The Intersection of Sex and Relationship Anxiety

If you’re familiar with relationship anxiety, you know that it doesn’t take much for a flyaway thought to send you into a tailspin of anxiety that then leads you to question if you’re with the right person. This thought could be, “I’m not feeling in love” or “My partner always irritates me” or “I’m not attracted right now.” Because we’re not properly educated both about how to work with thoughts and how relationships actually unfold in the real world (as opposed to the media world), it’s a quick jump from the normal thought to the assumption: “I’m with the wrong partner. There must be someone better out there for me.”

When it comes to sex, the situation is heightened, for the culture places the highest possible premium on the correlation between “great sex” or “amazing chemistry” and being with the right person. I’ll give you some examples about how this translates into relationship anxiety:

  • You kiss and there are no fireworks
  • You make love and you can’t quite feel each other.
  • You don’t have the “I have to rip your clothes off” level of desire.
  • Your partner’s touch doesn’t send you into ecstasy, and sometimes can irritate you.

… and then you assume, “I’m with the wrong person because if I was with the right person our kisses would be sparkly, we would fit together perfectly, I would have massive desire, and my partner’s touch would instantly arouse me.” In other words, you use these markers as tests of so-called chemistry or sexual compatibility against which you gauge the “rightness” of your relationship.

Correcting Cognitive Distortions

This is incorrect thinking, what we call cognitive distortions in psychology; your incorrect beliefs are shaping your assumptions. You might be thinking, “Are you saying that chemistry doesn’t exist? What about pheromones and two people just naturally clicking together?”

These are valid questions, yet they stem from a culture that seeks simplistic answers to the complexity of human relationships. To assume that because there weren’t fireworks when you kissed negates the multiplicity of causes that could be contributing to a lackluster sexual experience, including – and perhaps most importantly – your own history, shame stories, and trauma. If, for example, you have a history of trauma around kissing – let’s say that your body wasn’t respected and you were kissed too much or in ways that felt violating – you will likely shut down when it comes to kissing your partner.

Kissing is just one example, of course. The point is that the media culture sends the message that “fireworks” and “chemistry” are evidence that you’re with the “right” person, and that if those “feelings” are lacking – because our culture uses feelings as the gauge by which we measure “true love” – then you’re with the wrong person.

You might also be thinking, “But I’ve had fireworks with other partners. It’s not across the board.” To which I will always respond, “How emotionally available were those other partners? Fear will only make an appearance with a partner who is available, and a lackluster sexual response or any type of shut down is a manifestation of fear.” If you were the pursuer in the pursuer-distancer dynamic, you would have been the one with all of the longing and, therefore, all of the feelings. But once available love shows up, we have to incorporate a new definition of love, arousal, and chemistry.

Clear Away the Fear and Open to Love

The work, as always, is to clear away the layers of your fear, faulty messages, shame, and pain so that you can show up more fully for your partner and yourself in all ways, including sexually. Healthy, vital, and awake sexuality is our birthright, yet we live in a culture where it’s nearly impossible to protect this most sacred part of our experience. But when you learn what is normal and healthy about your sexuality and what is realistic to expect in your relationship, you create a platform from which to heal. On the other hand, when you’re bogged down with the weight of the cultural expectations about sexuality, the passageways quickly slam shut. In order to open back up again, we need to clear out and clean up the distortions, then spiral deeply yet gently into the territory of sacred sexuality.

This doesn’t only apply to those of you in relationships. If you’re single, you’re also subject to an onslaught of assumptions and “shoulds” about your sexuality that can quickly morph into shame and anxiety. In fact, for many people committing to their inner work around their sexuality being single can be even more fruitful as they’re not subjected to the daily triggers and expectations that can arise in partnership. And as about 75% of my Sacred Sexuality course addresses sexuality separate from partnership, it’s the ideal course through which to explore, dismantle, and heal this aspect of yourself.

With my busy year ahead, I will likely only offer this course this one time in 2019. If it’s been on your mind to enter into the territory of your sexuality and reclaim what is rightfully yours, I encourage you to join us for this next round of Sacred Sexuality: A 40-day course to heal shame and ignite desire. This is one of my favorite courses to lead as the discussions on the forum and the group phone calls are rich, meaningful, profoundly honest and vulnerable, and it’s exciting to watch the insights and changes unfold before my eyes. I learn so much from all of you, and it’s a joy to be your guide. I look forward to seeing you there.

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23 comments to The Intersection of Sex and Relationship Anxiety

  • Caitlin

    Cannot wait to start this eCourse, Sheryl! Xo

  • Susan McElree

    This course interests me very much but I am so busy. Retiring next oct. I would be very interested in the next round. I just got married and we definitely have issues. Or I do. Thank you !! I AlWAYS look forward to your posts. Susan

  • Rachelle Pierson


    I love love love your articles. It’s so refreshing to hear. I want to share your work more…..I feel like you could reach so many people.

  • DeeQ

    Hi Sheryl,
    Once again thank you for a wonderful post. Even though I’ve worked through the break free course and subsequently the chapter on sex within it, this post really flicked a light on in my head. “Fear will only appear with a partner who is available…” Yes, yes, yes, this is me which was around way before my anxiety hit its peak. The way my husband is so free and available at the point of us getting intimate causes me to shut down through fear and the fear can also be there at the idea of getting intimate. I’m definately going to ‘do some work’ on this today for me to get started to work out why.
    Thank you so much in helping me grow.

  • shell

    How about obsessing about the quantity of intimacy?

