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Can Anxiety Cause Sexual Dysfunction?


It can be a delicate business, but sometimes in the bedroom things just don’t go as planned. This can be for a myriad of reasons, but for both men and women, there is a link between anxiety and underperforming when it comes to sex.


As with a lot of symptoms of anxiety, the triggers lie within our caveman brain. This is the survival-driven part of our brain that our newer, rational cortex grew on top of. Its primary concern is keeping us alive, so when our brain perceives a threat, it releases these stress chemicals and activates a response called the fight, flight or freeze response. The stress hormone cortisol or the chemical adrenaline are released and this puts our body on high alert, and as a result, our body prepares to either fight, flight or freeze. 


How Can Anxiety Cause Sexual Dysfunction?

There’s a few reasons that anxiety might cause sexual dysfunction, the first of which being to do with blood flow. When we’re in this fight, flight or freeze mode, our heart rate increases and the body recirculates blood and oxygen to our essential organs and muscles – unfortunately our genitals aren’t considered vital for fleeing a scene or fighting off a predator – so for men this might appear like an inability to get aroused.


Similarly, in this survival mode there is a release of stress hormones that can interfere with our existing hormonal balance, particularly in our genitals. Especially for women, to get aroused,  being relaxed is vital and when stress and anxiety take over, this isn’t possible, appearing as vaginal dryness.


Other factors may include alcohol consumption to quell nerves, overstimulation of certain regions leading to premature ejaculation or discomfort and tension in the surrounding muscles causing clenching. 


How Can I Stop This Symptom

The key here is open communication between you and your partner about any issues and trying to create a relaxed, positive atmosphere for you both. Sex can be highly anxiety-inducing for a lot of us, getting it right, making sure it feels good  for everyone, making sure you meet expectations – there’s a lot of pressure there. You can release a lot of it by being open with your partner and discussing what each other likes and dislikes, so that you can feel more comfortable, relaxed and prepared. 


However, this only works to deal with the symptoms, really you need to consider managing or building strategies to tackle your anxiety. There are several options available including CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), mindfulness, medication and group therapy. If you’re unsure, please contact your GP for more information.