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Nervous about sex
December 31, 2010 4:29 PM   Subscribe

Is my nervousness about sex due to lack of experience or is there something else? (full story inside)

 
I'll try and keep this simple but I'm thinking this is going to be a bit long:

I lost my virginity later in life than most of the girls I know. It wasn't anything special but it happened and it was fine. I was 21 when that happened and am still in my mid-twenties. 

I have never been in a proper relationship, and though I have dated and slept with several guys since the virginity event,  they never were my "official boyfriends". (which, that's a whole new question. Dating vs are you my boyfriend etc etc)


Here's the thing. The idea of sex doesn't bother me- I'm not religious at all, I've never been sexually abused, I was never raised to feel guilty for having sex, thinking about sex etc. But when it comes time to have sex I get so nervous, so anxious and just so... Uncomfortable About it that it ends up not being fun. 
At first I thought this was just a sign that maybe I hadn't found someone I was that into and once I found "the right guy" sex would just come naturally, I'd do everything right, I wouldn't worry and it would just work.  
Well I've met several of "right guys" since then and no matter how sexually attracted I am to them, after casual dating when things get taken to the next level, I get uneasy. 

To be honest, I think my issue comes from poor self confidence. I was a late-bloomer and boys didn't even start looking at me until college. I am getting better with dating because at first it was awkward for me when guys started paying attention to me. But now, my confidence levels are at the highest they've ever been: I think I'm pretty I maintain a good weight and while there are things I want to change about my body I'm OK with who I am.  
I do, however, put a lot of pressure on myself in general and am constantly worried about what people think about me. I spend a lot of time putting together an image and I guess I kind of hide behind it. 

I think this is why sex is difficult for me. I guess I am constantly worried that I'm doing something wrong and that I might be letting the guy down. I'm so worried about being exposed and just losing control of how i present myself.  The entire time I'm having sex I'm too busy worrying about the noises I'm making, if I'm in the right position if I look good, if he's having fun.. Real sexy right? Kind of takes away from the whole thing.  I spend so much time worried about all of this that even though the guy has fun he can tell something is wrong and just ends up being weirded out. 

So let me stop rambling. What I'm asking is how can I just cut it out? Is it lack of practice? Do I just need confidence? Do I need to go watch some porn and take notes? Have I just not found the right guy? Is this totally not normal...do I need to just go become a nun because there is no hope? 

Help?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Do I need to go watch some porn and take notes?

Don't do this. The fact is, real sex is nothing like porn — and one of the differences is that real sex is, yeah, messy and awkward and you both make funny noises and don't always present yourselves just so. If anything, it sounds like you're already trying too hard to emulate that porn-star ideal of perfectly composed and rehearsed plastic sexiness.

Look at it this way: if a guy is with you instead of watching porn, it's because he doesn't care if you make the "right" noises or put yourself in the "right" position — because he wants the mess and the chaos and unpredictability and so on of a real live encounter with a real live human being.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:37 PM on December 31, 2010 [11 favorites]


Your anxiety is doing you in.

You need to get this about sex: it's about letting go. Sex gets good when you let go. It will help when you meet a guy who knows enough to reassure and help you with this but just as an example of where you need to be, let me say, as a guy, that we don't care what sort of noises you make. If you're making noises, we feel real good about that, because it means you're having a good time. We don't much care if you're howling, yelping or meowing. If you're naturally showing that you're turned on and having fun, we love it.

Be uninhibited. Yes, I know that's easy to say and I know that's your problem, but really, that's what you need to do. Think of it this way: if you let yourself go during sex, make noises, thrash about take and give what you need I promise you that 95-plus percent of the time the guy is going to be delighted. The other times? Never mind. To hell with 'em. Wrong guy.
posted by Decani at 4:49 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


yep, it's nerves. the unknown is totally hovering over you like eeyore's thundercloud. the more sex you have, the more situations you'll encounter and the more comfortable you'll become with it.

i wouldn't recommend this for every situation that makes you nervous, but a couple of drinks can be a godsend. (not in a "drink-till-he's-pretty" kind of way, but in a "oh wow, i really, really LIKE him, how can i relax enough to enjoy it" kind of way)
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:56 PM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


The way you feel is very normal. It will be much easier if you choose as your next partner someone to whom you not only feel attracted, but also to whom it is very, very easy to talk. And talk about your inexperience and unease about it before doing the deed. The less this is your secret and the more it is something you can share, the less nerves you will feel and the more relaxed you will be. And being relaxed is really the key to a great experience.
posted by bearwife at 5:00 PM on December 31, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'd recommend masturbating! Having sex with yourself is one of the best ways to get comfortable with your body, which I think is a necessary (even if subconscious/unrecognized/unarticulated) piece of having great partnersex.

