Ever had one of those days when your brain seems to be dead set on working against you?
You’re planning a nice bit of sexy time – whether with a partner or simply some solo fun – but your head’s just not in it.
However much you might want to get jiggy with it, your brain is skipping around elsewhere and you just can’t concentrate, let alone roll around in orgasmic delight.
So what causes your head to seemingly separate from your body at just the moment you want to be able to focus on fun times?
All too often it boils down to lack of confidence in yourself and what you’re doing.
If you have problems with self esteem, it can trickle into all areas of your life – and that includes the bedroom.
The saying ‘first you have to love yourself’ is bit of a cliche – but like most cliches, it’s actually true. Many things can sap your confidence, both mental and physical.
For my friend Amy, the problem is a lack of confidence caused by physical issues.
The problem has grown over the years, to the stage where it’s such a big issue that she’s unsure how to even start working through it.
‘I was born with cerebral palsy and I also have ME and fibromyalgia,’ Amy says.
‘I’ve gone from being moderately active and social to spending most of my time at home and sleeping a lot.
‘I was never particularly confident with guys because I have always been overweight.
‘I’ve had four sexual partners so far, three men and a woman. All were basically one night stands that were pretty unsatisfactory for me (and probably them too).
‘I’ve not had sex in years now and have never really dated anyone.
‘I’m pretty fed up of that to be honest but I feel quite isolated socially and wary of anyone who might take an interest because I feel so unattractive.’
My personal suggestion in any situation like this always boils down to that same cliche – you have to learn to love yourself first.
Mirrors, masturbation and practice is the key.
Look at yourself so that you’re used to what your own body looks like and learn what really turns you on.
If you practice this alone then you’ll have all the more confidence when it comes to getting down to it with someone else in the room.
Amy’s story is just one of many I hear all the time from people whose sex lives have become unsatisfactory through no fault of their own.
I spoke to relationship and sexuality counsellor Jennifer Deacon and asked for her general advice on separating sex from anxiety.
‘When you’re anxious it’s often hard to feel turned on – or even have any desire at all.
‘That in turn can feed the anxiety more, particularly if you’re in a relationship where you might feel you’re letting your partner down, bringing up a whole heap more anxiety.
‘As with any anxiety the first thing is to try and find that tricky balance between reflecting on what’s going on with your thoughts and over-analysing.
‘What’s stopping you – is it the thought of being naked with someone else? The physical acrobatics that you might feel you ought to be performing?
‘Or is your sexual desire being suppressed because of meds that you’re taking?
‘Try to reflect on what’s going on, and then work through the ‘what ifs’ and ‘shoulds’ that often make up a huge part of anxious thoughts.
‘If you have a partner, try to communicate with them what you need – for example if you’re missing intimacy but are scared of initiating hugs or cuddles because you’re not sure you want full sex, then try to find a way to talk about this with them.
‘If your anxiety has roots in a trauma that you’ve experienced then communication becomes even more important – both communicating with yourself as to what you need and want, and communicating with your partner so that they can support you.
‘Lack of libido can be a common side effect from medication so if you notice that your sexual desire has waned since you started a new medication or changed your dose, consider discussing this with your GP or specialist.’
Many prescription drugs do indeed have side effects that affect the libido – and doctors aren’t always up front about explaining the risks.
Okay, so ‘losing interest in sex’ might be a long way down the list of worrying potential side effects, but given that antidepressants often cause this issue, I’m always amazed that it isn’t discussed more.
Sex is a healthy part of life and if you still want it but struggle to get any joy out of it, that’s going to affect your happiness levels.
After literally decades of living with chronic anxiety, I’ve been through endless different drugs in the hope of finding one that will help without ruining the rest of my life.
The problem is that drugs affect everyone differently – what works brilliantly for one person can potentially have drastically negative effects on another.
The first antidepressant I was given was Prozac.
Back then it was the big name in drug therapy and widely considered to be suitable for everyone.
And yes, it helped my depression – but it also completely removed my ability to orgasm.
I still wanted to – my sex drive itself wasn’t affected in any way – but I simply couldn’t ‘get there’.
I still regale people about ‘that time I gave myself RSI through too much w*nking’ – it’s a funny story now, but at the time it was utterly true and completely miserable.
I went back to the doctor and had my meds changed.
At the last count, I think I’ve tried about thirteen different anxiety meds and I still haven’t found one that I can cope with.
Ironically, if I was happy to lose my libido then several of them would have been perfect – but why should we be expected to go without one of the most enjoyable life experiences?
Personally, that makes me just as miserable as being anxious or depressed, so it invalidates the positives anyway.
Currently I’m med-free – and not very happy about it – but at least I still have my sex life.
For some people, finding the right medication without it affecting their libido will be easy.
But everyone has to find their own balance – some might prefer to take the meds and sacrifice their physical enjoyment.
But it’s okay to want both.
Violet Fenn is a freelance writer and blogger. She can be found at Sex, Death, Rock’n’Roll