Sex and anxiety go together like socks and flip-flops; i.e. not well at all. We’re all a little bit insecure, whether we’re aware of this or not. When it comes to the bedroom, however, us men are particularly prone to doubting ourselves. Unfortunately, sexual insecurities can have a devastating effect on our sex lives, relationships and self-esteem.
What’s the link between anxiety and sexual performance?
Anxiety can trigger various forms of sexual dysfunction. How? This happens because anxiety hijacks your brain and body, generating a burst of hormones and electrical activity that sends you into fight-or-flight mode. It’s impossible to have sex in this state because on a biological level, your brain is pushing your body to fight or flee – not fornicate. We discuss four common sexual insecurities faced by men and what you can do to address them.
Most men would like a bigger penis, but why is this such an issue for so many? The short answer (ha!) is that our joy-sticks carry a lot of symbolic weight, representing everything from power and dominance to competency and success. We are also told that a real man should be, well, Khal Drogo from Game of Thrones: dominant, confident, aggressive and super ripped.
But nobody is all of these things all of the time; and so we carry a perpetual sense of insecurity, which we project onto our junk. Unfortunately, however, this can lead to serious self-esteem issues and research shows that men who worry too much about the size of their penis are more likely to face erectile problems and premature ejaculation.
Regrettably, there are limited penis enlargement strategies that actually work. While surgery may add a few centimeters to your flaccid penis, it does not change the size of your erection and it can cause serious nerve and tissue damage. Other strategies – creams, devices, weights and pills – are not effective, so don’t even waste your time.
So, what can you do? Keep in mind that statistically speaking, your penis is probably of normal proportions, despite that niggling voice in your head that says otherwise. Moreover, remember that in most cases penis size doesn’t really matter that much: research shows, for example, that only a minority of women are concerned about this issue; and 85% of females were perfectly happy with the length of their partners’ gear.
This means that ultimately, you’d be better off investing your energy into aspects of yourself that can be changed. Like what? You could work on your communication skills and take your emotional connection to a higher level. You could also work towards becoming a foreplay master. These skills will be far more useful in the bedroom than an elephant trunk in your pants.
Body Image Concerns
Body image concerns are becoming an increasingly common source of sexual insecurity among men. Who wouldn’t want to be stronger, slimmer and more ripped? Studies have shown that 40% of us are unhappy with our bodies and a quarter of men prefer to have sex with the lights off as a result.
Apart from negatively impacting your sex life, these sorts of concerns are linked to self-esteem issues, eating disorders, depression and more. But no one should have to feel ashamed of their body and if this is causing you serious distress or getting in the way of your ability to live a normal life, speak to your doctor or psychologist about getting some support. Apart from that, if you’re able to adopt a healthy lifestyle in terms of your diet, exercise and sleep schedules, this may help you change the way you feel about yourself by increasing your self-esteem and confidence.
Worrying About Satisfying Your Partner Sexually
Why are we so hung up on this, especially when it's not necessarily such a bad thing? One study showed that men desperately want their partners to orgasm because this makes them feel more masculine. So, we’re obsessed with giving orgasms because we care about our partners, but also because we’re caught up in our own fragility.
What can you do? Remember that penetrative sex with an orgasm at the end is not the be all and end all. Rather, we need to focus on creating an experience of mutual pleasure. Sexually, this often means concentrating more on foreplay. But don’t restrict yourself to that: a fulfilling sex life is built on solid emotional foundations. Aim for satisfaction by giving her a massage, cooking her dinner and providing your undivided attention after asking about her day. All of this will ease the pressure and help you to realize that your relationship can be intensely satisfying, even if she doesn’t climax every time.
Falling into the Performance Anxiety Cycle
The three sexual insecurities listed above are common sources of sexual anxiety; and the big problem is that a single case of erectile dysfunction is often enough to make a man anxious about whether or not he can get an erection the next time he tries to have sex. After a bad sexual experience or two you might find yourself deep in the sexual performance anxiety cycle, which is challenging to get out of.
In fact, so many of us are insecure about our erections that in 2017, Pfizer earned $1.2 billion from Viagra sales in the U.S. alone! However, while drugs might work for erectile problems that are caused by aging or medical conditions, these sorts of pills fail to address the underlying cause in people who have erectile dysfunction that’s caused by psychological factors.
It’s common to worry about being able to get or keep it up. But because of the way that anxiety affects the brain, worrying about your erection reduces your ability to have one. Whether or not you’ve actually been diagnosed with erectile dysfunction, the best way of tackling this common form of insecurity is by treating the underlying sexual performance anxiety that causes erectile problems in so many of us.
Owning Your Sexual Insecurity
Insecurity is part and parcel of being a man, even though so few of us are able to speak about it. It’s important, though, that we become comfortable with the parts of ourselves that don’t quite match up to what our society deems masculine. One way of doing this is by focusing on an aspect that so many men are acutely aware of: sexual insecurity. If we’re able to heal or at least accept the four sexual insecurities that we have discussed here today, we’ll be able to improve our own sex lives whilst also strengthening our relationships and ultimately become better men by being more open, honest and self-aware.
Daniel Sher is a registered clinical psychologist. He serves as a professional consultant for the Between Us Clinic, which provides sex-therapy online programs.