Performance anxiety can be a difficult issue to combat. In episode 303, I received a question from an individual who recognizes they struggle with commitment issues, and has recently experienced a decrease in their performance and stamina when having sex. In this post, I break down the issue at hand and look at the options available to help.
Hey Dr Duff,
So I think I might be having a problem in bed, I say I think because I’m not 100% sure if it is a problem or not. I used to be able to have sexual intercourse with my ex girlfriend 2, 3 sometimes even 4 times in a row. Mind you, I had commitment issues with this person at the time and quite frankly I believe I still do with current relationships. It wasn’t until one day that we were in bed about to have sex, my commitment issues crept up on me and my heart started pounding and I had some sort of panic attack. I had a hard time trying to get an erection that night. Ever since then, I haven’t been able to have sex with any partners multiple times in a row, just once. What do you think it might be? My way of interpreting it is “I might not be attracted to my partners as much as I think I am” but that’s not a healthy way of thinking. Hope you can help, thanks.
Great question! I’m sorry that you are experiencing this. I definitely think that what is happening here is something mental and primarily anxiety-related. Unfortunately, as humans, we have this tendency to get a thought or a fear in our head and then basically cause it to come true because we get stuck on it. For example, you might be so afraid of having a panic attack while you are out at the store that you give yourself a panic attack. For me, if I have the thought that I might have insomnia and be unable to fall asleep on a given night, you can bet your ass that I won’t be sleeping without some sort of intervention. I think what happened was a random occurrence where you were in the midst of having sex and then something emotional popped up (it happens). Your body’s wires got crossed and you stored the memory of that difficult emotional experience with the experience of having sex.
For a lot of people that have erectile dysfunction, it’s not a primarily physical issue. They can achieve an erection, but it’s only under certain circumstances that they can’t. Often because they are afraid that they won’t be able to. If you have any concerns about physical functioning, you are always welcome to get checked out, but I think that in your case, it’s very likely more mental. This is supported by the fact that you are able to perform sexually, just not as extensively as you have been able to in the past. I definitely don’t think that the issue is being less attracted to partners than you thought. I think the issue is more that you are in your head about this issue and expecting it to happen. If you fear it, it shall come.
Dig a little deeper
There is also a deeper level here of some commitment and possibly attachment issues that need to be worked out. It sounds to me like there are some deep seeded emotional issues here that you have been suppressing, which worked their way out during sex when the defenses were lower. I don’t think you’ll be able to just ignore this. It very well may be the case that the immediate issue spontaneously resolves over time as you are able to continue having experiences and normalizing things. But without addressing the deeper issues, I imagine this will creep up again. So my most obvious piece of advice here would be to get yourself into some therapy. Not to just pathologize what you are experiencing sexually, but to address the deeper issues. It may also help to shift your expectations a bit. I think that you are getting a bit caught up in the desire to perform and potentially losing sight of the experience as a whole. Generally speaking, I think we as a culture are a bit too obsessed with performance and outcomes when it comes to sex. Having sex multiple times consecutively isn’t inherently better than having sex once. It also points to a perhaps limited definition of sex. I’m sure you know this, but there is a lot more to sex than just penetration. It all counts and it all matters.
Alter your focus
If you are so focused on your ability to repeatedly get an erection rather than focusing on and enjoying the rest of the process, your pressure to perform may just prevent you from performing the way that you want. If you have access to a sex therapist, they would be the best resource for working through this. But I would suggest shifting your focus a bit. Actually planning on NOT having sex multiple times in a row, but rather just focusing intently on the moment. Integrating mindfulness into sex could be helpful here. Focusing on the sensations, on being present, on being engaged. This can help you to focus less on what is coming next. You could shift the focus in other ways as well – focus on being more sensual if you tend to be more aggressive or straightforward. Maybe more foreplay, more massage, etc. I’m obviously taking guesses here, but if you could break the frame from what your typical sex looks like, even in some small ways – it might make a big difference. Your mind is great at making associations. Subverting those expectations may be a nice loophole to create a different experience for you. Perhaps trying different locations could be a way of doing this as well. Get creative!
Overall, I think this will get better. It may take a bit of work on your end to address some of the underlying issues. You also may need to shift your focus and approach to sex. Focus more on the process rather than the performance. Enjoy and indulge in a different way. You haven’t lost anything – you just had an unfortunate experience that got your caught up in your head. You’ll be alright.
You can listen to this on Episode 303 of the podcast!
Thank you for the great question!
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