Sex and Anxiety

By Alice Boyes, PhD. | Uncategorized

Some of the clients who come to see me for anxiety (who are often in good relationships) report not having had sex for a looong time (often years).

For example, people with panic disorder often avoid sex because the physical sensations feel too similar to panic (getting hot, heart racing, sweating, a sense of being out of control).

Interestingly, people with panic sometimes avoid showers too – because the heat of the shower, and maybe feeling a little bit lightheaded in the shower, feels similar to the triggers for panic.

Although avoiding physical sensations that are similar to anxiety is most pronounced in panic disorder, people with other kinds of anxiety often do this too. You might not even realize you are doing it but have noticed that you have stopped exercising and are avoiding sex.

Many times people don’t understand the connections sex and anxiety, and are surprised (and usually both relieved and embarrassed) when I know to ask these questions.

These connections become easily understandable once you know that one of the primary mechanisms of panic disorder is becoming hypervigilant to physical sensations.

When people with panic notice physical sensations, the noticing and monitoring triggers further arousal and the physical sensations increase in intensity, which can trip the panic attack wire. Therefore, people start to avoid things that trigger physical sensations e.g., sex, exercise.

After awhile, people’s avoidance of sex becomes self-perpetuating, because avoidance of anything increases anxiety about that thing. And, the lack of sex increases feelings of disconnection in the relationship.

Panic disorder and other anxiety disorders have good rates of treatment success with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) so there is no reason to continue to suffer with the ways your anxiety gets in the way of your life and relationships. If you’re on a low income you can look at this option.

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