Tips For Overcoming Sexual Anxiety

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated April 16, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Even though sexual anxiety is common and can negatively impact relationships, self-confidence, and communication, the topic is rarely discussed openly. As a result, it’s not uncommon for people with sexual anxiety to experience self-consciousness, stress, frustration, embarrassment, and shame. Identifying this type of anxiety if it’s present in your life can be a helpful first step. From there, trying out some of the tips outlined below could be beneficial in learn tips for overcoming sexual anxiety and related challenges.

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About sexual anxiety

Note that sexual anxiety isn’t an official diagnosis. Instead, it refers to significant nervousness and worry a person may feel in relation to sexual activity or sexual behaviors. This worry is usually significant enough to impact their ability to perform sexually and to be present with their partner, and it may contribute to certain aspects of mental health challenges over time as well.

That said, it’s also possible for someone who feels this type of anxiety to have a diagnosable anxiety disorder as well that may exacerbate these feelings. For example, someone with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) may experience a persistent sense of fear and worry in their day-to-day life. It may affect or relate to all types of situations, including those involving sexual activity. 

Also note that sexual avoidance and sexual dysfunctions can have many other causes beyond simple nervousness, such as past trauma, medical or physical causes, or others. Speak with a doctor or therapist if you have concerns.

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

Common causes of sexual performance anxiety

When it comes to non-clinical sexual anxiety that’s unrelated to trauma or medical causes, various factors may cause or contribute to it. For one, those who have had negative experiences with previous partners—such as where they felt they didn’t perform how they wanted to or where they received negative feedback—may feel anxiety about future encounters. This can become a vicious cycle in which the negative experience perpetuates a negative self-image, which then fuels these feelings. The individual may then experience further shame and embarrassment, potentially leading them to avoid sexual encounters altogether. 

Performance anxiety is another common factor that can contribute to this experience. It usually centers around an individual’s concerns about their sexual performance and the possibility of their partner judging them for it. Those with performance anxiety may experience sexual problems like difficulty staying engaged in sexual activities, maintaining an erection, and/or reaching orgasm and decreased sensitivity in erogenous zones, all of which may perpetuate the shame cycle often associated with sexual anxiety.

It can also be possible for relationship issues to cause sexual anxiety. Partners with communication troubles, conflict, or challenges in the relationship may find intimacy more difficult than usual. These can make intimate connections challenging if they’re not adequately resolved. 

Ways your relationship(s) may be affected if you don’t manage or overcome sexual anxiety 

Sexual anxiety can significantly impact relationships that have a sexual component. One example of these possible effects is communication challenges. An individual who is anxious about sexual activity may struggle to express their desires because of the anxiety they feel, which can lead to miscommunication with their partner or leave the partner feeling undesired. If one partner feels undesired, that could create more anxiety and decrease the chances of effective communication even further.


Decreased intimacy can also be a side effect of sexual anxiety. Some individuals with sexual anxiety may avoid sexual interactions altogether, which can cause or contribute t a lack of physical and emotional intimacy between partners. This lack of intimacy can lead to a perceived loss of connection and negative views of the relationship.

Sexual anxiety can also impact an individual’s mental health and, in some cases, their partner’s mental health. The commonly associated feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment often lead to a negative self-image and negative self-talk, which can eventually take a toll on a person’s mental well-being. Partners of those who are experiencing negative thought spirals may also be impacted because of perceived rejection or frustration at the lack of intimacy. 

Overcoming sexual anxiety: Three tips to consider

Individuals who want to manage sexual anxiety to improve enjoyment and comfort levels and/or strengthen their bond with a short- or long-term partner(s) have some options. It can be a challenging process, but there are several strategies that may be effective and important factors in addressing symptoms; consider the following.

Communicate effectively

Effective communication strategies can be an important tool for managing sexual anxiety and for promoting healthy relationships of all kinds. In general, partners who can openly discuss their sexual preferences and concerns in a calm, nonjudgmental manner are more likely to create a supportive and safe environment for same-sexual activity. Plus, communicating the fact that you’re anxious could help defuse some of the pressure you may be feeling about performing, since you can at least stop worrying about hiding your fears. 

Practicing effective, open communication can also involve setting boundaries and expectations for sexual activities, which may help a person feel more in control and less anxious. You could also communicate what you may need from your partner to feel more at ease. For example, some may want to prioritize connection in the emotional or romantic sense first to help ease their anxiety about being sexual with someone, so asking for hand-holding or cuddling could help them find calm.

Try relaxation techniques

Those with sexual anxiety may also find it helpful to use relaxation techniques, which could help reduce both physical and emotional feelings of anxiety. For example, deep breathing exercises can slow the heart rate, which may help counteract the stress hormones from the fight-or-flight response due to performance anxiety or simply a stressful day, potentially inducing feelings of calm. Practicing mindfulness meditation regularly may also have benefits for a person’s sexual life, since it can teach one how to relax into the present moment and not hold on to anxious thoughts that may arise.

Focusing on physical sensations through grounding techniques and progressive muscle relaxation might help with sexual anxiety symptoms as well. An example of a grounding strategy is to focus the senses and identify one to three things you can see, hear, smell, touch, and taste to ground yourself in your body before engaging in sexual activity.

Progressive muscle relaxation typically involves tensing and releasing muscle groups to encourage bodily awareness and a sense of relaxation. Practicing it regularly over time might help a person feel more at ease in sexual situations.

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Shift negative self-talk

Engaging in negative self-talk is common in those with sexual anxiety, and shifting this behavior is typically crucial for building confidence. Holding and then repeating negative beliefs about one’s body or sexual abilities can lead to additional stress, performance issues, and even avoidance of sexual situations altogether. Medically reviewed and peer-reviewed studies suggest that positive self-talk tends to correlate with both mindfulness and self-compassion, both of which may help a person feel less anxious. 

Therapy to help you in overcoming sexual performance anxiety

If you’re looking to implement any of the tips above or address sexual anxiety in other ways, a therapist may help. They can support you in practicing relaxation techniques, sharpening your communication skills, and adjusting the quality of your self-talk. They can also offer you a safe space to express your feelings and learn methods for building your self-esteem and self-confidence. If you’re experiencing symptoms of a diagnosable anxiety disorder, they can support you in addressing these as well.

However, many people find it nerve-wracking to speak about their sexual lives and challenges with a provider face to face. In cases like these, online therapy can represent a less intimidating option. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp for individuals or ReGain for couples, you can speak with a licensed therapist via video chat or phone call—whichever makes you feel more comfortable.  

A growing body of research suggests that online therapy can be as effective as in-person treatment in many cases. One study related to sexual anxiety in particular offered virtual therapy from a sex therapist to 32 couples with low/no sexual desire/frequency who were looking to increase both of these measures. Participant feedback described “improvements in emotional connection, embodiment, being ‘in the moment,’ playfulness, enjoyment, authenticity, as well as increased comfort with communication in general, about sex and at times of conflict.” 


It’s not uncommon to experience anxiety around sexual intimacy, but these feelings do have the potential to negatively affect a person’s relationship and their own mental well-being if they’re not properly managed. If you want to overcome sexual anxiety, some strategies to consider include open communication with your sexual partner(s), relaxation exercises, and meeting with a therapist.
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