Sex is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be a way to switch off and forget about the problems in your life whilst you spend some time wrapped up and lost in someone else, the sensations and the pleasure. It’s supposed to get you out of your own head for a while. But when you suffer from an anxiety disorder which has riddled every aspect of your life with worry and dread, getting out of your own head can be near enough impossible at times. This was the case for me for a very long time.
At certain points of my anxiety disorder (which thankfully I’ve now recovered from and can fully enjoy sex again), I was too anxious to get out of my bed, let alone get dressed up in fancy lingerie for my partner. And regardless of how supportive your partner is of any mental illness, there’s no getting around the fact that an anxiety disorder can affect your sex life.
Navigating sex with an anxiety disorder can be incredibly tricky, especially depending on what your anxiety feeds on and is triggered by. For me, a huge trigger of my anxiety disorder is heat. For years, I was terrified of getting hot and fainting. For years, I’d take extreme measures to make sure I was never in that position.
And guess which activity tends to make you feel a bit warm?
So you can imagine how triggered my anxiety would get every time I tried to have sex, felt like I was getting too hot and started to worry I was going to pass out. It wasn’t fun for me, and I can’t imagine it was fun for my partner either – having sex with someone who wasn’t really present in the moment because they were too in their own head.
Although all anxiety disorders are different and triggered by different things, here are some basic tips and ideas to consider if you’re finding that your sex life is getting affected by your anxiety disorder.
Have an open and honest conversation with your partner.
Communication is always key in relationships – whether you have an anxiety disorder or not. But if anxiety is affecting your sex life, it’s so important that you can talk freely about it. Anxiety is invisible, and your partner can’t know what’s going on in your head or how you’re feeling without you telling them.
Establish safe words or safe behaviours.
As well as an open and honest conversation about how you’re feeling, it’s also worth establishing some safe words and safe behaviours that you both understand if you start to feel overwhelmed, anxious or a panic attack coming on. Choose a unique word or even an object that you can hold if you want a time out.
Learn breathing techniques.
Breathing techniques are so useful in any situation that makes you anxious or panicky, and during sex is no exception! It’s no secret that when we start to panic or get overly anxious, we can start to hyperventilate. So, learning to take back control of our breathing can have a huge impact on how we feel.
One breathing technique that always calms me down is the 7-11 technique, where you breathe in slowly for 7 counts and out slowly for 11 counts. If you’re particularly anxious, then you might not make it to 7 or 11 at first, and that’s okay. But the longer you focus, the more relaxed you’ll get and eventually you’ll slow your breathing right back down to enable you to focus on the 7 and 11 counts.
Another technique to try is the 5-5-10 technique, where you breathe in for 5 counts until your lungs are full, retain the breath for 5 counts and exhale slowly for 10. However, there are a ton of other techniques to try and experiment with, to see which works best for you.
More often than not, anxiety is triggered by not being or feeling in control. Safe sex with your trusted partner is a situation you can control to some degree, so if you feel like planning will help you keep your anxiety disorder at bay whilst having sex, then plan, plan, plan!
With my example of getting anxious when I was hot, a simple way around that is to ensure the window is open or the fan is on. But having an element of control over the situation could mean anything from choosing the room you want to be in, keeping on an item of clothing, making sure you’re using effective birth control or knowing both of you are on the same page.
Make sure you have birth control sorted.
If you’re not trying for a baby, then birth control is another important element to think about, especially if you’re anxious. Ensuring you have effective birth control sorted out will at least take a little of the anxiety off your hands, so you don’t have to worry about an unwanted pregnancy.
And don’t forget to seek additional help if you’re struggling.
Of course, if you’re really struggling with your anxiety disorder, then you should seek additional help and support. Have a chat with your GP and ask to be referred to your local mental health services. Perhaps try medication or seek private therapy if you’re in a position to do so. You don’t have to suffer alone and suffer forever.
Anxiety disorders can affect so many areas of our lives and have devastating impacts on our relationship with ourselves and others. There’s always something we can do to help ourselves and also help others understand how we feel when we’re extremely on edge. But the most important thing is that that the sex you’re having is consensual and with someone you trust.