Performance anxiety impacts men and women in many ways (and places). Of all the arenas we unequivocally don’t need this pressure, the bedroom tops the list.
—See the author’s TEDx Talk on Creating Extraordinary Intimacy in a Shut Down World—
There is any easy way to eliminate performance anxiety once and for all to experience intimacy beyond what you thought possible.
The idea of “performance” is part of the very fabric of our culture; it is a goal oriented, comparison based paradigm that affects our behavior on the playing field, at work, as a parent, and most intimately, as a lover. It is in the bedroom, however, that the very notion of performance can wreak havoc on relationships and experience of intimacy. In fact, the thought of not being able to perform “as expected” can cause both men and women to shut down sexually, turning what could have been extraordinary into a stress-filled, angst-ridden nightmare.
Fortunately, there is any easy way to eliminate performance anxiety and, in so doing, take your experience of physical intimacy to levels you may have never dreamt possible. At first blush, this may seem like a contradiction. Performance is all about doing one’s best to make things happen.
What I share below is how to create a space to allow things to happen—two very different approaches with two very different outcomes.
Society’s Notion of Performance
The idea of sexual performance affects both men and women, but in different ways. For men, sexual performance is essentially tied to the size of one’s “package” and how well he uses it. It’s as if it were some sort of sacred sword that is wielded deftly about with the greatest of nuanced and highly-practiced skill. This notion is supported by the countless Viagra / Cialis commercials, porn, and traditional slam-down (i.e. locker room) bravado. Lack of performance within this context can manifest as premature ejaculation, inability to ejaculate, or inability to have or maintain an erection. Of course, this perspective leaves all the millions of men struggling with erectile dysfunction / impotence and surgically removed prostates out in the lurch.
What is so ironic about this is women who are in touch with their own sexuality don’t see this kind of performance as being important at all. They are much more interested in how attuned their man is to what works for them and how present their man will be for them, rather than focused on some sort of goal. This becomes even more important as a woman matures beyond child-bearing age when, for many, intercourse is often one of the less-desirable means of expressing physical intimacy.
Women experience performance anxiety too, and it is typically expressed in the desire to show that their man pleases them intensely. This is corroborated by research from a British university that indicates over 87 percent of all women vocalize (i.e. moan) to boost their man’s self-esteem and speed things along—whether or not what they actually feel corresponds to their reaction. Just think about that for a moment. Men are stressed out about pleasing their woman in the way our culture says he should and women are stressed out about appearing to enjoy it! That’s a whole lot of stress going on in the bedroom, the one place it should never be.
Replace Performance to Eliminate Anxiety Forever
One of the first things I teach men, women, and couples (of all orientations) is to replace the notion of “performance” with Presence.
Presence is the state of being fully present (i.e. in the “Now” or moment) without agenda, goals, or expectations. Presence is possible in both giving and receiving during physical intimacy.
Being fully present while giving means to “listen” to your partner both explicitly (i.e. what they tell you they like) and intuitively (i.e. to their body, breathing, arousal level, etc.) as to what works best for them. This is an act of pure giving with no thought of return other than for the pleasure of giving completely to them in the way they want. Of course, this implies both partners are willing to be fully vulnerable and authentic about what they want and how they want it. Often easier said than done given the fears that give rise to performance anxiety in the first place.
Being present while receiving means to surrender fully to your partner’s giving (assuming they are doing what you requested) without distraction or having your mind be somewhere else. For example, occasionally I notice my partner is having difficulty achieving climax. When this happens, I’ll look up at her and ask “Sweetie, are you enjoying this?” and her reply is typically “Oh my God, yes!! But I don’t think I’ll be able to climax this time.” To which I respond: “Don’t even try. Just lay back and fully enjoy what you can because I’m loving doing this for you and I’m not getting tired.”
By reassuring her the only thing important to me is her complete enjoyment—whether or not she climaxes—removes the pressure to climax for me and allows her to settle in and fully embrace the experience. This, of course, is another way of saying I create a safe space for her to enjoy our intimate moments together without agenda or goals. What is so interesting about this is, without exception, when I reassure her this way she will explosively climax just seconds later. All I did was remove her need to climax for me (i.e. perform for me).
Presence is the Ultimate Performance
By eliminating “performance” from your bedroom vernacular, you tap into the most powerful way of enjoying sexual intimacy with your partner. If men give to their partner first (in a state of full presence and in the way their partner likes), the issue of performance goes away no matter the circumstances. In the case of premature ejaculation or erectile dysfunction, these issues become moot if you both approach physical intimacy with a sense of adventure and discovery. In that context, those “issues” simply won’t matter, and I say this as a fully impotent prostate cancer survivor whose sex life has never been better.
By insisting on presence over performance in the bedroom, my partner and I experience such extraordinary levels of deep-connecting physical intimacy that it exceeds anything we have ever experienced before or even thought humanly possible. Performance is about expectations of outcome, presence is about goalless giving and receiving in the present moment. The first is an act of separation the latter is space of deepest connection and by extension, the greatest fulfillment.
By simply never allowing the word “performance” to darken your bedroom’s doorway by replacing it with “presence,” you will never have to worry about sexual performance again.
And that, my friend, is a promise.
This article was originally published with the Good Men Project; republished with the author’s full (and kindest) permission.