Sex should be a pleasurable, enjoyable experience, but often people find it hard to relax and be in the moment.
Some people find it hard to focus on the present because their mind is distracted by other stressors in their life.
For example, you might be thinking about what needs to be done around the house, worrying about finances, or dwelling on that problem you couldn’t solve at work.
Others may feel anxious about sex which makes it hard to enjoy the experience.
There are lots of reasons people can feel anxious around intimacy, for example, because of poor body image, gender dysphoria, being with a new partner, or because of past trauma.
Poor sex education along with misleading sexual portrayal in the media and porn can leave people with unrealistic expectations of sex. This can result in many people struggling with performance anxiety.
Maria Cohut, Ph.D. explains that anxiety around sex and sexual performance is very common for all genders, regardless of previous sexual experience. So if you experience this, you aren’t alone!
Thankfully, there are plenty of ways you can combat anxiety or distraction, allowing you to enjoy your sexual experiences to the fullest.
1. Talk to Your Partner
If you’re feeling anxious about sex, one of the best things you can do is talk to your sexual partner or partners about how you’re feeling. This can bring you closer and allow them to understand where you’re coming from.
You can talk to them before you’re intimate, afterward, or even during! Remember that you can stop any sexual experience at any time if you aren’t enjoying it. Whenever you feel most comfortable talking to your partner is what’s important.
If you find yourself distracted during sex, voice this to your partner so you can work on reconnecting and being present in the moment together.
Although talking to your partner can be nerve-wracking, especially if you’re still getting to know one another, it’s key to being able to overcome anxiety.
Try to remember that you’re teammates in this situation: you both want the experience to be pleasurable for yourself and for each other.
2. Set Boundaries
Don’t be afraid to set clear boundaries with your partner, telling them what you do and don’t like. If there’s something you don’t want to try or if you feel things are going too fast, speak up. Ensure your partner understands your boundaries and will not cross them.
Remember that you can change your mind or say no at any time if you find that you’re not enjoying something, even if it was your idea.
3. Figure Out What Feels Good
We all have different desires and things that bring us pleasure in the bedroom. If you’re new to sex or you’re struggling to enjoy it, it can be helpful to figure out what feels good for you. Experimenting on your own can be fun and allows you to let your partner know what works for you.
Sex educator Amy Jo Goddard states that educating yourself about sex can help you to understand your desires and those of your partner. Read books, check out articles, and watch workshops or talks on sexuality. She also recommends taking your time to explore your own body through masturbation to figure out what feels good for you.
4. Ask For What You Need
Once you know what you like, you can ask your partner for what you need. Express what will help you to relax, and what brings you pleasure when you’re being intimate.
Psychotherapist and relationship expert Jenn Mann explains that communication is key to sexual pleasure. She states that you need to have a good foundation of communication so you can ask what you want during sex without feeling shy or worrying about offending your partner.
5. Take It Slow
You don’t need to rush into a sexual experience if you aren’t feeling swept up in the moment. Take your time and ask your partner to slow down as much as you need. If you’re nervous, you can build up to sexual acts gradually.
Intimacy doesn’t have to be all about genitals, fundamentally it’s about physical pleasure and emotional connection. Explore each other slowly, touching and kissing to build that connection. This can allow you to become more comfortable with each other.
Sometimes sensual acts like giving one another a massage can be calming and deepen the bond between you. Experiment to figure out what works for both of you.
6. Take a Break
If you find yourself feeling distracted, anxious, or just find you aren’t fully enjoying yourself, tell your partner you need to take a break. This doesn’t have to be a big deal or ‘kill the moment’, instead you can use it as a bonding experience. Take the time to cuddle each other, make eye contact, and reconnect.
7. Remove Distractions
If you’re someone who finds it tough to keep your mind focused on the moment, try to remove as many distractions as possible. Turn off the TV, loud music, and your phone notifications. It’s all about trying to create an environment that will help you to unwind and pay attention to your partner and your own body.
8. Don’t Pressure Yourself
Don’t ever allow your partner to pressure you into something you don’t feel comfortable with.
