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A Man's Secret: Performance Anxiety

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When I’m not interested in sex, it often makes me feel like less of a man. In fact, my wife wants it more than me so I came up with the excuse of chronic back pain. I think it’s easier for her to accept. What’s wrong with me?” – David, Clifton, New Jersey

As we talk about the modern man this month, David’s question strikes me as particularly apropos given the pressures on the man. Let’s start by debunking some of our most dear assumptions about men.

Men are under pressure in life, and in the bedroom, to be untiring, masterful and dominant. It’s assumed men are always up for sex and women’s interest is much less, and subjective. It’s time we stop this oversimplification of men.

For many men, identity and self-esteem are bound up with sexuality. This explains why David is more likely to feel ashamed when he has no desire. The way I see it is that the status of men is at once so valuable and so precarious that it must be won over and over again. The real fear I hear from many men (mostly heterosexual) is not that they are becoming too much like a woman but that they are less of a man.

Throughout the month we will talk about the stereotypes surrounding masculinity and the shifting roles of men. But to start, here are some tips I hope will help David and many men out there.

Bring your Partner into the Conversation

David, your wife might buy your story about back pain but underneath she is wondering about her lack of desirability. You are not the only one feeling insecure.  It’s time to talk with your wife. Maybe you are exhausted at the end of each day and find it hard to shift gears. Or you have worries about your performance. Perhaps you are afraid you don’t turn her on. Something inside of you is turning you off.

Whatever it is, open the conversation, without blame or defensiveness and reveal how you feel and start talking about what turns you on and what blocks you. My post on Role Play and Fantasy can help to open up conversations about sex

Check your Mood

Here is a radical revelation: men and women feel the same way about sex. If a person is anxious, depressed, distracted, or feels unattractive, regardless of their gender, they are less likely to be turned on. So check your mood. David may find the answer lies there. And as I often say, sex in a long-relationship is something you have to plan for. This may help to shift the pressure off you alone and help you find playful ways to alter your mood.

Stop Thinking about Sex

I would advise David to put himself more into his body and do less ruminating, which takes us out of the experience of pleasure. Forget about “the act” and think about simple starting points to give the other person pleasure, like a shoulder rub. Stop worrying about whether you’re turned on in the moment. And find ways (dancing, exercise, and other physical hobbies that fulfill you) that let you fully inhabit your body.

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