How to overcome intimacy anxiety and have better sex
Whether you're single, in a relationship or somewhere in between, it's normal to have periods in your life when sex becomes less of a regular, or even occasional, occurrence.
From the enforced celibacy during the various pandemic lockdowns, to a sex drought brought about by a period of ongoing singledom, or just not finding anyone you actually want to have sex with, sometimes you can go a while before getting it on.
For some, weeks, months or even years without sex won't have a major impact on how you feel about the prospect of having it again, but others may be left experiencing something experts have dubbed "intimacy anxiety".
And it's actually more common than you might think. Some 63% of single people feel nervous at the thought of intimacy after a period of not doing it, research by dating app Badoo reveals.
Sex can feel like a lot of pressure at the best of times, but after a period of going without, it is understandable that the thought of getting up close and personal could bring on feelings of nervousness.
Thankfully, there are some simple yet effective ways to alleviate your intimacy fear and rediscover your sex mojo.
There’s no shame in feeling a little out of practice if you haven’t been intimate in a while, especially with a new partner or someone you’re reconnecting with.
"If you want to relight the fire and ensure you’re going to be satisfied, be honest about how you feel and what you want," suggests Stephanie Taylor, intimate health expert and founder of Kegel8.
"Laying everything out on the table will mean there’s no awkwardness. If you both feel heard and respected, trust will follow and make the whole experience ten times better."
Taylor says this could be the perfect time to explore one another’s sexiest fantasies and find a deeper physical connection.
Read more: How many women orgasm during sex? The true number is astonishing
Sex isn’t all about being performative and pleasing the other person, it’s also for yourself.
"When you’ve gone through a serious dry patch, it can help to get back to basics and rediscover what turns you on," Taylor explains.
"Masturbation can help you re-familiarise yourself with all the things you personally like, to give you your sexual confidence back before you introduce a sexual partner."
Experimenting with self-pleasure can also increase your stamina in the bedroom, says Taylor, giving both you and your partner more time to enjoy sex.
Read more: 49% of people have had sex on the first date – but is it a good idea?
Introduce some play time
Preparation can be key in calming your nerves. "It might not be for everyone, but for those who suffer fear and anxiety with intimacy, being prepared can be a godsend," says Taylor.
If you’re planning on having sex but lack confidence, she suggests investing in products that will make you feel your best.
"It could be sex toys, underwear or a game to break the ice," she says. "If you’re feeling confident about your body and can introduce a playful element, it’s more likely to be enjoyable for both partners."
Watch: Inside the Swedish nursing home where residents can buy sex toys from a “pleasure basket”
Take a breather
It can be hard to navigate nervousness during intimacy, and anxiety disorders can make it extremely hard to get in the mood.
"If you feel your stress levels are rising or a panic attack starting, apologise and remove yourself from the situation as soon as you can," suggests Taylor. "Getting some space, moving around and taking a breather is a great start."
"Conscious breathing" can also help prevent an attack if you can feel yourself starting to tense up.
"Breathe deeply from your belly, and with your hand on your stomach inhale for five counts, then exhale it all out," suggests Taylor. "Try and keep it consistent, monitoring the rise and fall of your stomach and focus your mind on staying calm."
You could also try the 5,4,3,2,1 method - by using your senses to list five things around you to distract yourself.
"If you find yourself in a triggering/uncomfortable situation, there is absolutely no shame in changing your mind about a sexual partner – your emotional wellbeing comes first," Taylor adds.
Read more: What is pegging? Experts reveal why some couples might find this sex act a turn-on
Find out if it is more than nerves
Sometimes our discomfort is more than just a little anxiety. Sexual dysfunction is more common than you might think.
"For millions of women [for example], pain or discomfort during sex is a reality. In fact, researchers estimate at least one in 13 British women experience it," Taylor says.
Read more: Female masturbation has major health benefits, yet study shows a third of people think it's 'shameful'
There’s a long list of things which can cause sex to be painful or uncomfortable for both partners, including vaginismus, pelvic organ prolapse, vaginal atrophy (dryness), pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and STIs.
"Don’t suffer in silence if something doesn’t feel right – trust your body," says Taylor. "Your GP or gynaecologist can discuss this with you and provide the right recommendations and treatments."