Growing up, we all have been given various versions of the “where do babies come from” talk. As a society that’s been shaming the very idea of sex or sexual wellness for years now, most Indian parents or caregivers have often pushed across a distorted explanation of what sex really is.
From assigning funny names to our genitals to being hush-hush about periods or masturbation - neither our parents nor we have had access to credible, inclusive, and pleasure-focused sex education.
One thing that we can all relate to is how just the thought of having a sex life when we were younger (even, still) often felt like a giant mission where you’re completely by yourself. Maybe not as alone, there’s mainstream porn and pop culture that has been the source of any ‘knowledge’ around all things sex for most of us.
When the only way we can get to know what our bodies are supposed to do or feel like during sex is a misrepresentation, we’re bound to experience anxiety when those misleading ‘sex tips’ or notions of your ‘first-time’ don’t actually translate into your real life.
If you’re often indulging in anxious thoughts around your bodies or sexual experiences with yourself or with a partner, or even unable to enjoy or be pleasured during the act - this read is for you. And, it’s okay to seek professional help to manage said anxiety better.
What is sexual anxiety?
We reached out to a Licensed Mental Health Counselor based in Delhi, Nishtha Agarwal, to understand sexual anxiety better through a holistic lens. She elaborated, “Sexual anxiety is a response based on fear or stress that one may experience around sexual acts or intimacy. It usually precedes sexual encounters and can impact a person both physically and psychologically.”
Having worked with individuals and couples across diverse settings, she shared her insights and experiences of how different people might experience varied forms of sexual anxiety stemming from bodily insecurities, past experiences, or even a lack of proper sex education. “Experiencing some amount of nervousness or anxiety before sex, especially with a new partner, is usually pretty normal and almost everyone experiences it”,
she adds, “However, sexual anxiety is a little more than just regular nervousness. It is when the anxiety persists even after the initial phase and is significant enough to interfere with engagement in any kind of sexual activity (or, sexual wellness).
This may look very different in different people as some people might experience it more in terms of intrusive thoughts around or during sex, whereas others might experience it more physically such as racing heartbeat, difficulty in breathing, or in people with vulvas, the vaginal muscles tightening up and in people with penises, having trouble getting or maintaining an erection.”
Addressing anxiety associated with your sex life
Just like any other form of anxiety, the one that interferes with a healthy sex life and your sexual wellness, has a feeling and thought component too. You might be worried, afraid, or feel shy about your sexuality or sexual expression, and experience thoughts that might invalidate your desire to engage in intimacy or feel pleasure in the present or future.
This may then show up behaviorally, as you navigate through certain situations in your sex life, and Nishtha added to this conversation: “Besides the obvious avoidance of sexual acts itself, one may also engage in avoidance of other intimate behaviors due to fear of letting people close, such as avoiding dating or getting involved in romantic relationships.
It [sexual anxiety] may also show up in the way people dress or relate to their bodies. For example, a client once shared feeling uncomfortable with her body and intimacy and therefore dressing in ways that would hide the shape of her body or not highlight the curves of her body in any way. She described it as “trying to merge with the background” as her body being noticed would elicit a fear response in her.”
To learn a bit more about the role of sex ed in addressing sexual anxiety, we also talked to Karishma Swarup, aka @talkyounevergot (on Instagram) - who is an eminent voice in the sexual wellness space and one of the educators for our inclusive, pleasure-centric Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE) Masterclasses available online for free.
“It can be easy to assume that CSE means having access to basic sex ed information. But, in reality, a lot of anxiety can come from having a surface-level understanding of what sex is, how bodies work, about orgasms, etc. What happens is, when someone is having sex for the first time, if the only reference they’ve gotten is from a movie or pornography, it’s likely that they’ll expect sex to look very different, bodies to be different or even the act to last for a particular amount of time. Hence, a lot of sex-related anxiety may come from unrealistic expectations due to a lack of access to CSE”, she shared.
Here’s an insightful video by Karishma shedding light on the age-old debate of whether or not size matters in bed; how your pleasure explorations are largely subjective and can take many different routes.
Finding ways to cope
TW: Mention of sexual trauma
One of the fundamental ways by which people can cope with and manage sexual anxiety is by gaining a deeper understanding of their triggers and where their fear lies.
For some people, it can be a past traumatic sexual experience and Nishtha discussed the same, “if one has had a history of sexual violation of any kind, it can cause one to experience sex as a threat or trigger the memories of the past traumatic event.” It can be helpful for folks or survivors of sexual trauma to seek therapy from a qualified mental health practitioner (MHP) who can better address certain concerns and help them with their healing journey.
When it comes to your bodies, there are helpful and handy tools such as an intimate lubricant, and with greater accessibility to sexual products online, it has become tremendously easier to really look after your pleasure and navigate anxieties in your sex life.
Karishma adds, “While lubricant may not be a solution, it can dramatically help with a smoother and more pleasurable sexual experience - even if someone does get wet easily. A little bit of extra lubrication can go a long way in making the act more enjoyable, especially when there are condoms or sex toys involved. Experiencing dryness can be very common, so it’s imperative to ensure that lubes are present to avoid any burning, unwanted friction, pain, irritation, or even in worse cases, cuts and tears.”
Even though lubes are not a 'shortcut' to great sex or reduced anxiety—having access to one that's vulva-friendly, water-based, and all-natural is super crucial. With DTF, an intimate lubricant by That Sassy Thing, you get to have safer, more comfortable, and fun sexual experiences that can greatly help in alleviating anxiety during partnered intimacy. It's imperative that you see a medical professional who can better counsel you about your sexual concerns.
Do check out our wholesome range of sexual products online and hope you are able to find yourselves, sexually and otherwise! *boops*
Note from the author: This article doesn’t include any medical advice, but rather professional insights shared by experts. It’s advisable to seek help from credible practitioners who can address your personal concerns.
About the Author
Anuja (she/her) is our Creator-in-Residence. After exploring all the different ways she could talk about who she identifies as, this is the closest she could get: “I’m your quintessential dog hoomum with a blue typewriter, living three blocks away, probably writing about you."