  • Ali

    Hi Sheryl, thank you for your wonderful post on sexuality! I took the breaking free from sexual anxiety course last year and I really liked it. I used to have a lot more anxiety about two years ago right after we got married and went through the breaking free course and the trusting yourself course too. I finally feel alive inside and my complete panicked anxiety is gone, but I’m still struggling with connection with my husband. When we were dating, he was immature and often disrespected my sexuality and how far I wanted to go. It seemed it was so easy to be turned on back then when it wasn’t the right time to be engaging in sexual activities since we had both been very conditioned to wait till marriage. Now i don’t feel myself get turned on at all when we come together and it often is a duty I fulfill when I would really love a healthy thriving sexual relationship. He has apologized for his stupidity and actions when we were dating, but how do I claim back my desire and feel him in my soul again? My only healthy connection to sexuality at this point is in my dreams where I am so turned on and ready for him yet I can’t bring myself to that point when we’re actually interacting. Thanks for helping and reading this Sheryl!

    • Hi Ali! If you took Sacred Sexuality last year I would recommend going through the course material again, and possibly re-joining for this round (I’ll be sending out an alumni discount coupon code in the next few days). The information and exercises will help you drop down into your body and rewire/redefine your arousal.

  • Agapanthus

    Has anyone else found that in the past they have had ‘hot sex’ not when they were the pursuer, but the distancer? In the past I have had the fireworks when with someone I knew I did not have the core connection with- so while they could have been emotionally available to me, I was not to them.
    My wise self (with heartfelt acknowledgement to Sheryl) can see that this was a way of avoiding the potential and vulnerability to be hurt that comes with true connection and love. I wanted to reach out to anyone who can identify more with past distancer role than pursuer role and let them know they’re not alone. This is the main spike for my relationship anxiety and one I have been working with for some time.
    I also realise that my past model, as per today’s hypersexualised “should-be”s, has been to be turned on by the expressed extent of my partners sexual desire for me- which is also what I fantasise about- rather than kindness, deep/soul connection and emotional availability- which is what I have with my wonderful partner.
    I was about to sign up for overcoming relationship anxiety course but wonder if Sacred Sexuality would be better at this time (can only afford one currently)
    Many thanks

  • Alissa

    As I reflect on this past year it occurs to me that I finally feel comfortable in my ‘new’life: that I am a married woman with two young kids. I married 8 years ago. My sons were born in 2012 and 2016. It has taken tremendous effort on my part (lots of therapy and self reflection) to feel as though my life is mine. Is it normal for this type of transition to take so long? Finally, I feel at peace. I cant explain it well in words….

    • Transitions take as long as they take; we process life according to the timetable of the soul, not a predetermined timeline that the culture expects. And the fact that already you feel at home in your new life with two young children means that you’re adjusting quite quickly, actually!

      Also, the information and tools we have for working through transitions can facilitate our adjustment. I see that you joined the Break Free From Relationship Anxiety course in late 2017, so that’s really not very long since you’ve had the guidance from that course. It sounds like you’re doing just fine ;).

  • Ann

    What I love most about your work is that it feels like a blend of therapy, spirituality, and art. Learning from you makes me appreciate my sensitivity instead of feel weak for it. You draw out quiet aches and pains that I have hidden from myself out of fear. Slowly, …very slowly… I am starting to understand that maybe it will all be okay, and that maybe I am really okay.

    Thank you for having the courage depth and skill to bring this work out into the world. It is truly one of the deepest forms of healing I have ever come across.

    • What a beautiful reflection, Ann. You’ve encapsulated the heart of what I hope to call forth in my work: self-love at the deepest level and the body-knowing that you’re okay and that it’s all okay. It’s what I communicate in some form in every blog post and throughout my courses, and it makes me very happy to hear that that message is coming through and landing in the soft, tender places where healing occurs. Thank you.

  • Alizah

    Thank you again for another insightful article! This one hits home for me. I have always found that the biggest issue with my relationship sexually is that I don’t have any feelings while kissing him, and it used to lead me down the path of those thoughts that “it must mean I’m with the wrong person.” However, after taking your relationship anxiety course (and continuing to take it as I always review the info lol), I think this is just more of a symptom of my own relationship anxiety. I have a feeling that until I truly conquer it, those “sparky” feelings during kissing just won’t be there, and I have to realize that. But its a chicken vs. egg scenario, what comes first. Once you know the true order of what causes what, it really does help 🙂 Thank you again!

    • I’m so glad the article hit home, and that you’re continuing to go through the Break Free From Relationship Course on repeat; that’s how it’s meant to be worked through! Yes, understanding root causes helps enormously, as does continuing to explore the tender and vulnerable regions of sexuality. Sending blessings!

  • This blog really struck a chord with me. It’s like you’ve read my mind. I have all of the thoughts you mentioned and I stress over the fact that I married the wrong person because I don’t feel any feelings at all. Sometimes I do feel irritated and angry at my partner but most times I just feel numb. Ever since I stumbled across your website, I’ve learned that the root cause of this is relationship anxiety. I know from logic that I’m suffering relationship anxiety and that I’m the “distancer” and my partner is the “pursuer”. I work on opening up every day. My question is this: what does this dynamic say about my partner? Is my partner in a toxic relationship with me because he is pursuing someone who is one foot in and foot out in the relationship? If I’m the one having relationship anxiety, then does that mean that my husband is only chasing me until I become available? What happens when I’m over the relationship anxiety and I am fully emotionally available? Will the tables turn?

    • It means that your husband likely sees your essential self – your heart – and is patiently waiting for you to open to him. Sometimes the tables are turned when the partner who is the distancer becomes emotionally available, but more often than not the one who has been waiting receives with open arms. At the core, we’re all longing for connection. When you’re ready to fall into his arms, your husband will catch you.

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