Sex Anxiety

We talk about social anxiety. We talk about relationship anxiety. We talk about transition anxiety. Now it’s time to talk about sex anxiety: not only how anxiety in general or relationship anxiety in particular kills libido but how much anxiety we carry about sex itself. The conversation, as always, begins with talking about fear itself and a discussion on the direct effect that fear has on our bodies’ ability to open or shut down.

One of the first things women learn when they’re preparing for childbirth is the effect that fear has on the birthing process. Put simply, when we’re in a fear state, our bodies contract, which is why women are encouraged to give birth in the location where they feel safest and are then taught techniques for how to open through the fear that arises during labor. In order to give birth, we have to open in every sense of the word. Fear causes contraction; safety leads to expansion. 

The same applies in the rest of life, especially around our sexuality. If we’re in a contracted state, it’s going to be very difficult to open to the flow and joy of our sexual selves. Living with anxiety puts us in a nearly constant state of fear, so alongside working with our anxiety in daily life we also need to address how fear and anxiety appear in our sexual lives if we’re going to step into our birthright as empowered and free sexual beings. Yet, as with the taboo around admitting that grief and fear exist around life transitions like weddings and births that the culture says are supposed to be only happy, and like the taboo around admitting to the darker thoughts that parade through the anxious brain, so we live in a culture that places tremendous taboo around admitting that we have anxiety about sex. 

Our taboo-laden put-on-a-happy-face culture thus divorces us from recognizing the reality that sex and anxiety go hand in hand. In fact, I know very few people who haven’t experienced anxiety around sex at some point in their life. So the first step, as always when we’re working with anxiety, is to normalize: Sex anxiety doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you or your relationship. Rather, it seems to be a part of being human, especially in a culture that offers no healthy roadmaps for navigating this most tender and vulnerable aspect of ourselves.

Excuse me while I digress for a moment to rant at our incredibly misguided, often psychologically dangerous culture that not only offers no healthy roadmaps for what sexuality can and should look like but then splatters an expectation across mainsteam media that says that sex should be hot, sizzling, effortless, instantly arousing, orgasmic, and magical. When the disparity between expectation and reality is vast and we’re not given tools that might help us bridge the gap or information that would help us soften the expectations, the result can only be anxiety.

So we start here: working with and unpacking our anxiety around sex and our bodies. And we start with recognizing another truth that can quell the anxious spikes: Like relationship anxiety, as long as you’re in a loving, healthy relationship, sexual anxiety usually has very little to do with one’s partner. That’s not to say that it’s not essential to learn how to communicate sensitively and effectively as two people are discovering the intricacies and nuances of how their bodies and souls ignite each other or shut each other down, but if a woman is struggling with her own internal states of fear and anxiety – ones that predate her partner – she’s swimming upstream at the onset. So in order for sacred sexuality to flow, we need to explore the personal, familial, societal, and historic downloads of fear that nearly all women living on the planet today have absorbed. When the channels clear out through diligent yet gentle exploration, the rivers begin to flow again. A dam blocked with the fear-logs that accumulate over a lifetime will remain jammed until we tend to each stick, fallen tree, and bit of debris that are clogging the passageways. 

Shame has the same constrictive effect. In fact, it has been said that of all the emotions, shame is the one that causes us to hide behind a wall and go silent more than any other. Shame clamps down on our voice, stealing our words. It holds our bodies in a vice, stealing our freedom to move and express. Shame is closely linked to guilt and also linked to caring about what others think, so when we’re caught in the web of shame-guilt-self-consciousness, we’re in an immobilized, silent place. 

How can you feel open and free in your body if you believe that you’re dirty, broken or wrong in some way? Sacred sexuality is about learning to connect to your innate body-wisdom and celebration, first alone and then, perhaps, within the safety of a loving relationship. But if you’re carrying shame stories that then lead to anxiety, your body-wisdom remains underground and your celebration never receives the first log of the bonfire. I often hear some variation on the following: “I don’t want my partner to touch me because I feel ashamed of my body. I never want to receive oral sex because I’m too ashamed of the way I look, smell, and sound.” 