On the same note, try not to pressure yourself into trying something new or doing something you’re uncomfortable with because you feel like it’s expected of you or because it’s what your partner wants. Sex should be pleasurable for both of you and both of you have the right to set boundaries.
9. Work on Building Confidence
If you struggle with self-image, gender dysphoria, or lack of confidence, you might be more anxious in the bedroom because you’re worried about how you look or how your partner might perceive you.
These feelings are completely valid, but working on building confidence can be helpful. Take a look at our article on building self-confidence for some tips.
Talking to your partner, as we discussed earlier, can help them to understand what you’re going through. The more you communicate, the more likely you are to feel comfortable with one another and to achieve a sexual experience that makes you both feel at ease.
10. Try Mindfulness
Mindfulness is all about relaxation and being present in the moment, which can help with sexual anxiety. Yes, that’s right: you can even practice mindfulness during sex!
Now I’m not suggesting you start doing a meditation midway through a sexual experience. What I’m referring to is using mindfulness techniques to bring you back into your body so you are fully present.
For example, you could actively focus your mind on different parts of your body, really paying attention to the sensations you’re experiencing. This is like a mindfulness technique known as a body scan, where you focus your attention on each area of your body working your way from head to toe.
Irene Fehr, an intimacy and sexuality coach, recommends mentally naming the sensations you’re feeling to help you focus on them. For example, using descriptive terms such as sensual, slow, fast, wet, dry, smooth, soft, hard, and so on. She explains: “With practice, by redirecting your attention from your thoughts to the sensations in your body, you will learn to stay more present with it.”
Another simple mindfulness tool is to simply bring your attention back to the present if you find your mind wandering, rather than getting anxious about it or overthinking.
Some people find it helpful to tense and relax the muscles in their bodies. This is similar to progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), a mindfulness technique where you work your way through the body tensing and relaxing each group of muscles while breathing deeply.
Elena Harder is the founder of a mindfulness program based around sex and being connected with the moment called JoyGasm. She explains that using mindfulness can help you to be more present, reconnect with your body, and tune into how it feels during intimacy.
11. Keep Breathing
This sounds obvious, but often when we’re anxious or aroused (or both at once), we forget to keep breathing deeply. Bringing your focus back to your breathing can help you to calm down and be present.
In fact, sexologist Jessica O’Reilly, Ph.D. says that breathing deeply during sex can increase the blood flow to your genitals, which can even increase sexual pleasure and enhance the experience.
12. Don’t Focus On Orgasms
Orgasms are the whole point of sex, right? Actually, while orgasms can be an amazing sexual experience, they shouldn’t be the goal!
Putting all of the focus on both you and your partner having an orgasm can put a lot of pressure on both of you. This pressure can cause anxiety, tension, and actually make you less likely to reach a climax.
Instead, try to focus on just enjoying yourselves and doing things that make you both feel good. Make the goal pleasure, connection, and enjoyment. When you take pressure off, you’ll likely find it’s much more fun, and you’re both more likely to reach orgasm.
13. Have fun!
Ultimately, if you want to have sex, it should be fun for everyone involved! Take your time to think about what would make you feel comfortable and make your sexual experience more enjoyable.
If you've been affected by sexual trauma, the RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is a great resource for help.
You can call their hotline on 800.656.HOPE for help and guidance. Alternatively, you can live chat with their staff. You can also check out their detailed list of resources to see what other help is available.
If you struggle with gender identity issues and need some support, check out GLAAD's (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) list of resources for transgender people. The National Center for Transgender Equality also has a comprehensive list of resources.
Maria Cohut, Ph.D., (2018), “Sex anxiety: How can you overcome it?” Medical News Today.
Lindsay Dodgson, (2020), “A relationship expert explains 6 reasons people get stuck in their heads during sex, and how to stop these thoughts getting in the way”. Insider.
Irene Fehr, (2016), “How to Relax and Stay Present During Sex”. HuffPost.
Emma McGowan, (2015), “How To Actually Relax During Sex”. Bustle.
Zahra Barnes, (2016), “This Simple Breathing Trick Can Give You Better Orgasms”. Self.