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How Do I Stop Worrying About Being Good at Sex?

Advice from a real-world-sex curator, a physician, a retired porn star and a kinkster

For such a basic drive, sex can be really complicated — and it can feel super awkward to ask for help with problems between the sheets. That’s why we’re here to answer your questions, with just the right mix of experts, thinkers and ordinary people who’ve faced similar issues. This is Basic Sex: A column for people who want to nail more than just the fundamentals.

The Basic Concern

I’ve always been insecure about myself and my body, and I’ve always been self-conscious about my “fastness.” Recently, I met someone very special, who I fell for completely. When we arrived at the moment, I was so nervous that things wouldn’t work that I didn’t get hard. She managed to relax me, and we tried again, but it happened again! After me getting frustrated, she took control, took me to the shower, helped me relax, and we managed to do it, with her in control.

The experience was amazing for me, but ever since, things haven’t really worked out (not even at the mediocre level that they used to work before I met her). I want to know how I can feel more secure about myself, as well as how to last longer and be sure to give her an orgasm. I know it’s childish, but I want to be the best sex she’s ever had — not only because she deserves it, but because I’m tired of not being good at it!

The Expert Advice

Sarah Beall, Madame Curator (yes, it’s a real job title) at MakeLoveNotPorn.tv: The first thing I want to offer is reassurance. As a human being, you have a human body, and sometimes human bodies do things that embarrass us. Lots of guys have had the same experience, so there’s no need to feel ashamed or believe this says something deeper about you as a person. It’s normal to feel nervous when you’re hooking up with someone, whether it’s the first or even the 100th time. Porn (and most media) make it seem like all first-time sexual encounters should be mind-blowing, but the truth is sex gets better with time, after plenty of communication and getting to know each other’s bodies.

Great sex isn’t all about intercourse, either, and there are plenty of ways you can please your new partner that don’t involve P in the V. It sounds like she really likes you and likely has some knowledge about what gets her off. So the next time things are getting sexy, try taking some of the pressure off of that one body part by asking your lover how she wants to be pleasured. Express enthusiasm about going down on her and if she’s into it, give her a leisurely lick job, where she gives you lots of feedback.

Think of it as an adventure: As long as you have a tongue, fingers and an open attitude, you can give your lover tons of pleasure!

Andrew Siegel, physician, surgeon, and author of Male Pelvic Fitness: Optimizing Sexual & Urinary Health: Premature ejaculation is rampant in young, healthy men and is more common in those anxious about their performance. Fear of losing the erection before sexual climax is achieved is often what prompts it. After it’s happened a number of times, future sexual encounters are often marked by worry and concern that the situation will resurface. Instead of “being present” and “in the moment,” one then tends to “spectatorate” — observe their own performance as a third party, which exacerbates the issue, often bringing on a self-fulfilling prophecy of ejaculatory doom.

The following can help you last longer: Properly done pelvic floor contractions as one approaches the “point of no return”; topical numbing sprays to decrease penile sensitivity; and the SSRI-type of antidepressant medications.

The simple act of achieving a rigid erection is a complex biological event, requiring the harmonious orchestration of the brain, nerves, hormones, blood vessels, penile smooth muscle and the pelvic floor muscles. Performance anxiety, mediated by the release of the powerful blood vessel constrictor adrenaline, can doom an erection to failure, despite perfectly normal plumbing. This bedroom “stage fright” is a common situation in men in new relationships who are understandably anxious about their function. A relaxed state of mind is what fosters the best quality erections.

Generally, as one gets more comfortable in a relationship, the performance anxiety will improve. In the meantime, the short-term use of Viagra or other oral ED medication can help you overcome both performance anxiety and premature ejaculation. Relaxation methods — meditation, breath focus, yoga, tai chi, etc. — and psychological counseling may be helpful as well.

Christopher Zeischegg (AKA Danny Wylde), retired porn performer and author of Body to Job: What I can say is that your anxiety around sex and your loss of erection is something that I’ve experienced, both as a sex worker and — less frequently — in my personal sex life. This is probably psychological — it was for me. I understand how you can get in your head about “failing” at sex. Once that happens, it’s nearly impossible to reverse the thought process.

I suggest doing something physical to trick yourself out of it. Talk with your partner about something you’re both comfortable with, even if you’ve never tried it before. The idea is to push your body to a point where your mind isn’t focusing on why you’re not getting hard.

It sounds like you don’t have a lot of context for feeling confident or dominant in your sexuality, so I’d suggest putting yourself in a submissive situation. You claim that you had a positive sexual experience with your current partner in which she took control. I think you should start there.

A starter BDSM device you might try is a blindfold, hood or some other kind of sensory deprivation mask. Early on in my porn career, I did a lot of submissive scenes. I found it easier to achieve an erection on a porn set when my face and eyes were covered with a mask. I no longer felt like people were watching me: The pressure of performance was alleviated.

If you have hang-ups around being submissive with your partner, you might have a conversation with her about switching in the middle of sex. Say, for example, your partner starts in control. When you achieve a comfortable state of arousal, you’ll say a previously negotiated word that means you’re ready. At that point, your partner would submit, or at least become neutral, and you’d go about your sexual experience in a way that feels best for you.

I think that if you trick yourself into getting aroused a few times, you’ll find it comes more naturally in more vanilla scenarios. Or perhaps you and your partner may get really into kinky sex, which isn’t so bad, either.

Jefferson, kinkster, writer and orgy veteran: Congratulations on your new love, my well-spoken friend. Welcome to the joys of a committed relationship!

Allowing your mind to rest may relieve the pressure and frustration you describe. Allowing yourself the space to explore your own body, to practice breathing, Kegels and edge play, can certainly help to accustom yourself to feelings and reactions that may carry over to partnered play. Take all the time you like in getting to know your mind and body.

Your desire to offer your partner “the best sex ever” is admirably generous. Yet now, with your committed partner, you can relieve yourself of some of that performance anxiety by taking the time to get to know her mind and body as well as your own. Identify sensations you each enjoy — touching, holding, kissing, breathing, talking — without considering them foreplay toward intercourse. One thing needn’t lead to the next.

Put aside a focus on genitals and orgasms: Just relax and enjoy the moments in themselves. Communicate. Offer one another encouragement and suggestions. Make a game of it. Take pleasure in the simplicity of fun and play. Perhaps by taking away the pressure of pursuing “the best sex ever,” you’ll both enjoy the best moments you’re having now.