So, give yourself some time, and play! A great couple of books that might also provide you with some reassurance that you're totally normal, and that you can have exactly the fulfilling solo- or partner- sex life you've always wanted are these two:

Sex for One - I'd highly recommend reading this one first! Betty Dodson is an advocate for awesome sex.

Her other book, Orgasms for Two (about partnersex) is great too (though a little too hetero-centric for my queer tastes).

Enjoy :)
posted by Betty's Table at 5:07 PM on December 31, 2010


You've mentioned that none of your partners were so-called Real Boyfriends. You might find that things are easier if you feel more of an emotional connection with your partner and/or if you know them well enough to feel a bit more comfortable around them.
posted by vanitas at 5:11 PM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sex is not about performance, it's about being in a specific state of mind/body. And, although it seems as if it's a heightened, quasi frantic state, it's actually a deeply relaxed state (studies on brain scans show that). Ideally, I guess you'd want to share your thoughts and feelings about sex with your guy. Talking about sex, even about sex anxiety, is sexy. If you can communicate not only your fears of inadequacy but also your fantasies in a way that you feel safe and cared for, those anxieties tend to slowly dissolve, and you relax, and start having fun.

Also, do you masturbate? If you don't masturbate and don't pay much attention to your fantasies, you might be a bit asexual or have a bit of a sex aversion. Not to worry, therapy can help you there.

If you masturbate, try to think about what you think while masturbating, and make it part of your routine to think more about those things. Make thinking/talking about sex more routine and banal, so it's not something you'd fear anymore. Read erotica, yea, watch some porn, laugh about sex, demystify it.

A little alcohol/pot does help some people; but for other people, it just freaks them out even more. Experiment. And be selfish, at least for now. MeMail me if you feel like it.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 5:18 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Do I just need confidence?

Sounds like it, yeah, but there's no "just" about it. Shaking insecurities is genuinely hard to do (in any context, sexual or otherwise).

But now, my confidence levels are at the highest they've ever been: I think I'm pretty I maintain a good weight and while there are things I want to change about my body I'm OK with who I am.

That's great to hear, because it means both A) you have successfully overcome confidence issues in the past, so you know you can overcome (slightly different, but related) confidence issues now; and B) feeling good about your own attractiveness is self-fulfilling, because people who like themselves and find themselves sexy are genuinely sexier for it.

That's the paradox that drives all similar conversations, I think. Confidence can be defined as the belief that others view you as having confidence. Which means that both low self-esteem and high self-esteem are self-reinforcing. (That's why it's important to avoid ever disparaging yourself, and that's why they're right who say 'fake it until you make it'.)

I spend a lot of time putting together an image and I guess I kind of hide behind it.

You and literally everybody else! Please don't let this be a source of insecurity. There's a reason this comic is popular; everyone fronts.

The entire time I'm having sex I'm too busy worrying about the noises I'm making

There's a great scene in "When Harry Met Sally" where the protagonist tells his buddy a story about having sex with a woman who actually "meows" during the act, and the buddy is simply in awe, can't process it, just keeps repeating "you made a woman meow?!" The fact that you're clearly enjoying yourself is itself a turn-on to (most, I imagine?) guys (some of whom will see it through the lens of "ooh, sexy, she likes this" and others of whom will see it through the lens of "ooh, sexy, I'm so virile that I drive her crazy beyond inhibition") -- definitely not a source of "letting [him] down"!

