Performance anxiety impacts our sexual experiences in so many ways, our clients may not even realize when their sexual struggles are related to these fears. From sexual initiation provoking a nervous feeling to feel the need to ingest alcohol before sex, performance anxiety is something many of us have dealt with, or may at some point in our sexual lives. What assistance can we offer our clients to manage this feeling and how can we help them have better and more fulfilling sexual experiences?
The Root of Performance Anxiety
The feeling underlying performance anxiety is most often shame—and sexual shame usually comes from the harmful messages we have received about sex throughout our lives. Many of our clients are taught that sex is dirty, shameful, and wrong. Our culture in the U.S. (and elsewhere) promotes thinness, whiteness, and other harmful beauty standards. The sexual images we see feature world-rocking orgasms, unrealistic positions, and crazy theatrics. Our clients want their bodies to look and act in accordance with these standards. They want their sex to adhere to the specific ideas they have received from media and society at large. No wonder they’re nervous about messing up—that’s an insane amount of pressure!
We can end up internalizing the feeling that something is wrong with us if we don’t perfectly line up with these ideals. One of the most profound things we can do for our clients is to help them understand that these concepts come from external sources, and they aren’t necessarily true. If they can find the root of their performance anxiety, it will be easier to remedy the struggles that are surfacing.
Something that sex coaches like to call “goal-oriented sex” can hinder a fulfilling sexual experience for someone who experiences performance anxiety. This is a term coined to describe orgasm as the “goal” for sex, which has led people to overly focus on it throughout the whole experience. Our clients often don’t realize they’re doing this, but if we can get them to pay close attention, they might be able to catch themselves in this mindset.
Ask them, “Do you ever start to feel nervous if an orgasm doesn’t happen in a certain amount of time?” or “Do you feel like sex is a ‘failure’ if an orgasm doesn’t happen?” or “Does the pressure of having an orgasm prevent you from having an orgasm?”
Remind them they are far from alone in this. It’s so common that as sex coaches we hear iterations of this idea in our work all the time.
Shifting the focus away from orgasm and more toward enjoyment in the moment can help ease some of these feelings. Have your clients try discussing this beforehand with their partner(s) and begin short sessions of play that don’t result in orgasm. Remind them it might feel odd at first, but eventually, it will start to ease the pressure of performance. It also has an added benefit of building delicious tension within the relationship.
If we can help them reframe their internal ideas of why they have sex, they will find it easier to reframe their mindset in the moment.
Beat Performance Anxiety with Mindfulness
Anxiety, overthinking, and feeling “stuck in your head” are things that affect our entire lives, not just our sexual experiences. They just also happen to bleed into our sexual lives, as well. Practicing mindfulness is helpful outside the bedroom, so why wouldn’t it be helpful inside?
The practice of mindfulness is just that, a practice. It’s not something we perfect overnight, rather it’s something that gets easier over time. It goes deep, and to get really into it might require other training or education. Committing to different mindfulness practices has so many benefits beyond the bedroom. As sex coaches, we can pull from this philosophy and help our clients implement certain aspects of it into their sexual experiences.
Matching breath with a partner is a great breathing exercise you might recommend to your clients. Guide your client in session by just breathing deeply and having them match their breath to yours. Then have them try it out during their next sexual experience. Explain that the act of any breathing exercise will bring focus and attention to the breath and away from other fixations. Syncing your breath with a partner can also help you feel more connected to them in the moment. At its core, this exercise is about bringing yourself out of the head and into the body.
Another mindfulness exercise you can share with your client is the practice of naming and recognizing physical sensations in the moment. Have them practice in session by naming simple things. For example, “notice the cool air from the AC on your skin, how does it feel?” During sex, they can either speak it out loud or just think it in their mind, but the point is to practice really noticing and savoring the physical sensations as you feel them. This practice promotes a deeper connection to their body and can help get them out of their heads.
Mindfulness is an amazing tool and is worth drawing from in many areas of a sex coaching practice.
Feeling ashamed for feeling shame will always add unnecessary stress to a client’s life. The foundation of a client relationship is the acceptance of emotions, situations, and circumstances. Our goal should first and foremost be allowing our clients to feel seen and heard without shame. For clients experiencing performance anxiety, we need to remind them about the systems at play that does not support us in having healthy and fulfilling experiences. This is more than likely part of their experience, and it is not their fault.
Once we become aware of the influences on our feelings and behaviors, we are empowered to make conscious changes. Help your clients understand that feelings are cyclical and ever-changing. Encourage them to allow themselves to experience whatever they are feeling and to accept themselves for where they are. This overall acceptance of emotions can set the stage for change and growth, and will ultimately help resolve the shame-related performance anxiety they have been experiencing.
In a sex-negative culture, experiencing performance anxiety makes sense. It’s just another symptom of the harmful messaging we receive about sex, and your training as a sex coach equips you to gently guide your clients into a place of freedom surrounding their sexual experiences.
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