When I hear these statements, my heart breaks, for they speak to the insidious and cross-cultural messages that degrade women and deprive them of the innate knowledge of their beauty and glory. Women are magnificent. Women’s bodies are powerful and beautiful and wild. Somewhere, deep inside, most women know this. Somewhere, we remember the young girl who danced unabashedly in her bedroom at night to the light of the full moon. Somewhere, we know that we are meant to be adored, honored, and celebrated. The path of Sacred Sexuality is about excavating what we already know so that we can retrieve the gold that is rightfully ours.

If you would like to begin the process of retrieving your gold, please join me for the first round of Sacred Sexuality: A 40-day program to heal body shame and ignite desire. The course is almost three-quarters full and it will begin on Saturday, June 24, 2017. 

40 comments to Sex Anxiety

  • IANDO

    Sheryl,

    Thanks for sharing this information from a woman’s point of view. Us men would benefit from whatever you might be able to share from the man’s viewpoint/struggles with sexual anxiety as well.

    Thanks for your consideration.

    • While my course on sexuality is for women, nearly everything I’ve written in this post and many others on sexuality applies to men equally. When anxiety is in the forefront, desire and arousal will often suffer for both men and women, and then a vicious cycle is created where sex itself becomes a source of anxiety.

  • Ali

    Hey Sheryl,

    I’ve been reading the last few blogs you’ve sent out and I’ve been struggling with some of the things you talk about. My husband and I were wondering if the course mostly relates to body image and sex? My original issues started as what I think was PTS from the birth of my first child and some other stressors that possibly added to some sort of post partum depression. I didn’t feel any distance from my baby at the time but sexy made me completely tense up, shut down and end in tears. My husband was amazingly supportive and never forced me to do anything but it did create wedges from time to time as he was longer for that kind of intimacy with his wife. I honestly felt like I had zero sensation down there, he might as well have been touching my elbow. Lol. I felt broken and have still felt from time to time and we have now had our second child who’s almost 6 months old. For the most part I feel good about my body and my hubby adores me from head to toe(not to be over confident, I quite often get annoyed and awkward at all his compliments ?). I know breastfeeding and lack of sleep affect sexuality but we can’t seem to get back or even close to where we were before marriage. My husbands just as sexy as he was when I married him so my outer attraction to him has not changed. There’s been a few things in our marriage that we continue to work through but obviously every couple has issues that can turn each other off. Would your course still be helpful?? I have suffered from relationship anxiety and have taken your course previously and continue to follow your work. You are a gift, a gem, a blessed woman!

    • It’s VERY common for the transition into motherhood to shut down our sexuality. Physiologically we’re wired to pour our energy into our babies which doesn’t leave much left over for ourselves or our partners. Add to that the trauma of childbirth, breastfeeding, sleep deprivation, and hormones and it’s a recipe for sexual shut down. So please know first and foremost that your situation is extremely common and you’re far from alone.

      That said, as you know from my work, beliefs and patterns about ourselves are activated during transitions, and my guess is that there’s an opportunity here to explore your relationship to your body and your sexuality at a deeper level. To answer your question, the course extends far beyond a superficial conversation about body shame and instead delves deeply into uncovering the negative messages and downloads that we’ve all received. My sense is that the course would help you to slowly and gently open back up to yourself as a sexual woman and your husband again.

  • Cassie

    Hi Sheryl– Thank you for another fantastic post. I’ll be joining you for this course and am so excited! I wanted to see if you had any thoughts on the sex education that middle and high schoolers often receive in schools. I’ve always thought it was such a shame that the sex education taught in schools is often fear and shame based, focusing on sex as a “bad” act and emphasizing disease and unplanned pregnancy. I don’t mean to suggest that there is no merit to discussing risks and consequences, but I do feel this can be a place where young people start to feel shame and fear about sex and sexuality. It’s unfortunate.

    • I completely agree, Cassie. Our education system fails us in so many ways, not the least of which the way in which it introduces young people to sex. There’s a much better way to do it!

  • Angela

    Thanks Sheryl, for another inspiring blog!, Wouldnt life be boring if we didnt have issues in all aspects of life. This is how life is meant to be. During our journey on this planet, I believe we meet all sorts of people from all walks of life. I am very blessed to have met, anxiety is a gift. Only way to deeply learn and grow about the truths of life. My husband suffers from social anxiety, He dosent want to attend social family gatherings because of his fears. Do you recommend therapy? What type of professional does he need to see?