Finally, I want to quote an answer I gave in a similar thread, because, eh, I still agree with myself:

Everyone, sexually, is a big dork. . . Take-Me-Oh-So-Seriously Sexual Confidence... can exist only among the unreflective. We're friction-crazed meat monkeys; since nobody can pull that off without being a dork about it -- not your partner, not porn stars, not Chief Justice Roberts, not the Obamas, all of whom crave objectively-ludicrous things and look silly when they get them -- be dorky unashamedly.
posted by foursentences at 5:22 PM on December 31, 2010 [4 favorites]


If you're a young lady having sex with a male, then you've probably already made his evening. Forget about whether he is enjoying himself (he is, I promise you), and just focus on yourself.
posted by empath at 5:27 PM on December 31, 2010


It's going to sound like I'm being flippant, but this is what makes alcohol the universally-since-the-dawn-of-time aphrodisiac. Once you get past a few times of being uninhibited and in the moment, you won't 'need' anything to help you get there but there's nothing wrong with helping yourself relax to a degree with a couple of glasses of wine. Plus, speaking from pretty serious experience, if you and a man have gotten to the point where you are about to hop in the sack, he ain't worrying about how you are presenting yourself. He's already all in. You need to get out of your head and in to your body. Booze can help.
posted by thinkpiece at 5:29 PM on December 31, 2010


Once you decide to have sex with someone, totally focus on what you are feeling and what you want. Learn about your own sensuality and indulge it. Be selfish and greedy and ask him to do exactly what you want. Sex is about how you feel! If he is like most guys he'll find this turned-on version of you far more stunningly attractive than any polished, perfect appearance.
posted by Anitanola at 5:51 PM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


You should find someone you really like and who wants to spend time helping you get over your fear. It might be hard to cure your issues with a string of random people. You are totally normal and this problem is incredibly common, so don't worry.
posted by 200burritos at 6:02 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


You may not have experienced really great sex with genuine intimacy. Sex requires some nakedness (hello body issues), sex (performance anxiety) a partner (does s/he really like me), etc., so your anxiety is understandable. You deserve great sex, and respect. Both lead to nice things.
posted by theora55 at 6:07 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I want to disagree slightly with the alcohol suggestions. That is, a couple glasses of wine are the best ever way to relax into a nice evening with someone who makes your stomach feel tingly, no question.

But that's step two. Step one is finding someone who you really like. Not everyone is wired for casual sex, and I think your body is telling you something. That's ok -- you aren't broken or inadequate in some way; you may just need more intimacy and trust to have amazing sex. (And then, once you are having that more intimate sex, have a couple of drinks to loosen up like everyone is suggesting.
posted by Forktine at 6:25 PM on December 31, 2010 [6 favorites]


Here's an analogy that, being New Years Eve and all, seems rather apropos:

You know how one of the signs of a drinking problem is that "booze isn't just an enhancement to the activity - it IS the activity?" Well, take "booze" in that statement and change it to "sex." And think about whether that's maybe how you've been approaching sex? You say: I have never been in a proper relationship, and though I have dated and slept with several guys since the virginity event, they never were my "official boyfriends".

You know what jumped out at me there? The word "proper." I certainly know what you mean about "official boyfriends" and all that, and you're right that every partner doesn't need to be "The One OMG!" but I think that word was telling - it's almost like, deep down, you maybe don't agree with the way you're going about pursuing sexual relationships. This is something that needs to be examined, both for your sexual enjoyment and for your broader emotional health, too.

Here's the thing. I'll be 33 in roughly a month, and I never had "good" sex till I was past 30. What I figured out, FINALLY, was that if you are hanging out with someone purely to get to the goodies at the end of the night, the goodies are going to suck. (No pun intended, etc etc:))

If you hang out with someone because you genuinely enjoy their personality, because you can laugh and be comfortable around them, because you care what happens to them even after everyone gets off and puts their clothes back on, then chances are that sex with that person is going to be so, so much better!

Let me tell you, when you finally get to that point where both of you start giggling about some simple-minded joke in the middle of sex...HOLY SHIT, that's good sex!

