As if anxiety sufferers didn’t already have enough to worry about, there is now growing evidence to suggest that people with anxiety disorders also have higher rates of sexual problems.
We are all familiar with the more common anxiety symptoms like palpitations, racing thoughts, perfuse sweating, but now you can add sexual aversion, sexual dysfunction, and a lower libido to the already long list of things you already hate about having an anxiety disorder.
Sexual aversion is very much like it sounds. The intense avoidance of sexual intimacy which is “characterized by disgust, fear, revulsion, or lack of desire in consensual relationships involving sexual contact”.
Sexual aversion can develop into a syndrome and effects men and women at similar rates. The avoidance of sexual contact researchers believe is related to performance anxiety, fear of over stimulation, or just plain not liking your partner.
This type of sexual problem can also affect men and women equally since, “induced by different stressors, anxiety can distract from erotic stimuli… this may result in poor erection ( erectile dysfunction ) in males and cause a reduction in lubrication and clitoral tumescence in females”.
Although some may not categorize it as a sexual dysfunction, many male anxiety sufferers also suffer from premature ejaculation. It is thought that fears of not meeting a partners expectations or feelings of possible failure account for much of this phenomenon. Keep in mind however that these and other sexual conditions can also have a phyiscal basis as well.
As anxiety sufferers get wrapped up in their daily fears and worry it can easily take away from ones interest in their partner. Anxiety in this way consumes a persons libido because of the stress and energy needed to worry excessively.
Stress can also cause fatigue and irritability, both of which do not aid in the fostering of a close intimate relationship. The phrase, “sorry honey I’m too tired” comes to the fore much more often in this case.
This is very basic and has no fancy scientific label. The bottom line is that sex increases your heart rate, and anxiety inducing chemicals like adrenaline. As a result, having sex for some can cause feelings of panic and apprehension.
Heavy breathing, a fast heart rate, sweating and all the rest of it can trigger panic in some. It can even trigger panic and uneasiness well after you’ve stopped and are trying to go to sleep.
This is very similar to the fear that some anxiety sufferers have of exercise. Anything that resembles a panic attack is just avoided. But of course like exercise, sexual intimacy is an all around good thing.
What To Do
This is a tough cookie to crack even if you don’t have an anxiety disorder. Researchers simply don’t know the exact reason(s) why anxiety sufferers have high rates of sexual dysfunction and acknowledge that much more attention needs to be paid to this neglected topic.
That being said, if an anxiety sufferer is experiencing phyiscal dysfunction than the first place to start is the doctors office. Because sexual dysfunction can be a phyiscal problem, sometimes a physical solution is required. There are many new therapies that are now available and talking to your doctor is great way of finding out what they are and if they can work for you.
If your issue is more mental however, than of course the issue becomes more about anxiety and stress reduction. Moreover, sometimes we simply have to try harder. Despite the difficulty of getting started, it is a well documented fact that a healthy sex life can boost your immune system, fill you with endorphins, and create a stronger bond between you and your partner.
Sex is always a difficult topic to talk about for obvious reasons, however its always a good idea to have an open channel of communication with your partner about any possible sexual problems you may be facing. In the long run its better to get these issues out in the open and discuss ways to cope with them in a healthy way.
Archives of Sexual Behavior, August 2001, Vol 30, Number 4 pp. 369-379