  • Rosie

    Ali,
    I feel as though I could have written your exact post. Word for word, you describe everything I have been going through since giving birth to my first 13 months ago. Being a new mother is hard enough, but the residual PTS from the birth experience together with mild PPD and anxiety have made it an extraordinarily difficult year. I’m sorry you have gone through the same experience but it really does help to know I’m not alone. I have to say that I’m very impressed that you were able to go on to have another baby… Right now my husband and I barely have any intimate relationship at all because of me feeling exactly how you described. Sheryl, it never occurred to me that this could be an additional form of anxiety – I had just assumed it was still related to my hormones recovering since I’m still nursing, and still not sleeping well. Anxiety makes much more sense…it explains why I avoid the physical contact whenever I can, which kills me when I feel myself doing it but I can’t seem to stop. I recently starting working with a therapist to address the PPD and anxiety so I’m hoping that slowly this will resolve through the context of the rest of the therapy, but I had to tell you that this really came at just the right time. Thank you.

  • Christopher Sumner

    Morning to you from England.
    An interesting article about fear and sexuality. I’m struck by the etymological root of the work anxiety which comes from the Latin word ‘angere’ which means to narrow or choke; how anxiety narrows each of us and stops that authentic flow of life and joy.
    I’m also interested in a male approach here. Men need simplicity, self-control and gentleness and yet our culture celebrates people of money, sex and power.
    I’m also struck by the thought that our TV programmes often revolve around perfect looking friends living in community and yet many watch TV alone.
    Aristotle believed that a good society included role models, people we could look to, to provide an example of virtue or good character.
    As a Roman Catholic Christian I’m also aware of the need for sexuality to be integrated into the whole person, so as to enter into a creative and loving relationship with the Creator, and with others.
    Kind regards,
    Chris

    • We absolutely need sexuality to be integrated into the whole person – men and women both. I wish I could offer more insight into the male psyche when it comes to sex, and in fact, much of my course would apply to men, but I simply cannot know what it is to be in a male body and, thus, don’t feel qualified to write about sexuality for men.

      I love the etymological root of anxiety! That’s exactly it.

  • Dana

    Dear Sheryl, I’ve been following to your work for several years, it helped me to make right choice and to get married and open up me heart to my partner..

    My question is – what if some senasations are unbearable for you? Not painful, but too intense to go on – sometimes too tikclish, sometimes just too overwhelming and you have to stop before you experienced your maximum? Does it have to do anything with anxiety or is it your body characteristics. I don’t feel any body shame especially with my husband, but i would happily refrain from few things because they are just too much for me…

    Many thanks in advance..

    PS i might have some sort of social anxiety (feel not good in places where many people gather, need more space and distance, i feel these things might be connected)

    • What matters when it comes to exploring the topic of sexuality is to know that everyone’s body is different, there is no right or wrong way to experience touch, and when we approach our experience with the headlight of curiosity firmly attached (as opposed to judgement), everything changes.

    • Eleonora

      Dana,
      Thank you for bringing up this aspect of feeling overwhelmed. I wonder if it could be that us sensitive people are easily over-whelmed and hence might seek less stimulation. Sometimes I feel that just talking with my boyfriend is so intense so that I just want to calm everything down. Making love would add to the intensity so I dont really look for it. Before in my life, I was approaching sex when I was bored or wanted more stimulation. Being in this relationship now is however so intense that sex seems less of an option. I know that you talk explicitly about physical touch but I wonder if this could apply to “psychological touch” as well.

      • Eleonora

        With “psychological touch” I mean that I get overwhelmed and resist even if my boyfriend does not touch me, but if he approaches me and wants to be close.

  • Zoe Carter-Beedie

    Cassie,
    I absolutely agree with you!! I know you’ll be wanting to hear from Sheryl, but just wanted to say I think you have brought up SUCH an important point for discussion. Really look forward to exploring it with you and the others on the course. See you there! Thanks for the great post Sheryl. DK the best, Zoe xx

  • Anonymous

    Hi Sheryl,

    What if your anxiety stems from the fact that you don’t feel wanted by your partner or your partner has a lower sex drive than you? As women we’re taught throughout our lives that men want to sleep with us all the time and we are the ones who have to reject those advances. I struggle being in a relationship where that’s not the case and wonder if that means I should leave my partner because maybe he’s not really in love with me. When I talk to him about it he assures me it has nothing to do with me and is because of his own anxieties and insecurities, but it still troubles me and seems like an insurmountable obstacle to overcome. Do you or your course have any guidance on this?