The best sex in the world has infinitely less than nothing to do with porn stars. It has everything in the world to do with the comfort level that exists between you and your partner. It shouldn't be the end goal...it should be a means to the end (of becoming closer to someone who means a great deal to you, and who reciprocates that feeling). Whatever relationship structure you're comfortable with, you will find someone who is comfortable with that as well. Be honest, with others and crucially with yourself. Don't rush, don't pressure yourself or anyone else, and don't think that sex is OMG THE MOST IMPORTANT EVER TO DO RIGHT NOW.....yeh, it's not. Happy New Year and good luck!
posted by deep thought sunstar at 6:28 PM on December 31, 2010 [12 favorites]


Or on non-preview, what Forktine said far more succinctly.
posted by deep thought sunstar at 6:29 PM on December 31, 2010


I'm a guy, but I'm always a little nervous when I first become sexually active with a girl, and it has caused performance issues before (i.e., not being able to maintain an erection) because I can't concentrate and I feel pretty much exactly the way you describe (thinking/worrying about other stuff). However, this period of awkwardness always passes and I've always become more comfortable with the person as I have more sexual experiences with them and get to know them better in that way. I definitely agree that porn is a terrible example of what real sex should be. Anyway, I think what you're going through is normal -- you just need enough time to sexually warm up to whoever you're dating. In my opinion, it's also up to the guy to make you feel comfortable, and they may not be performing in that area. My girlfriend right now is someone who makes me feel very comfortable because she is very accepting and non-judgmental. It's about mutual respect.
posted by nel at 6:33 PM on December 31, 2010


This is sort of the curse of casual sex and/or the effect of porn. Sex isn't a performance, but when it's got to be Sexy and Mysterious and it's a Big Event like a movie scene that you plan for (more likely when you're young and have to plan to get roommates out of the way, plan dates, etc) there's a lot of pressure. Guys feel the same thing, but it's more of a pressure to get it up and last, instead of pressure to look good and respond the right way.

I keep wanting to recommend lazy sex, you know, the kind where you're already lying in bed and it's like, "You wanna?" "Sure" - but that's one of the perks of LTR/closer emotional intimacy with a partner.

I think that's probably the main thing- after a while in a relationship sex is less about showing what you've got and performing to an arbitrary standard, and more about a phsyical expression of love between the two of you, and it's your show with your quirks.

I thought about it and it seems to me that if you're worried about how the guy you're with thinks of you, you're in a bad place where you're not casual and not serious with him. I mean, if it's casual, you should be thinking, he's lucky and it doesn't matter what I look like at all, he can think what he wants. (Along the lines of what other people in the thread have brought up) But if it's serious, he should be emotionally close to you enough to have reassured you by then/be actively reassuring you. That nervousness should be lessening.

So, yeah, I guess my vote is really for "haven't met the right guy." And by that I mean, head-over-heels, puppy-dog, meet-cute, rom-com stuff- not just dinner and movie and some chemisty. You might be a person who's just not suited for casual dating or sex.
posted by Nixy at 6:36 PM on December 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


Ditto this: "Or on non-preview, what Forktine said far more succinctly." (And deep thought sunstar, and nel. Can you say consensus?)
posted by Nixy at 6:49 PM on December 31, 2010


Do I need to go watch some porn and take notes?

Speaking as a regular consumer of porn: I agree with nebulawindphone. Porn (or Hollywood, for that matter) is not the place to look for realistic depictions of sex. Real sex—like anything else two real people do together—is sometimes awkward, and clumsy, and silly, and doesn't always look exactly like the picture on the box. (And this is sometimes part of the fun—you have to be able to laugh at yourself.) Understanding this will probably help you more than anything.

Sex is not a performance—it's a shared experience. There's no right or wrong way to do it. Be open to the experience as it unfolds, rather than trying to force any expectations onto it.

I also agree with Decani. It matters less how you express yourself in sexual situations, than it does that you you express yourself authentically. Because there's no faking that, and that is what's erotic. I've been with ladies who've had some rather odd tics in the throes of passion, but it's never bothered me in the slightest. Quite the contrary: when your mind loses control and your body takes over is when you know you're having the best, hottest, hold-on-to-the-sheets-to-make-the-room-stop-spinning sex.

Everyone has their own sexual personality, and they all have their quirks, and you should no more apologize for your sexual personality than you should for the rest of your personality. But you have to let your sexual personality out, so you can see what it's like. Trust me—you and your beau will have a great time getting to know that part of you.

Have I just not found the right guy?

Hard to say. You mention being physically attracted to the guys you've been with, but you don't say whether you like and trust and feel easy and comfortable with them. That's probably the more important thing, as far as sexual anxiety is concerned.

Is this totally not normal...do I need to just go become a nun because there is no hope?

