BlogSex issuesSexual performance anxiety

Sexual performance anxiety 101

Written by Mojo, reviewed by Amanda Barge, Psychosexual and Relationship Therapist

Man in a yellow shirt sitting on a bed.

Have you been feeling anxious about sex? With our team of experts, we’ll be analyzing every aspect of sexual performance anxiety, including:

What is sexual performance anxiety?

Sexual performance anxiety (SPA) is when you’re overcome by a fear that you won’t ‘perform well' during sex. Before we move on, we want you to know that we don't believe sex is a 'performance', and calling it one is often part of the problem.

SPA is sometimes referred to as ‘sexual performance anxiety disorder’, or you might have heard it just being called ‘performance anxiety’. But if we're getting technical, sexual performance anxiety is only one specific type of performance anxiety, so that’s what we’ll be covering in this post.

How common is sexual performance anxiety?

The short answer is: SPA is very common.

Research reveals that over half of the male population (52%) has erectile dysfunction. All of those men struggling with psychological ED issues will have sexual performance anxiety.

Another study shows that up to 1 in every 4 men (25%) experience performance anxiety sexually.

Because the topic is taboo and – unfortunately – associated with a sense of shame, we wouldn’t be surprised if the number of people suffering was even higher than the figures suggest.

Both men and women can be impacted by SPA – but we’ll be focusing on male sexual performance anxiety here.

Sexual performance anxiety symptoms

If you have sexual performance anxiety, you'll know how distressing it can be. And as if being anxious about sex wasn’t bad enough, SPA and a few other sexual problems can be connected, and can often become a vicious cycle. We’ll explain more below. 

Erectile dysfunction

Sexual performance anxiety and erectile dysfunction (ED) are very closely linked. 

“The majority of men who have psychological erectile dysfunction will probably deal with some level of performance anxiety.”

Amanda Barge, Psychosexual and Relationship Therapist

If you’re anxious about your sexual performance, your body can go into ‘fight or flight’ mode. This is a bodily response from the caveman days that gears you up to run away from a tiger or fight for your life. Unsurprisingly, when your body is in this state, getting an erection isn’t a priority.

This can also work in reverse: if you’re unable to get an erection on one occasion, you might start to overthink your future performance. So, an erection mishap can lead to SPA, and SPA can lead to longer term erection issues.

Premature ejaculation 

At Mojo, we use the term ‘rapid ejaculation’. ‘Premature’ makes it sound like you’re cumming ‘too quickly’, but there’s really no right or wrong timeframe to cum.

When you’re feeling anxious about performing, you can get so panicked that you wind up losing any kind of ejaculatory control, and this can lead to rapid ejaculation.

Or if you’re worried about losing your erection, you can really rush things to try to make the most of your boner. This can result in hurrying through foreplay, getting to penetration as quickly as possible, and then ultimately cumming quicker than you’d like.

Just like with ED, the opposite thing can happen too. If you cum too quickly one time, this can lead to sexual performance anxiety, as you can start to overthink the climax. 

Spectatoring

Every man on Earth should know: it is normal for your penis to get slightly softer and harder again during sex (and most men and their partners don’t even notice). 

But when you have performance anxiety, you can start to pay too much attention to your erections during sex, and this is called ‘spectatoring’. 

Unfortunately, this heightens anxiety and makes you more likely to lose your erection completely. 

“Spectatoring is when men are just completely focusing on the hardness of their penis, which obviously takes them straight into anxiety and 'fight or flight', and away from all the actual enjoyment of sex.”

Amanda Barge, Psychosexual and Relationship Therapist

Decreased sexual desire (and avoiding sex)

If you’ve got sexual performance anxiety, you might find that you don’t look forward to sex anymore. In fact, lots of men who feel anxiety about sexual performance end up dreading sex altogether.

“A man might start doing things to avoid having sex with his partner.

For instance, he’ll go to bed at a different time, he’ll stay up late, he’ll say he’s got work to do, he’ll wear shorts in bed instead of sleeping naked, or he’ll pick a fight so that his partner doesn’t want to have sex that night. And this is all because he doesn’t want to address the elephant in the room.”

Amanda Barge, Psychosexual and Relationship Therapist

Inner critic issues

Your inner critic is the little voice in your head that tells you really unhelpful (often untrue) things about yourself. Their sole purpose is to point out all your flaws. When you have SPA, your inner critic can become very loud, making your anxiety in bed even worse. 

Men in our community who have SPA shared what their inner critic sounds like – so, if this all sounds familiar, you should know you’re definitely not alone. 

Our founders have faced their inner critic too:

“Just before sex, my inner critic used to pipe up: ‘This isn’t going to work. They’re just going to spend ages playing with your soft penis trying to get you up, all for nothing. No one wants to play with a soft penis – why would you put them through this?

But I’ve learned to be more optimistic and to tell my inner critic to be quiet.”

Angus, co-founder of Mojo

Ripple effects

SPA can be devastating, and it can impact how you feel in day-to-day life as well as how you feel about sex.

Guys with SPA might also experience:

What causes sexual performance anxiety?

Sexual performance anxiety can be triggered by just about anything, so it can be hard to figure out where it’s coming from (annoying, we know). But we’ve listed some common causes, so you can suss out why it’s become a problem, and then start fixing it.

Random root causes

Issues that feel completely separate from your sex life can spill over into the bedroom, including:

All of these issues are likely to make you feel bad in general, so it’s easy to see how these negative thoughts can start to impact your opinion of yourself in a sexual context. 