    • This is a common and painful scenario, and one that isn’t talked about very much in the culture. I have written about it in other blog posts and I do address it in the course, but it’s not the crux of the course. Has this always been the dynamic with your partner or was it different in the beginning? And do you struggle at all with your own desire or arousal?

      • Anonymous

        It was very different in the beginning. In fact, it was the most comfortable I have ever been in a sexual relationship with anyone. I don’t struggle as much with desire, but more with feelings of resentment and anxiety that make me want to avoid being in a situation where I may feel rejected. I am just not sure what to do or if we can continue to be in a relationship that makes me feel rejected and insecure.

        • If it was different in the beginning then this is likely a couples’ issue, by which I mean there’s a cycle playing out between you that’s causing him to shut down sexually and you to feel rejected. If the two of you are open to couples’ therapy I HIGHLY recommend EFT. You can learn more and find a couple’s therapist here:

          http://www.iceeft.com/index.php/find-a-therapist

  • Marlene

    Thank you for this post! I notice that I feel desire for my husband when we are apart and then when we are together and begin to move towards having sex my desire vanishes. Is this common? It’s strange because I have very tender, loving feelings towards him and he is a good man AND I can feel my desire when we’re apart. That is a bit confusing.
    Thanks so much!

    • This is extremely common, Marlene, and a symptom of anxiety. It’s a lot easier to feel turned on in the abstract when there’s no possibility of true intimacy than in the specific.

    • Eleonora

      Marlene,
      I dont know if it is common but it is the same for me. Thanks for bringing it up.

  • Kerri

    Hi sheryl

    I took your course on self trust and loved it and want to take the relationship anxiety and sexually anxiety courses

    I have a lot of relationship anxiety and it affects my relationship because I am insecure and question if the relationship is not right for me because it brings out my insecurities!

    One reason I have relationship anxiety is because of my sexual anxiety. Although I love my partner and want to make a life with him, I struggle with physical attraction to him and I don’t enjoy intimacy with him. We have been together for 3 years and he wants to marry me but we have had fights over sex because he can be a selfish lover or touches me in a way that is more “rough” and sex can be painful because I am not turned on. I feel like I am settling for an unfulfilling sexual relationship because I want to make a life with him and get married and have kids and I’m scared a marriage won’t last with our sexual incompatibilities. I compare my sex life with my ex who I loved having sex with and my current boyfriend and I will never have that kind of sex life because we are just very different sexually. He likes it quick and his goal is orgasm where I want to feel loved during sex and i want to feel very turned on! I’m worried it will get worse with kids and time and one or both of us cheating! Am I setting myself up for disaster?

    • It’s essential that your partner is open and available to listening to your needs around sex and adjusting his needs and expectations accordingly. If he’s truly a selfish lover I would suggest a round of couple’s counseling to see if it’s something that can be worked on. And just so you know, “rough” sex isn’t okay or loving unless it’s mutually satisfying for both people. Sex should never be painful, and if it is it’s time to stop immediately and slow things way down so that you can talk about what’s happening and find a way to connect sexually that is satisfying for both of you.

  • Brooke

    I really liked this post. I have been trying to work through sexual anxiety for years. I am now newly married, thanks to your blog and book Conscious Brides. Growing up I was always taught that sex was bad, shameful & just not appropriate. I have had a VERY hard time overcoming this mindset that my mother put in my head. In fact, after talking with my now husband about this, I was able to nail down that my lack of sexual desire roots from the traumatic experiences I had with my mother when asking for birth control and confessing my legitimate need for it ….. it is crazy how something that I thought I brushed off can have such a lasting, major effect.

    • This is exactly the type of conversations and experiences that we’ll be addressing in depth in the course. It’s those micro-moments, especially around the vulnerable topic of sex, that lay down the grooves for how we develop sexually.

  • Yvonne

    Little bit off topic.. sometimes I find myself looking at other men and finding them attractive, I know this is okay and normal as we are humans but I sometimes feel like I’m trying to look good in front of them or impress them. I don’t know why I would do this as I’m happy in my relationship. Is this a part of relationship anxiety? Can I have some insight on this please? Does anyone else deal with this or have done?

