said. Unfortunately, it can be hard to remember this when adrenaline is coursing through your body and making you feel as if danger is ahead.

Makes It More Difficult To Orgasm

Clenched muscles, shallow breathing, goosebumps, and other physical symptoms of anxiety prevent climax. According to Steinberg, the condition "can raise your 'orgasmic threshold,'" which is how long it takes or how much stimulation you need to reach orgasm.

It can also prevent lubrication, make flexing and bending your body uncomfortable, and even trigger vaginismus, a disorder that tenses your vaginal muscles and can prevent penetration. According to a 2022 StatPearls article, anxiety or other mental conditions can also cause erectile dysfunction. These physical changes, along with your anxious thoughts, can further alter your awareness of physical sexual stimulation and inhibit orgasm, Cooper said.

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