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Sex Cells: The Truth Behind Sexual Performance Anxiety in Men

Performance, in its simplest form, refers to output so much so that it ties in ability, drive and ambition as detailed nuggets of winning at a game, sport or some type of competition.  For example, we recognize that in the Olympics, the gold medal is given to the athlete or competitor who is the most well-trained, ambitious, fastest or the competitor with the most endurance or heightened skill-level.  Additionally, we idealize performers who are instinctively in the best shape physically and who utilize their physical attributes to obtain the competitive advantage. One author speaks to performance “as something that is displayed in front of an audience for judgement or spectacle.”

Men, who, from the time that they are born, are taught to perform and compete at a level that is often defined by societal norms and pressures. For example, men are taught to work tirelessly and ambitiously in order to make a good living for himself and if he chooses, his family or partner. We all know men who strive to be the best at everything because it was ingrained in them by their fathers or male role models. This bravado transitions over into the bedroom, with men adopting the same performative mentality to compete and win at sex.

The pressure of winning at sex is not only tied to male bravado, it is often tied to male ego, self-esteem and self-worth.  Penis size, girth, movement as well as the length of time engaging in foreplay or actual sexual activity, stroke game, the ability to stay engaged, type of foreplay and post-coital activity can all be looped into one category: performance. 

Notwithstanding medication, age, health and other high-risk factors, the expectation of men is to perform well in the bedroom or wherever they decide to have sex. Sexual performance anxiety, which is often described as what might happen or what could happen in the bedroom, plagues approximately 14% of men. Negative thoughts and stigmas tied to underperforming provides the stage for men to plant the seeds of doubt regarding their own sexual performance. Over the years, I have worked with many clients and colleagues who critique their performance when they cannot and do not measure up to their what they idealize.  As a matter of fact, many men articulate that they measure their performance by what they have either seen or heard from their peers or what they have seen on television or on their computer screen. 

And, let’s be honest. Those who are on the opposite end of the performing man can also add to the anxiety that men experience in the bedroom. 

As in most of the areas of our lives that anxiety seeps in, the bedroom is no different. Anxiety creates a barrier to sharing our positive experiences, whether sexually or otherwise. What is important to recognize is that sexual anxiety can be treated medically and/or therapeutically.

As a male clinician, it is imperative to identify the thoughts and feedback tied to good performance and those also tied to bad performance. Moreover, what is important is to explore, explore, explore! When I tell men about the power of exploring their own bodies, they often cringe at the idea. Exploration is one of the keys to minimizing anxiety and creating a more fulfilling sexual experience. Finally, mindfulness, which involves staying in the moment and recognizing the automatic thoughts tied to both a positive and negative experience, assists in building confidence towards pleasure. One can practice the habit of asking their partner how she/he/they would like to be pleasured and express to them what pleasure feels like as well.   Rather than evaluating or performing, it is important to focus on learning. Remember, a key to lessening anxiety is to communicate to oneself and to one’s partner what works and what does not work to achieve a healthy, positive sexual experience!


Written by Aaron J. Kimble, LPC Intern

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