I have sexual performance anxiety

-- Question for John --

I have recently begun a relationship. We came together quickly and have both been amazed at how much alike we are. Here’s my problem. I care for her so very deeply that I have fallen into some sort of performance anxiety in the sex department, and have not been able to deliver the kind of sexual pleasure to her that I need to.

We have talked about this and she has taken the time to learn and care enough to be very patient with me. Naturally it bothers me more than her, but I feel like I’m letting her down never the less. The ironic thing is that I am very sexually attracted to her.

I have always had the performance anxiety problem in the other relationships, but seemed to find a way of getting around it in a short period of time. I feel like I have to fix my problem soon. That I have to be able to transform my feelings of love for my soulmate into the sexual drive. She loves and respects me, but I can’t keep failing at this forever. After failing about a dozen times, I am starting avoiding sex with her, and having “soulwork” type of conversations with her instead. I know this is good, but we need to add sex to the equation soon. Thanks for your time.

-- Answer from John --

I appreciate the courage it takes to ask for help in the area of sexuality. I sense in your email a rather quick need to fix things. I might advise you to give yourself some time here. Overnight, instant cures are perhaps possible, in the sense that anything is possible. But make a plan that is also based on putting some authentic time and energy into the solid healing required. In that regard, I might also recommend you consider setting up the following kind of conscious agreement with your partner as a stop-gap measure. The basic intent of this kind of agreement is to make explicit and conscious what is coming up in reality, and instead of trying to avoid the topic, you embrace the reality together and make a creative, conscious arrangement to honor what is happening. If you do not do this, you are letting the more unconscious aspects of this issue run rampant within your relationship. And since the issue itself is rooted in unconscious processes (I am certain it is not your conscious intent to have this issue), you might want to do as much as possible on the conscious level to contain the issue. Here is one way:

(1) Make an explicit agreement with her around what kinds of physical interaction are temporarily off-limits, and what specific activities are allowed. Set up the agreement so that, for a temporary period of time only, you and she will not engage in those activities that are currently a part of this problem frame. In other words, if sustained erection and vaginal intercourse brings up this problem area, it is off limits for this temporary period of time.

(2) Agree that the reasons for this arrangement is to allow a period of lowered pressure around these specific activities — which will allow you to pursue other activities together that are positive relationship-building in nature. This gives you both a conscious way to talk about and to directly deal with the fact you are becoming avoidant, anyway, which is an example of the unconscious process taking over. So by putting it out front, consciously, and making it a part of a temporary agreement, you are each, in your own way, embracing this challenge and making this a matter of mutual soulwork — allowing it to just be exactly what it is now, being very authentic about it, embracing it as it is — and not letting it go underground and unconsciously become an artificial wall that cuts off your growing love for each other.

(3) Set a time frame for this agreement, i.e. what is the length of “temporary” during which these specific activities are off-limits? One month. Two months. Six months. Talk about it and choose.

(4) You commit that during this time frame you will personally, of entirely your own accord, pursue the healing of whatever you need to heal to transform this challenge within yourself. Commit to informing her what you are learning, along the way, and to include her in those learnings where that is possible (like reading the books together, for instance).

(5) As a part of this agreement, also specify the list of activities which will be allowed in terms of physical connection. Make this list as broad as possible. From hand holding to mutual masturbation… your choice what to put on it…. it is limited only by your imagination and what each of you, personally, is not ready to put on that list because of inner performance issues, or whatever other issues. Just make sure you do have some areas of physical contact that you are exploring together. And, actually, none of them have to have any orgasmic content. It may even be a good idea to put orgasm entirely off limits, especially if it links into performance issues of any kind. You may do far better to extend the range of your touching each other in ways that are open to full on exploration with absolutely zero goal attached to them in terms of someone coming or not. If it happens, so be it. But it is not a goal in any way. I strongly suggest you consider and discuss this idea.

The above arrangement — or one you come up with yourself based on it — may or may not appeal to you. It is only a suggestion, and it has worked for many couples as a short-term arrangement. It offers the benefit of teaching couples to truly embrace the challenge in front of them, instead of letting the challenge extend unconsciously into the relationship. It also can take a high pressure situation and transform it into a containable challenge. Your own earnestness and integrity in working on the challenge in terms of your own personal growth required are what make this kind of arrangement a viable part of dealing with the issue. Short-change your commitment to work on yourself during the temporary time of the arrangement and, obviously, the arrangement only serves as a band-aid that will quickly fall off and reveal a gaping wound.

So down to the issues in your personal growth that are coming up for you: let me assure you that what you are experiencing are issues that are far more widespread than you might guess. Performance issues almost define the male psyche, as do the split between dirty sex and clean love (the madonna-whore thing). Broadly speaking, these are key male issues driven deep within us by childhood and societal conditioning. Not to mention every billboard, magazine, movie, and TV show we see. Alas. At issue in terms of soulwork here is our need as males to integrate our spirit, heart and body. Or as some guys put it, it’s a matter of hooking up our big head with our little head, and connecting our heart with our penis. These are paths of inner healing that are achievable. They count as deeply as soulwork as any other realm of personal growth. The results of doing this kind of sexual integrative work is to find freedom from the debilitating constraints of performance fears, the ability to embrace and explore whatever energies come up in the union with your beloved, the experience of the source of true passion within you, and the ability to face and move through the fears which come up along the way.