How to Talk About Your Feelings of Sexual Inadequacy
Feeling “Less Than” When It Comes to Bedroom Performance? Let’s Chat
Despite the fact that sex should be a fun activity that people partake in together, it can feel, for many guys, like an uphill battle where they have to put on a mask (metaphorically speaking) to live up to unrealistic or imagined ideals.
They might feel like their bodies aren’t sexy enough, their penises aren’t big enough, they can’t last long enough, get hard enough, aren’t experienced enough, and so on. Some guys worry about some of these, while others think of these things at the same time.
Unsurprisingly, grappling with these fears internally typically doesn’t produce the best results when it comes to enjoying yourself or pleasing your partner. The best way to approach the situation, more often than not, is to simply open up about what you’re struggling with. But that can be daunting for men raised in a culture where admitting weakness is seen as something to avoid altogether.
In order to get a handle on how to navigate conversations about perceived sexual inadequecies, AskMen spoke to a handful of sex experts about different things guys worry about in bed, why they can be so stressful, and what to do if your partner is unkind about something you’re sensitive about. Here’s what they had to say:
Common Sexual Inadequacies Men Experience
When men are worrying that they don’t measure up, there’s no limit as to how many ways they can arrive at that conclusion. But there are a handful of more common ones that guys tend to settle on.
To this list, Kenneth Play, sex educator and creator of the Sex Hacker Pro Series, would add premature ejaculation (PE) and erectile dysfunction (ED), noting that people see their inadequecies as “an innate issue that is set in stone.” That’s hardly the case, though, according to Daniel Saynt, founder of the New Society for Wellness (NSFW), who suggests the issue is more of a psychological one for most men.
“So many of the shortcomings that men deal with privately can be attributed to low self-esteem due to size of penis or body dysmorphia, depression, stress, anxiety, the pressure to perform or to have sex when they don’t want to,” he says. “Men are expected to lead. They are expected to know how to please [their partners.] They are expected to always come or be rock hard. They’re expected to always want sex and to know what we’re doing without any education outside of porn. They are expected to have a certain body type.”
The list goes on. And to no real surprise, worrying about these kinds of things while in the act isn’t exactly an aphrodisiac.
The Feedback Loop of Worrying About Your Sexual Inadequacies
“The body and mind are deeply interconnected,” says Patricia López Trabajo, CEO and founder of MYHIXEL. “Many times, when we suffer any kind of psychological ailment — like stress and anxiety — it can also influence us physically. Suffering any kind of anxiety can bring about a cycle of health side effects (lack of sleep, weakened immune system, more stress, etc.) which,” she notes, can further exacerbate dysfunctions like premature ejaculation.
And if you didn’t already know, “anxiety is a known libido killer,” notes Saynt.
There’s a neurological phenomenon at work here that’s based on how the brain handles stress. In brief, there are two ‘modes’ your brain can operate in — the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The former is for survival mode: escaping from predators, fighting off enemies, etc. The latter is for relaxing and enjoying yourself.
What’s noteworthy here is that it’s essentially impossible to remain sexually aroused when you’re in sympathetic nervous system mode. This makes sense, as when you’re running away from danger, you want all of your blood to be used by your legs and arms, not your genitals.
But when your brain perceives a threat — even a psychological one, such as the fear that you’re not performing well in bed — it can activate the sympathetic nervous system, which undercuts your ability to both become aroused and achieve erection. In short, even the fear that you’re not a great lover can cause you to become worse of one.
“Continued failure to perform can lead to men completely cutting themselves off from sex,” says Saynt. [Or] it may prevent them from experiencing sex in an explorative way, remaining rigid or feeling a need to always present a demenear of control or hyper-masculinity. This type of behavior is less communicative, and there’s a loneliness that comes with being unable to speak freely about sexual hang-ups.”
Rather than thinking about how to please a partner, men believe the only way to please their partner is to live up to this masculine ideal, and when they fall short, they feel despondent. But there’s a solution to all this that’s not just pills, creams, penis pumps and the like: communication.
How to Talk About Your Perceived Sexual Inadequacies
Talking about something you’re struggling with is often a daunting prospect, and if you’ve been socialized as a man to never open up about your weaknesses, it can seem unthinkable to do so.
That said, the vulnerability that comes with opening up in this way can be very sexy, and talking honestly about your perceived inadequecies in bed can make sex a space of communication and intimacy, rather than one where you’re hiding behind a facade and pretending to measure up.
“Unspoken insecurity causes a lot of unintended harm for everyone,” says Play. “If you feel like you’re taking too long [to orgasm], for instance, and you don’t share [that feeling with your partner], it can kill the vibe and lower your arousal.”
Another important reason to talk about your perceived inadequacies? Often, you’re the only one perceiving them.
“The key to this question is perceived inadequacies, noting that these inadequacies aren’t actual inadequacies for your partner,” says Zane. For all the men worrying about their penis size, often, he notes, a great many are “completely average — even above average.” They’re perceiving a physical issue, but the real problem is one of perception and self-esteem.
Even when it comes to PE and ED, the issue might be one that bothers you more than your partner. PE can be addressed with creams, with practice, and by simply changing your relationship to penetrative sex and focusing more on pleasuring your partner. Meanwhile, there are ways to cope with ED, like pills and cock rings, but if the issue is mental, finding ways to be more relaxed and triggering your parasympathetic nervous system instead of your sympathetic one could be all you need.
