My sexual performance anxiety problem is about to break up my relationship
I'm late-20s, and have been in a relationship with my partner for coming up to 4 years. Was diagnosed with depression when I was younger after I dropped out of university, and although I'm no longer in that dark place, I feel that I've never really shook off the depression completely.
My partner and I met online, since I came over here to live almost 3 years ago the intimacy rapidly tapered off and now the lack of it has left a huge void in our relationship. I avoid intimacy at all costs because when we do begin to be intimate I suffer extreme anxiety. What began as mild discomfort with sexual activities now prevents us from doing anything sexual.
I think the initial discomfort stemmed from poor body image. I'm overweight (have been all my life) and for most of my 20s I suffered from an addiction to porn. This replaced normal sexual interaction with women - since my early 20s I only had one relationship, again online, however was not very close with this girl.
Obviously this skewed view of sex is not compatible with a serious loving relationship, however I didn't even realise this was the problem until months after I had moved to Australia and it became clear there was a problem. Initially I thought it was just something that would pass once I had become more comfortable in a new country, once I'd found a job, and a place of our own. But those things have come and gone and the anxiety has only become worse.
I think I'm anxious at the thought of being myself in bed with my partner, because I do not live up to my expectations of how a man should be and perform during sex, and also how the whole sexual experience should be.
I made excuses and tried to avoid the subject and avoid intimacy at all costs, but as my problem became apparent, I had to talk to my partner about it. Every time I turned her down, every time I avoided sexual contact with her, I damaged her self-confidence and hurt her. Every time I suffered anxiety to the point of recoiling away, I put her through the same mental anguish I'd been suffering, if not worse.
We've been to a sex therapist, who after a few sessions referred me to a psychologist who specialises in cognitive behavioural therapy; I've been seeing him for several sessions since last year for my anxiety. We've covered a lot of techniques to control my anxious thoughts, mindfulness, and sensate focus exercises - but I feel that even though I seem to have the tools and the knowledge to get through this, I just can't seem to apply myself, follow through on my promises and make a big effort to turn my life around. I can't even look at it because it seems so impossible. When I do make progress I look at what I have left to do and it seems even more daunting, so I run away. I give up because I can't bear to push through the discomfort.
We're fighting about this on a weekly basis now. The kind of fights where we scream at each other, in floods of tears, then end up barely speaking for 2-3 days afterwards. Things get better, I try to follow through with my promises to keep up the consistent application of the tools I have to combat anxiety, but then a week or so later I bottle it, end up breaking my promise and the cycle repeats. Every time we fight I feel us getting further apart and success seems even further away. She screams at me because she's in so much pain, beyond breaking point, and I won't just bite the bullet and confront this head on - and I don't blame her.
She's given me an ultimatum. 2 weeks to get some sort of plan in progress - something that I will stick to - or we can both look for our needs met elsewhere. As painful as that thought is I feel I deserve the pain after everything I've put her through. I've lied, broken promises, put my needs ahead of hers, and tried to avoid looking at this issue at her expense.
I don't know how to motivate myself to follow through. I start out with the best of intentions - recording my daily thoughts, spending some time every couple of days being close to her, using sensate focus exercises to try to become comfortable with it. But after a few days this tails off, I stop writing down how I feel, I make excuses to not be intimate, and stop even talking about it, withdrawing into my shell.
I've only just talked to my Dad about it, I'm so cripplingly ashamed about it that I haven't mentioned it to anyone else.
What can I do to motivate myself push through the discomfort of anxiety when I can't even seem to manage it with all the help I'm getting?
Well done to you for coming here and posting your thread; I hope that by even typing this down, it may have gone in some way to helping you.
My ultimate question is: How much are you in love with your partner? Are you willing to do anything and everything to continue your relationship? I think that you are, otherwise you wouldn't have been seeking out professional help or even have come here.
Do you feel that she is willing to give it a good go, if you can overcome your anxiety?
You say that you feel like you can't live up to expectations (your expectations) about how a man should perform - now please don't be taking on what you might see in porn movies - this is not the way to base things on. My question here is: Why not ask your partner what she thinks about it all? Is she ok with things?
Are your fights generally due to the non-intimacy side of things and your general lack of wanting to get affectionate and close?
You've also commented about your weight being a factor. Um, can I just say that you do have a partner - and by the sound of it, someone who cares and loves you very much. In the greater scheme of things, to me that is: weight issue, a non-issue as your partner IS there for you. If it continues to be a concern for you, then that is something to work on in the future.
But for the moment, I have asked a few questions that I hope may have (if you'll pardon the pun) raised something for you - and when you went to therapy, was that as a couple or just you?
I hope that you're still around and can get back to us;
I've been suffering with performance anxiety for a good 5 years now. Just tonight my wife wanted to make love and I got really nervous, and ofcourse couldnt achieve an erection. Good on you for trying to get help - I havent tried anything, no doctor no therapist. Just been living in my own misery. Sometimes there seems like there will be no way out, that this is my life forever now...... How is it going for you? Any progres?
Hi Davidian and Johnb,
I would like to welcome you both to Beyond Blue and to the community here.
In a way it is a shame that more people reading your story Davidian have not left a message. It seems you have hit a nerve in a lot of people! Either that or the word SEX has them excited. (sorry if that doesn't quite sit right with you!)
I'd like to share a little from the other side of the story, after all I am a female and don't have quite the same problem you guys have.
About 10 years ago my husband developed testicular cancer and had to have one testicle removed. At the time we were still trying for our family. We have no live children.
The Drs. all told my husband he should still be able to perform normally and we could still try for a pregnancy. My husband tried Viagra and only really achieved a headache from that! We tried other stuff as well but that didn't help.
I think my husband gave up or it was all too hard for him. He is a private kind of guy so talking about his intimacy problems did not happen. He decided that if he could not enjoy any form of sexual intimacy then I was not to either.
No more touching. Separate beds. Now separate rooms. No hugs. No kisses. Just a cold hard stone wall that is impenetrable. He tells me I should be happy that we are still friends.
It breaks my heart to live this way. He will not talk to me about it. He will not attend counselling with me. He won't talk with our Dr. about it with me.
Despite all of that I still love him. I have had chances to go elsewhere and see if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, but we are still married. He is still my husband.
As hard as it is guys, try to get all the help you can. It is an embarrassing topic, but please talk about it. Talk to your ladies. Let them know that you love them. Hold them, it doesn't have to be in a sexual way, just let them know you still love them.
Be creative guys. There are many ways you can make love to a woman with out having an erection.
I'm sure the internet is full of suggestions, and I am not talking about porn either. If you look you will find some great advice. The library has some informative books as well, you might want to ask your lady to borrow them though so you don't feel so embarrassed.
Your ladies may come up with some very creative ways for them to still enjoy intimacy. Once the pressure is off yourselves, maybe then things will happen naturally again.
Cheers from Lauren
Hi guys -
I can really relate to what davidian said. I find that if the sexual contact is "planned" (e.g. its during the day and there is expectation) I cannot get an erection. If its in bed and its "unplanned", it works well.
I have also been to sex therapists and for the most part it has worked well. I have not had any problems for what seems to be a year, but todays experience has left me feel flat and depressed and my wife suffers as well as she wants the intimacy that this brings. Somehow I need to not get anxious about the expectation and need to find a way to relax about it.
Anyone find anything that works?