Given the macho stereotypes that men are expected to live up to, it’s hardly surprising that doubts can creep in. Sex can be a minefield, even for people who are confident and self-assured.
Sex is closely linked to the emotions and, in a culture where we tend to have only one partner at any given time, it is not very difficult to appreciate why many peo¬ple encounter sexual fears.
Whatever sort of relationship you are in, there is always an implicit pres¬sure to please your partner and, how¬ever you may care for or love your partner, there is always the fear that sexual failure will hurt the other. Indeed, the more a couple are in love, the more likely they are to feel anxious about sex.
The unlearning process
Just as guilt about sex can be unlearned, so too can anxiety and fear. A good starting point is to unlearn the stereotypes that can damage male-female partnerships. Men, we are taught, are supposed to be interested in sex all the time. They are meant to be immediately turned on by women and need little or no encouragement to have sex. Women, on the other hand, have been said to be shy, retiring and virginal, and to have no independent sexual desires of their own.
Thankfully, these harmful assumptions are becoming less and less common. But even if people consciously acknowledge these outdated stereotypes for what they are, they may continue to behave as if they were true.
Increasingly, men are admitting that they do not feel as macho as the stereotypes would have us believe and more women are openly express¬ing their sexual desires and appetites. Even a very open and honest man, however, may worry that his partner may consider him a wimp – perhaps even suspect that he could be a homosexual – unless he exhibits ‘classic’ male attitudes towards women, sex and emotions. Many women too, still worry deep down that their partner will think of them as tarty or a nymphomaniac if they take the lead too often in sexual situations, or even if they talk a lot about sex.
Most men are brought up to appear emotionally ‘strong’ or even, in some cases, to behave as if they have no emotions whatsoever.
This can be a hazard in any man’s sexual life because, instead of open¬ing up to his partner and so gaining the solace, practical help and under¬standing that a healthy relationship can provide, he labours on, bottling up any problems he might have. The situation may become so bad that he may seek solace in alcohol or even a less committed relationship with another woman. He will then shut himself off from his partner and she will end up feeling hurt, taken for granted or ignored. As a consequence their sex life and ultimately the rela¬tionship will inevitably suffer.
A fear of letting go and allowing a partner to get to know them intimately is sometimes linked to men’s fear of displaying emotional vulnerability. This is usually because they are worried about appearing soft or silly, which would run contrary to the macho expectations placed on them by stereotyped notions about men generally. Many men who are afraid of displaying any sort of emotional vulnerability find that they cannot really relax and enjoy themselves in sexual situations.
Not looking good
We all have at least a few hang-ups about our appearance. A scar, a spot in a prominent place, hair loss, blemishes and physical imperfections can all create anxiety in the man who has them. In our culture, we are brought up to believe that we should look perfect – or as near to perfect as possible – if we are to be sexually and socially acceptable. In Western society, where physically perfect models – both male and female – are used to sell everything from aftershave to cars, there is now as much pressure on men, as there has always been on women, to be beautiful. Just as women fear not matching up to the images of beautiful women that fill the pages of magazines and peer down at us from advertising hoardings, men often fall prey to the fear that their bodies are not up to scratch, or that they do not have sufficient body hair or other male characteristics to appear ‘manly’ and therefore attractive to women.
Allied to fears about physical appearance is, of course, the age-old and extremely common concern over penis size. Despite the fact that the subject of penis size has become a joke, and that an overwhelming majority of women insist that when it comes to the quality of lovemaking it’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it, many men, no matter how well or poorly endowed they are, fear that their penis is too small and that they will not be able to please their partner.
Disappointing your partner
A fear of disappointing your partner is often the result of sexual fears, and can occur at any stage in a relationship. Early on, we all want to impress our partner and get a new relationship off to the best possible start, which can be nerve-wracking. Later on, the fear is often that if we do not come up to scratch, particularly in sexual situations, our partner might begin to look outside the relationship for sexual sat¬isfaction.
This should be one of the easiest fears to combat. Talk things through with your partner and let her know about your fears. You can then discuss how she feels about them and what her likes and dislikes are. A point worth remembering is that not every sexual encounter will be a raging success, even between very well attuned and experienced couples. Unrealistic expectations of how each sexual encounter should turn out will undoubtedly increase any fears you may have about letting your partner down in bed.
