Sex + Dating

Why Nerves Can Shut Down Your Sex Life

are you horny or is it anxiety
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Like so many young people in this generation, I have a an anxiety disorder. I stop at least twice a day to concentrate on my breathing and furiously try to calm my thoughts. I'm not one for the almighty Xanax, but I do use sex as a coping mechanism.

Orgasms are a good way to stave off anxiety, at least for a little while. When you have an orgasm your brain is temporarily flooded with oxytocin, a pain-killing neurochemical that makes you feel oh-so-good. For a few brief moments you forget about whatever it was you were freaking out about and just relax.

I am also a chronic sufferer of "anxiety vagina," a medical term I came up with (and coined on Urban Dictionary) after extensive research yielded no specific name. The second-closest is "anxiety-related vaginal symptoms," which is similar but not exactly on point.

Anxiety vag (my shorthand, and a much more fun way of saying it) is when your anxiety prevents you from getting wet or achieving orgasm. Really not fun. As someone who is often horny and anxious, it's a confusing state of being.

Anxiety ruins sex

Anyone with anxiety will tell you that it can really ruin the moment when you're mid-fuck. For women especially, achieving orgasm takes focus. It takes lasering in on every single nerve ending and allowing ourselves to be overtaken with pleasure.

It's this extremely close attention we pay that lets us build on the moment to eventually come.

Aaron Harvey, founder of Intrusive Thoughts, a mental health organization, says anxiety can take us out of that critical moment, disturbing our concentration. "When anxiety attacks, it disrupts that energy," he says.

A strike of anxiety mid-coitus will destroy an orgasm. The second your mind slips, you're stuck thinking about other things: deadlines at work, or a fight you had with a friend.

There's a fine line between nerves and lust

I find that I often hit on BAE when I'm feeling nervous. Reason being, symptoms for anxiety and lust are relatively similar: your heart races, your mind can't stop turning, and there's a swarm of butterflies in your stomach.

Harvey says there is a fine line between healthy anxiety and unhealthy anxiety. When you're turned on, anticipatory anxiety is normal. You're amped up and excited. Unlike excitement, dread is not healthy. "There is a fundamental difference between that feeling and the feeling of sheer panic," Harvey tells us.

The key is being able to tell the difference between panic and excitement. Using sex as a crutch for a panic attack is sure to lead you to a bout of anxiety vag. You might think you're on the fast track to an erotic sexual encounter, but your vagina isn't having it. Take a minute to really process your feelings before going full force into sex.

Anxiety leaves you high and dry

Anxiety vag not only takes you out of the moment, but it royally screws up vaginal lubrication, as well.

When you're actually turned on, your vagina's natural response is to become wet to allow for easy penile penetration. But if your horniness is actually anxiety, you won't be able to get wet, let alone get off. Damn you, psychological and emotional issues affecting my level of sexual arousal.

I learned this the hard (ha) way, getting deep into a sexcapade before realizing my horniness was really just nerves. I could finally tell because I was drier than Phoenix asphalt, and to allow for penile penetration (read: getting that dick), we had to use more lube than oil on heavy machinery.

To enjoy sex, you need to calm down

Harvey offers three techniques to help calm anxiety and actually enjoy sex. The last thing any of us need is to let our anxiety control our libidos -- our ability to orgasm.

1. Stop freaking out about having an orgasm
If you let yourself become absorbed in your inability to come, you definitely won't. Stop living for the finish line and devote your attention to the very moment at hand. You won't always come, but at least you will enjoy yourself.

2. Practice deep breathing
"Just like in mindfulness meditation, if you start to have anxious thoughts, you can focus on your own breath to help center your mind," Harvey says.

3. Change it up
Instead of staying in one position or sticking to the few things you like in bed, encourage your partner to try different things so your mind stays fully engaged. Have your partner talk dirty to you, or move into a sexual position you might not normally try "so that your physical and visual stimulation outweigh the intensity of your anxious thoughts," Harvey says. Keep things interesting so you aren't distracted by your tendency toward anxiety.

Sex shouldn't be so high-pressure. Take some time to really think through your thoughts and understand what your body is telling you. Take a breath, enjoy the moments… and maybe get some high-quality, water-based lube.

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Gigi is Thrillist's Sex and Dating staff writer. Her vagina gets shy sometimes, does yours? Follow her lovable crazy on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @GigiEngle.