    • Yvonne

      And I was just wondering if you could break down this comment “it’s okay to find other men attractive, just don’t act on it” what do you categorise as acting on it? I feel like I’m doing something wrong for laughing with a guy, if a guy is a speaking to me at work just general chit chat and he makes me laugh, I feel guilty, if I see an attractive guy and i look over in their direction my heads all like “you keep looking at him, you’re trying to get his attention” blah blah, id never kiss or touch another man. I’d never cheat. I just feel like my heads trying to make me feel like I’m being partially unfaithful to my relationship just by being friendly, makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong and that it’s not okay to look at another guy, or wanting another guy to think you’re atttactive or laughing/smiling with them.. really struggling with this at this moment

  • H

    I’m afraid to ask this, but I wonder what it means that I always feel sad after sex – im often in tears afterwards. My partner is always really considerate of my needs and preferences during sex. He’s so kind and loving. But afterwards I feel ashamed, guilty and dirty. Sometimes I even wonder if I just used him to meet my needs. I feel sick at that thought. My partner worries as he doesn’t understand why I’m upset and nor do I really. And any idea I do have would hurt him and that’s the last thing I want. He always comforts me anyway which makes me feel more guilty still. I also really dont want him to think its his fault (spike: what if it is?). What do you think? Do you think this course might help? I seem to be a bit of an outlier with my issue.

  • C0521

    I can’t convey how much this post/ upcoming course applies to me. I struggle with relationship anxiety and feel as though that intertwines so intricately with wed anxiety as well. Sometimes I even flinch, or have a knee-jerk reaction of pulling away when touched or at the thought of intimacy. It is refreshing to know that I am not alone. For the longest time I let my anxiety try to convince me it was just another reason that my husband wasn’t “the one”, I’m glad I refused to believe that. I struggle with this so much and hope to be able to afford this course, along with most of your others in the future. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  • confusedinlove

    My sexual anxiety I feel also stems from the fact that my husband is not your “typical” always on and needing sex. I don’t get rejected ever really and he’s into it within seconds but I feel that he could care less to initiate or go 2 weeks without it and be completely fine. This poses a lot of insecurities in me that he really doesn’t care for it and just does it to do it, although he no question enjoys it. We don’t have a lot of “hot” moments (just through out the day) ever either and it worries me. Would this course help with these issues?

  • Susana

    I have been imensely anxious and depressed for the last few days, and this blog seems to be the only thing capable of bringing me some peace. However, after reading the comments, I realize that although some people seem to learn how to manage their intrusive feelings a little better over time, they keep coming back and fighting after many years without ever seeming to solve the problem once and for all. Does this mean that this is going to be a lifelong journey?

    To make matters worse, although I have never been extremely attracted to my boyfriend, I can feel myself crushing (i’m not sure if this is the correct expression in english)and longing for other men in my life, like daydreaming about them and feeling extremely guilty. I just want this to be over. I don’t know what to do anymore.

    Thank you for your patience.

    • If you’re prone to anxiety, anxiety will always make an appearance from time to time, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be a victim to it. Keep in mind that the comments you’re reading on the blog are mostly from people who haven’t taken the Break Free course. If you want to truly break free from the cycle of intrusive thoughts, I suggest taking the course. This blog offers information, reassurance, and some tools, but it’s not meant to replace the comprehensive teachings in the course:

      http://conscious-transitions.com/break-free-from-relationship-anxiety-e-course/

  • Susana

    Thank you, Sheryl. I’ve been anxious since a little child and i attended therapy for over 11 years, but I never felt like therapy was providing any tools so that i could soothe myself on my own. I’m currently saving for the ecourse.

  • Marianne

    “…an expectation across mainsteam media that says that sex should be hot, sizzling, effortless, instantly arousing, orgasmic, and magical. When the disparity between expectation and reality is vast and we’re not given tools that might help us bridge the gap or information that would help us soften the expectations, the result can only be anxiety.”

    Yes, when I first started having sex, I kind of just expected the magic to happen and for it to be wonderful, and I got a bit underwhelmed, wondering what I was doing wrong. “Is this how it’s supposed to feel?”

    I think this course will be good for me to help figure out those things that are blocking me, as I feel like I have difficulty getting mentally into it during sex. Excited to join you. 🙂