Erectile dysfunction

Sexual Performance Anxiety: Why We Get It and How It Can Be Overcome

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Medically approved by Dr Earim Chaudry
Chief Medical Officer
iconLast updated 4th May 2021
In 30 seconds…

What is sexual performance anxiety? Guys, we all get from time to time – particularly when engaging in sexual activity with someone new. Often, it comes from a keen desire to ensure your partner is satisfied, and is usually nothing to worry about.

However, there are other causes of performance anxiety too. From stress about work, relationships, or financial issues, to social anxiety or other difficulties with mental health, many things can have an effect on your sex life. That’s normal – but we can all take steps to make sure sex is as relaxed as possible.

This can include managing your anxiety with meditation, counselling, and therapy, or trying to reduce self-consciousness or stress hormones with exercising more or practising a healthier lifestyle. Talk about it too. If you’re at the start of a new relationship particularly, being open with our feelings is key to a healthy sex life.

Overcoming Performance Anxiety

Is tonight the night? Sex with a new partner is a mixed bag of emotions, from curiosity and excitement to the inevitable nerves. But what if, like many of us, your performance isn’t up to its usual award-winning standards when you hit the sack with someone new? That’s totally normal. But it’s also normal to worry.

The trouble arrives when you worry too much. At this point, performance anxiety stops being just a psychological concern – and can start to play havoc with your physical performance itself. According to a recent study, performance anxiety causes or sustains most common sexual dysfunctions, such as erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. And it seems to affect up to a quarter of men.

So, you’re not the only one struggling – but we get that might not feel like much help. In this article, we want to help you understand why you might be feeling a little limp from anxiety. And we’ll let you know some ways to get your head back in the game too.

We know it’s frustrating – but you’re here. So, things are already looking up.

The Symptoms: What Performance Anxiety Might Look and Feel Like

One of the reasons why performance anxiety is not so well understood is that everyone experiences it in different ways. For one man, it might take its toll on your sexual desire. For another, it’s your ability to reach orgasm that suffers.

This diversity is, unfortunately, part of the game – and it might even strike you in different ways on different days. However, here are some of the most common sexual problems men encounter when we’re anxious.

Premature ejaculation. One of the most common symptoms of sexual anxiety is premature ejaculation, which involves ejaculating sooner than you or your partner would like. This is strongly associated with social anxiety in general, by the way too.

Erectile dysfunction. ED, as we call it, can result from anxiety too – and the more often you struggle to get it up, the more anxious you can get. A recent study showed that up to half of young men have struggled with ED, so there is plenty of support available to you. 

Difficulty reaching orgasm. Porn might tell us that it’s good to be the stud who lasts for hours. More often than not, though, it’s actually deeply frustrating. 

Low libido. Sometimes, performance anxiety can hamper your desire for sex at all. You don’t need to accept this. 

Why We Get the Pre-Sex Nerves With a New Partner

Performance anxiety can clearly cause difficulties in all parts of your sex life and it can cause you to think play back negative sexual experiences over and over again in your mind. But what’s causing the problem? Again, it depends.

“Having a new sexual partner may trigger temporary or permanent erectile dysfunction because of performance anxiety to satisfy them,” explains Dr Earim Chaudry. “Yet, there are a host of other things that can affect your mindset when approaching sex too.”

Here’s some reasons why you may be getting the pre-performance nerves.

Negative Thoughts around Sex

One of the drivers of sexual anxiety is negative sexual experiences in the past. If one time you struggled to get it up or you came sooner than you would have liked, the feelings you felt in these moments can affect you long into the future.

Pornography, by the way, doesn’t help in this regard. Real sex isn’t necessarily like sex in porn – and you shouldn’t get caught up in thinking that it should be. If you cannot last as long as pornstars before you ejaculate, or if you compare your penis size to theirs, it is understandable that you may feel self-conscious.

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Feeling the Pressure?

The pressure to satisfy a new partner can make all of us feel insecure. This is normal – but it can differ depending on whether you know your sexual partner or have just met them.

Annoyingly, this can sometimes result in an inability to get or maintain an erection, or in ejaculating prematurely. In most cases, you’ll be fine next time – and your partner won’t mind too much anyway.

Perceptions of Your Physical Appearance

How you feel about how you look may play a role in performance anxiety. Body image and self-esteem are often connected, and it is very normal to feel like you are insufficiently sculpted or to worry about the size of your penis. While most people don’t care about the size of their sexual partner’s package, we get that this doesn’t always quell those feelings. 

Life Stress

Sex doesn’t happen in a vacuum. And if you are stressed about work, relationships, your family, financial issues, or any other thing under the sun, you may well experience performance anxiety too.

Sometimes you just aren’t in the mood, so don’t beat yourself up about it. It happens to the best men. However, you shouldn’t be letting stress overwhelm you either, so make an effort to talk things through with someone you trust – or let it all out through exercise.

How to Overcome Performance Anxiety

We told you that a lot can affect your attitude to sex. And throughout your life you can expect to feel a little nervous at least once.

There is good news though. There are plenty of effective strategies for overcoming sexual performance anxiety – and for managing its symptoms too.

Banish negative thoughts by clearing your head (even something simple like taking a shower can sometimes help) and creating some stress-busting tactics. Deep-breathing can help.

Take your time. More foreplay and less rushing will help. Focus on pleasuring your partner rather than worrying about your erection. Remember, you’re there to enjoy the experience, no matter which way. It should be a pleasure, not a competition.

Find ways to manage stress in life. We all have busy lives. But don’t let that affect your sex. Try managing your anxiety with tools including meditation, counselling and therapy – as well as living a healthier lifestyle. 

Talk it out. Tell your new partner what’s happening in your head and how you’re feeling. Being open with our feelings is key to a healthy sex life. It doesn’t make you less of a man. 

Talk to your doctor. And consider sex therapy. Talking it out with a professional – and someone who’s not your new partner – might be the best thing you’ve ever done.

Result. Addressing any (completely normal and natural) anxiety you may have is key. Now get set for some of the best sex of your life.

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Key Takeaways

Performance anxiety in the bedroom is common – more so than you realise. And while it affects us all in different ways, none of us need to struggle with its symptoms.

Try to find ways that work for you to manage your stress. And remember that there is no rush at all. Enjoy it.


Robert E Pyke (2020). Sexual Performance Anxiety:


G Corretti, S Pierucci, M De Scisciolo, C Nisita (2006). Comorbidity between social phobia and premature ejaculation: study on 242 males affected by sexual disorders:


While we've ensured that everything you read on the Health Centre is medically reviewed and approved, information presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

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