But opening up about your struggle doesn’t need to be some grand production, necessarily, whether you know your partner well or not.
“If you tend not to get erect or ejaculate prematurely, it’s worth saying something to your partner before you have sex,” says Zane. “Otherwise, your partner may think it has something to do with them. Odds are, they are nervous too! Sex can be nerve-wracking when you haven’t done it a while or are doing it with someone new. We’re all human here!”
RELATED: Why Penis Size Doesn’t Matter at All
In a more long-term relationship, issues that persist are worth addressing in a more serious way. One way to do that, Saynt says, is to schedule a chat about it.
“If you want to be more honest about these issues, it’s important to set up times you can openly talk with your partner about sex and the things you may be feeling,” he explains.
López Trabajo agrees that it’s better not to approach the issue in the heat of the moment.
“In order to talk about it, it’s important to be in a calm and stable state when addressing the person you are talking to,” she says. “Do some research on your own, aim to get to a place where you feel comfortable with how you’re coping yourself, and aim not to transfer any stress, anxiety or blame to your partner.”
She suggests trying to explore your own feelings about the issue, ways it’s impacted your sex life together, if at all, what impacts it might be currently having, and how the two of you might work to resolve it together.
“Let it come naturally based on how you personally feel and what you’ve learned,” she suggests, adding that giving your partner encouragement about things they’re doing or have done that have been helpful can be a great conversational move. This is particularly true if you’re concerned at all that your partner might see the issue as being their fault.
“Working through these issues does require you to have an understanding or patient partner, which isn’t always the case for men,” says Saynt. “Fear of losing a partner can run high for men who already experience anxiety due to sexual inadequacies, but talking freely and being able to communicate these issues with a partner is key to a relationship where sex is prioritized. Getting over your own mental blocks will be key in feeling comfortable to share what you’re feeling about your penis, your body or your ability to please a partner.”
Examples of How to Discuss Your Perceived Sexual Inadequacies
So how do you actually handle that kind of conversation?
As Play notes, it’s a good idea to acknowledge that it’s something you have trouble expressing.
“Open it up by saying that it is difficult to share,” he suggests. “Say that ideally, you’re not looking for a pity party or fake reassurance, but you just want to express the thought so it isn’t just only in your own head, and your partner can know you better. Then try to communicate whatever the issue is.”
Saynt suggests phrasing it something like this:
- “‘I want to talk to you about something I’m dealing with.’”
“With this sentence, you’re saying it’s something you personally are dealing with, which will prevent your partner from thinking it’s something wrong with them.”
Zane suggests copping to your nervousness, saying something like,
- “‘Hey, sometimes, I can’t get hard when I first have sex with someone. It’s just because I’m a little nervous.’”
If you’d prefer to be more frank rather than cute, López Trabajo suggests saying something like,
- “‘This is difficult for me to discuss, but I really trust you and believe you’ll understand. I’m sure that having your support would help me to overcome this…’”
“It’s OK to ask for support,” says Saynt. “Sometimes just speaking about it openly might help, so don’t keep it in. Let it out.”
How to Respond If Your Partner Belittles You
Most people are kind and courteous enough not to belittle someone who’s struggling, but not everyone.
If your sexual partner is unkind (or simply a bit callous) about some aspect of your sexual interactions, whether it’s your spouse or a one-night stand, it can be useful to remember that they’re not just reacting to you.
“Men being open about their feelings or their shortcomings is often met with negative reactions,” says Saynt. “Accept that this reaction isn’t necessarily the way your partner views you, but instead due to decades of social programming which has made it nearly impossible for men to seem weak without being punished for it.”
If this is someone you care about and you’re willing to talk through the situation, there’s the potential for real learning to take place, according to López Trabajo.
“It’s certainly not your responsibility to educate or take time for someone who is not respecting your body or your personal health,” she says. “That said, if you feel comfortable and stable enough to remain patient in a situation like this, it’s […] worth staying calm and politely explaining the facts.”
As López Trabajo points out, sexual dysfunctions like PE “affect a very high percentage of people, [are often] related to psychological factors, [and] could happen to anyone.”
“If you feel comfortable sharing how their mocking makes you feel, that’s another way to gently explain that what they might find funny is, in fact, hurting you,” she adds. “Sticking to the facts and using ‘I feel’ statements are generally good guidelines to help someone see your point of view.”
However, if they’re not receptive to the reality that lots of guys struggle with issues like these in bed, and that an unkind emotional climate certainly isn’t going to help produce better sex, it’s OK to draw a boundary.
“If it’s not a kink that the person desires to be made fun of, it’s absolutely not OK or healthy to communicate in this way,” says Play. If your partner continues to be cruel, he suggests you consider ending the relationship: “This is super destructive to your self-esteem and self-respect, and is either borderline emotional abuse or is abuse.”
Life is short, and if someone really has that little respect for you, or anyone they consider not up to snuff, they’re not worth your time either. The world is full of people who can talk about sex like adults, who can recognize that human bodies don’t always look or act the way we hope, and that doesn’t mean a person’s unworthy of respect or damn fun times in bed.
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