You Need Help: Why Am I So Apprehensive and Anxious About Sex?

Q:

I have been out for over a decade but haven’t had a serious relationship until now, in my 30s. I adore my partner, I can’t imagine not being with her and I am so attracted to her in every way. At the same time, being with her has highlighted some stuff. Even at the beginning of our relationship when we were having crazy sex every time we saw each other I noticed I was always nervous before, full of apprehension all day, and totally in my head throughout. Now that we are in a bit of a routine I think she’s noticed that something about the way I approach sex isn’t entirely relaxed. Even though the sex is great, I still find it really hard to just let go and be present in it, making it hard to cum. I’m always thinking about whether we will or won’t have sex that night, and when we have sex I’m thinking about when it will end. My partner is incredible and has said that we can try anything or nothing and we can talk about it, but how do I start talking about it/ exploring it when I don’t understand what the problem is? I want her to be happy, and I’m worried she’ll feel as though it’s something to do with her, when in reality this has always been the way I think about sex.


A:

You’re correct that it’s difficult to know how to work on and talk about sexual hangups when they remain somewhat nebulous and you haven’t figured out what you’re feeling yet. At the same time, sex and our relationships to it are really complicated. Sometimes it’s really, really hard to figure out where certain feelings and discomforts stem from. And that’s okay! I’m hoping my advice can both help you figure out some answers about your own relationship to sex but also help you in the moments where you still might not have all the answers.

I think it’s really great that you have such a loving and supportive partner. I think it’s great that you want her to be happy and that she is not putting any pressure on you. All that said, now I want you to try to think about these things as being separate from your partner. You say so yourself that you’re worried that she’ll feel as though it has something to do with her. And you know that it has nothing to do with her and that you’ve always had these feelings about sex. So grant yourself the permission to center yourself instead of thinking of all this in terms of how your partner might feel or react. This is about you. Centering yourself does not exclude or negate your partner. Rather, it allows you to better focus on your feelings, their roots, and what you want and need when it comes to sex and boundaries. You want your partner to be happy, but you should want happiness for yourself, too. I can tell you right now that you probably won’t be able to get any closer to unpacking some of your sexual baggage (which, btw, most people have!) if you’re constantly thinking about this in terms of another person.

On that note: Find someone to talk to who isn’t your partner. I think it’s great that she says you can talk to her! You can take her up on that from time to time. But I also think it’s important for you to find someone who you can talk to about sex who you are not having sex with. If therapy is an option for you, then that could be a place to start. There are therapists who specialize specifically in sex. If therapy is not an option, do you have any close friends who you could open up to about things? Talking to someone who you are not in a sexual relationship with helps remove sex from the conversation about sex, which can give you some more clarity and space to explore yourself. If you’re not ready to talk to anyone at all, then journaling can be an option. I just think you need an outlet for exploration that is not tethered directly to your partner.

Practicing mindfulness (with meditation exercises, apps, workbooks, etc) can also help here. Along with journaling and attempting to name your feelings as you feel them (whether to yourself or to your partner), mindfulness can help us unlock the things we feel about our bodies, touch, desire, etc. Masturbation can also help here!

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to figure everything out all at once. Don’t feel like the solution to figuring stuff out is to just have sex when you’re not really feeling it. If you’re having hesitations, sit with them instead of ignoring them. What would make you feel safer? Pay attention to your body in these moments. Are you holding tension? If you’re feeling anxiety, where do you physically feel it?

You (and your relationship!) will thrive if you’re patient and kind with yourself. Be honest with your partner and lean on her when that feels like the right thing to do, but also prioritize yourself and keep in mind that you should have other systems of support outside of her.

For more advice and also just to know that you’re not alone in having complicated feelings about sex, check out these previous You Need Helps by Kaelyn and Carolyn and other AS writing on sex:

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Miami. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 300 articles for us.

3 Comments

  1. Ticks some boxes for me.
    I had my first sex(1 st at all,only one boy kiss with 17 then none) and 1 st RL with exact 30.

    also anxious and problems climaxing with gf.
    No prob coming alone.
    Too much in my head .
    my poor gf almost got carpal tunnel…

    It did get better but it took very very long for me .
    Give it time and one day it works.
    Sometimes it helps to also think of erotic scenes in your head to get you more aroused, think about whats getting you off while masturbating.

    Also a great response from our ” Autostraddle’s queer miss westheimer”!

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