Fears about performance
Fears about performance are very common, particularly in men who feel that they should be the sexual ‘doers’ who, as a rule, usually make things happen. Will I be able to keep going for long enough before I come? Will I give her an orgasm? Will I be as good as her previous lovers? Will I know what to do to turn her on? These are just some of the common performance fears that men have. Most can be overcome with enough loving behaviour, encouragement and dis¬cussion from a partner who is sensi¬tive and understanding.
Many men fear that if they masturbate rather than have sexual intercourse, they might get hooked on it and then not want sexual intercourse with their partner, but this is not really something men should worry about. Most men and women masturbate occasionally and most say that they view solo sex as something completely separate from sex with their partner.
Some men fear that their partner will think them odd if they don’t want full penetrative sex all the time, preferring instead to have their partner masturbate them. Also, if penetrative sex is off the agenda for some, perhaps physical, reason or other, many men worry about asking their partner to give them some relief by masturbating them. Most of these fears are, however, groundless. Most women would be only too delighted to masturbate their partner, perhaps viewing it as a refreshing change to more usual, penetrative sex.
Fighting shy of talking
For many men, problems arise because they simply do not know what to say to their lover as they make love, or perhaps more importantly, how to say it. Some fear that they might say something silly or inappropriate . Although some couples talk a lot when making love, sometimes to profess their love or their lust for each other, it is not necessary to say anything at all, especially if talking during sex is something you find difficult or which makes you feel uncomfortable.
If it doesn’t seem natural to you to talk during sex, don’t do it. Crude language can be a great turn-on for some women, but for a few men there is the fear that their partner will become so carried away that she will start to swear or make coarse demands of him. Such men very often cope well with sex if it is controlled and the woman remains ‘nice’. They become overwhelmed, however, if she gets so carried away that she loses her inhibitions and behaves as they would expect a whore to behave. Of course, we would suggest such men overcome such sexist views of how women should be.
Some men feel very tender towards their lover when making love, but fear that if they say anything it will sound soppy or sentimental and that the woman will tease them or make them feel silly about it later on, after the sex is over.
If talking during sex is something you would like to discuss with your partner, it is a much better idea to talk about it when you are not actually having sex. In sexual situations there is usually a lot of pressure on us to perform, which will make discussions about anything out the ordinary inappropriate.
Most of us have fears about certain sexual practices which are out of the ordinary. For some people, these can include ‘stronger’ practices like bondage, sado-masochism, sexual encounters with members of the same sex, encounters with more than one person at a time, anal sex and so on. For people with very limited sexual experience, however, it could mean oral sex or sex in bizarre positions and unusual surroundings. Fears usually revolve around worries that such practices are unnatural, that they could possibly be painful or dangerous, or that they will become addictive.
Many people, of either sex, worry that if they indulge in unusual sex they might become so hooked that they will not be able to enjoy what they regard as ‘normal’ sex ever again. This fear is usually quite groundless. People who like to experiment with sexual practices which are a bit different generally do it for a change or a treat, and don’t suddenly stop having so-called ‘normal’ sex because they happen to occasionally like doing something out of the ordinary.
This, and indeed all other sexual anxieties, can have the effect of reducing sexual pleasure so much that opportunities to try something different can be ruined and as a consequence the person will be unwilling to repeat it or try anything unusual ever again. Having said this, however, fears about almost every aspect of sex and sexual practices can be ‘unlearned’, just as they are originally acquired.
If it’s painful – stop
Perhaps the best rule is that if something makes you anxious, then stop doing it. This is especially true of performance anxieties because they almost never improve simply by per¬sisting.
The best way to unlearn fears and anxieties is to desensitize yourself gradually, over a long period of time. Remember that it is natural to have fears and doubts when it comes to sex – everyone does. With patience and understanding even the worst problems can be overcome.
Learn the secrets of better sex
The world-famous Lovers’ Guide range of videos / DVDs – available to own in the Lovers’ Guide shop (region 2) and as a series of video downloads (especially suitable for USA residents – and the rest of the world outside of Europe)