Sexual Performance Anxiety with A New Partner

Learn About the Causes and What You Can Do to Manage This Unpleasant Experience

An image of a man sitting on the bed worried about having performance anxiety with his new partner

Having sex with a new partner can be an intimidating experience. The anxiety that gets triggered in such situations can lead to sexual problems, such as erectile dysfunction. Performance anxiety can also lead to premature ejaculation and to difficulty in reaching orgasm.

Usually, these erectile problems are temporary. In some cases, though, the issue can persist in a chronic form.

In this article, we’ll explore the topic of sexual performance anxiety with a new partner, with special attention given to the causes and what you can to manage this unpleasant experience.

What causes sexual performance anxiety?

Negative thinking patterns are thought to play an important role in causing and maintaining sexual performance anxiety. The pressure to satisfy a new partner can make most men feel nervous and anxious.

Thoughts like the ones listed below are common example of thoughts that may arise in new sexual situations and can trigger performance anxiety:

  • “Will I be able to get an erection?”
  • “What if I’m not able to last long enough for her to orgasm?”
  • “My penis is not big enough.”
  • “I’m not going to be able to satisfy her.”
  • “What if I can’t stay hard?”
  • “My body is embarrassing.”

Watching porn can also have a negative impact. In particular, it can set you up to have totally unrealistic ideas about how you should perform sexually, which can lead to performance anxiety. As a result, increasing numbers of men are reporting porn induced erectile dysfunction, which is thought to be caused largely by performance anxiety.

Stress alone can also lead to erectile dysfunction, due to the way that the signals between the brain and genitals get hijacked. Thoughts about work, family and financial issues can distance you from the moment and make it hard to get or maintain an erection

A single incident of a failed erection is often enough to plant a seed of self-doubt, which can make you fall into the performance anxiety cycle.

Why does performance anxiety lead to erectile dysfunction?

Stress and anxiety trigger the brain’s fight-or-flight response, which leads to a series of changes in blood flow, hormones and muscular activity.

The body, when under stress, is redirecting energy to the limbs in order to help you fight or flee from a threat. This means that less blood-flow is directed toward the genitals. At the same time, your blood is flooded with stress hormones which indirectly lower testosterone levels and make a sexual response less likely.

How can I overcome performance anxiety when having sex with a new partner?

Ultimately, you’ll need to focus your efforts on reducing stress and addressing negative thinking patterns and self-talk. Here’s how:

  1. Guided meditation and guided imagery

    Guided imagery is a therapy technique that involves envisioning peaceful, positive or successful mental scenarios. By focusing on these sorts of positive images, the brain is able to generate a state of calm and relaxation that promotes sexual health.

    Research shows that guided imagery can reduce performance anxiety in athletes and public speakers. What about in the bedroom? A study by Professor Kuruvilla found that guided meditation can be useful in overcoming sexual performance anxiety and erectile difficulties more generally.

    Guided imagery is often conducted with a face-to-face therapist. However, it’s also possible to write and record your own scripts, or to purchase pre-recorded sessions online.

  2. Slow down and focus on foreplay

    Sex is a process that should not be rushed, as this can condition your body to ejaculate prematurely and increase performance anxiety. Try to slow things down a notch: take your time and connect authentically with your partner. Avoid putting on a condom or penetrating if you do not yet have a full erection: this is your body’s way of telling you to slow down. 

    By taking your time while leading up to penetration, you’ll promote calmness and connection, rather than anxiety. Focus on kissing, cuddling and massage before moving onto sexual foreplay. Then, by helping your partner to orgasm during foreplay, you’ll be lessening the pressure that you place on yourself during penetrative sex.

  3. Connect with the moment

    If you’re prone to anxiety, it’s easy to get lost in your thoughts. This, however, can fuel your anxiety further; and you’re likely to end up disconnecting from your partner as a result. If you find that you’re getting lost in your thoughts, gently redirect your attention to the physical sensations that you’re experiencing.

    In this regard, Mindfulness practice can help train you to attend to the present moment in order to enjoy sex more fully. Search online for a Mindfulness course near you, so that you can learn to apply this skill in order to improve your sex life.  

  4. Talk to your partner

    If you suffer from sexual performance anxiety, tell your new partner about it! This is especially true if you’re about to have sex with a new partner you really want to impress.

    Talking about it can help promote intimacy and safety, which can reduce the chance of your fight-or-flight response getting triggered during sex. Also, by letting them know that your erectile issues are caused by anxiety, you’re signaling that you are attracted to them despite any sexual difficulties that you might experience.

  5. See a therapist

    Trained professionals can help you develop skills and strategies to manage performance anxiety. For example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a technique that helps you to identify and replace unhealthy thinking patterns that fuel anxiety. These days, many experienced therapists are providing their services online.

What can I do if my partner has performance anxiety?

  • Talk about it! Avoiding the issue can increase anxiety. Acknowledge and accept what your partner is going through. Let them know that you care and ask whether there is anything that you can do to help.
  • Avoid any criticism or judgement.
  • If your partner is considering seeing a trained professional, offer to accompany them to the appointment.
  • Let your partner know that performance anxiety is a common issue and that it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
  • Guide your partner to engage in foreplay so that you can orgasm outside of penetrative sex. This can help improve connection and confidence.

Summing up

Sexual performance anxiety is an incredibly common experience. A 2020 study estimated that up to 25% of men and 16% of women experience this sort of issue; and that this often leads to other forms of sexual dysfunction. If performance anxiety is stopping you from being able to enjoy the sort of pleasure and intimacy that you would like, use the strategies that we have covered in this article to regain control.

About Daniel Sher, MA

Clinical Psychologist and Sex Therapy Expert

Daniel Sher is a registered clinical psychologist and a sex therapy expert practicing in Cape Town, South Africa. Daniel gained his master’s degree in clinical psychology from the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 2014. A component of his training and practice involves working in the context of sexual and sex-related issues.

Daniel is a professional consultant for the Between Us Clinic, where he writes, edits, and reviews, professional materials and articles. He also treats patients at his clinic for male sexual dysfunctions including, premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction and sexual performance anxiety.