New partner, new problems?

Everyone knows that nerves are part of the package when you start seeing someone new – but sexual anxiety can crop up alongside first date butterflies. This applies to casual sex partners or one-off hook-ups too.

“You might think your new love interest is more experienced than you, or you don’t know what they like sexually, or you could be worried that their last partner was a sex god. These worries can get out of hand, and they can contribute to SPA.”

Amanda Barge, Psychosexual and Relationship Therapist

The porn predicament

Watching porn is nothing to be embarrassed about – it’s tailor-made to get you horny, and it works. But if you start to confuse porn with real-life sex, it can fuel unrealistic expectations and body issues. This can contribute to sexual performance anxiety and erection issues. 

Bad previous experience(s)

Most men will have an unsuccessful sexual ‘performance’ at some point in their lives. This could mean that you couldn’t get it up, keep it up, or last as long as you’d like. This is completely normal – everyone has off days.

But once you’ve had one bad experience, you might start to think you won’t be able to ‘perform’ sexually ever again – and this is a classic cause of SPA.

Do I have ED or performance anxiety?

The relationship between performance anxiety and erectile dysfunction is complicated and often circular – one can set off the other. It's fairly likely that you will have them both at the same time.

Sexual performance anxiety cure

There’s no medical diagnosis for sexual performance anxiety, so we don’t want to throw around words like ‘cure’.

But we have shared some practical techniques to treat SPA below – they’re designed by experts and tested by real guys. 

Sexual performance anxiety treatment

Sexual performance anxiety therapy

SPA therapy can be made up of loads of different elements. If you decide to see a therapist, they’ll probably ask you how you’re feeling, and this kind of talking therapy can be very effective to help tackle the problem.

They’ll then give you a plan of action to help you overcome the issue. This will likely include practical meditations and sexual mindfulness techniques. 

One-on-one therapy sessions aren’t for everyone. If you’d like to stay anonymous, want to keep your therapy costs down, or you’re on a waiting list, you can work your way through Mojo’s sexual performance anxiety online therapy course. It’s led by our experts, and you can do it in the privacy of your bedroom.

Meditation mode

The first step in overcoming SPA is practicing getting out of your head and back into your body. Through mindfulness exercises, you’ll learn how to enjoy physical sensations without being distracted by intrusive thoughts. 

These exercises build the foundations for a more relaxed outlook, which can then be applied to your sex life. 

You can check out our free trial, to see if this technique is for you.

Speaking of meditations, guided imagery is a specific type of meditation for sexual performance anxiety. They’re all about applying your new mindful attitude to your sex life.

Through mindful masturbation and other solo sexual practices, you’ll learn how to reframe sex and be present in sexy situations without getting anxious. 

Once you realize it’s about the whole experience – not just about cumming, or how hard you are, or how long you can last – you’ll take the pressure out of sex, build confidence in your erections, and teach yourself how to stop over-analyzing your sexual ‘performance’.

This might sound complicated, but it’s a very simple technique, and our experts can guide you through it step-by-step.

Rebalance your relationship with porn

If you think porn is contributing to your SPA, we’ve got a dedicated porn and masturbation course to help you reframe your relationship with adult entertainment, so that it enhances your sex life, instead of making you feel anxious.

How to cope with sexual performance anxiety

Coping with sexual performance anxiety is much more achievable when you know you’re not doing it alone. Sharing how you’re feeling with other people is the best way to deal with the emotional strain of having SPA. 

Share with your partner

If you have a partner, you should try to talk to them about your SPA. Especially if you’ve been avoiding sex as a result of your anxieties. 

We know it can be hard to open these conversations, but just talking about the issue could help your relationship and even reduce some of your worries.

“When men with sexual performance anxiety keep it all bottled up, their partners can feel really rejected. They might think you’re just not attracted to them anymore. This can make relationship issues much worse. 

Just by opening up, you can reduce tension in your relationship – and your partner will probably feel very relieved when they know what’s going on.”

Amanda Barge, Psychosexual and Relationship Therapist

Open up online

If you don’t feel ready to talk to anyone yet, you can start by opening up anonymously on our community forum. You’ll see just how common SPA is, which makes it much less scary.

Plus, it’s a great place to see that there’s hope – lots of men have reduced their sexual performance anxiety through some of our proven techniques.

Mojo connect

Speak to other guys about sexual performance anxiety on our live video calls. You can keep your camera off the whole time if you want to, and you’ll hear real guys sharing their first-hand experiences and sexual performance anxiety tips.

How to prevent sexual performance anxiety

Preventing SPA is all about your sexual mindset. If you don’t have SPA and you want to make sure it stays that way, you can use the same approach we’ve listed in the SPA treatment section as preventative measures instead.

They’ll help you mould your mindset and your habits, so you can maintain an anxiety-free sex life. 

How to overcome sexual performance anxiety

If you feel your SPA popping up at different times in your life, you can revisit our tried and tested techniques. They’ll refresh your memory and make sure you’re enjoying sex, not overthinking it, on a long-term, ongoing basis.

We’ve helped thousands of men overcome their bedroom anxieties already.

Our free trial is here when you’re ready to start working on SPA. Don’t forget, we have:

Solve erection issues for good

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Mojo aims to provide useful wellbeing resources to its users; however, you should not solely rely on opinions or advice available on the Website or given by the Community. Always seek advice from a qualified medical doctor or other healthcare professional before acting.

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