Normalcy is overrated, but this is actually pretty common. One of my past girlfriends was similarly shy and anxious at first—partly because I was new and unfamiliar, partly because she hadn't had sex for a while. All it took was time—you become more comfortable with things as they become more familiar. She talked to me about her anxieties, and I was glad to do what she needed to feel more comfortable. Talking about things is usually good.

Assuming that you're already with someone you like and trust (this is the most important thing), I think it's just a matter of time for you, too. And a drink or three isn't a bad idea. For better or worse, it's a very common way to get past those initial jitters.

I'm a dude, so I can't speak from personal experience, but I know that getting (and using) a vibrator has transformed many women's sex lives. If you don't already have one, it's worth a shot.
posted by ixohoxi at 6:52 PM on December 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


How often are you having sex before giving up on your latest partner? I find that the first time with a new person, even if it's someone you really like and you've waited till you're comfortable and all the stuff they tell you about in Sex Ed, it's still going to be weird the first time. You don't know their body or what they like, it's kind of weird to have someone who is somewhat still a stranger seeing you naked, it's hard to communicate what you want. First time sex is never that satisfying.

If I were you I'd try to settle into a relationship a little more before having sex, and relax about The First Time. Stick it out for a while and see where things go. It sort of sounds like you're in a feedback loop where "ZOMG Sex Nervous Nervous > Bad/Anxiety-Inducing Sex > Moving On > ZOMG Sex Nervous Nervous".
posted by Sara C. at 6:53 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Relax... it's that simple.... a glass of wine, a joint, don't overdo it, but relax.... chillout...

And never forget that you're taking advice about your sex life from people that are reading Metafilter on New Year's Eve.... :)
posted by HuronBob at 7:33 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is an official or committed relationship something you want or are open to? I used to be same as you to the point that I thought I was broken and would never enjoy sex. I finally promised myself I wouldn't be sexual with someone unless there was emotional intimacy and I completely trusted them. When that person came into my life, I told them of my insecurities and felt relieved as they patiently guided me. Perhaps part of your insecurity stems from the fact that you were a late bloomer and think you should appear more experienced then you are. That's a lot of pressure. Is there a reason why you end up having sex with people though you don't enjoy it? You don't have to. Just because a relationship gets to a point where sex "should" happen, you still don't have to. Its possible you have a lot of insecurity issues, which of course need to be dealt with. But for just this one aspect, I recommend getting in touch with yourself by masturbating and don't rush into sex until you are with someone you trust. Trust is a big part of sex especially when you're getting used to it. It's be even better if you could be honest with your partner about your insecurities so you have nothing to hide and don't have a facade to keep up.
posted by lacedcoffee at 8:29 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe you're just not ready yet still, you know? I feel like nowadays there's all this conflicting stuff going around regarding sex, virginity, normalcy, etc, and in an effort to feel "normal" a lot of people kind of push themselves into getting stuff over with so that they can demystify the whole sex thing and get on with their lives. And that works great for some people, whereas for others, like me, and maybe you, it's actually kind of traumatizing because we're still getting to know ourselves, and we just have different needs when it comes to being in a sexual experience than other folks. I have a lot of residual nerves and guilt associated with sex, and suddenly having to stop sex mid-sex act, and all this other crap, and what it really boils down to for me is that I started doing sexual stuff way, way before I was actually ready, and my brain is STILL trying to make sense of it all, even 3 years later. And I've already had sex! I'm mentally still in that weird paradoxical virgin mode!

Maybe if you were to find ways to get to know yourself, and rejoice in the fact that you alone possess the power and the skills necessary in banishing low self esteem from your mind, you would begin to let go and feel less nervous. My anxiety about performance and appearance began to wane when I spent time cultivating me, whether it was physical (masturbation, exercise), mental (restructuring the way I look at the world, getting in touch with my thoughts through meditation), or emotional (working through baggage in therapy). Perhaps the same would work for you. I hope so. :) Sex can be very lovely when enjoyed to its fullest potential.
posted by patronuscharms at 9:03 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow have I ever been on the other side of this very experience. How do you handle not directly sexual intimacy, I mean snuggling, being held? (not foreplay) Plain physical proximity while watching a movie doesn't count...active closeness means focused attention, trying to understand the inner life of the one you're with. That's a whole other person with a whole different set of everything...a whole different inner universe...isn't that crazy? I think that kind of time together will simplify everything else
posted by Chekhovian at 10:28 PM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


anonymous: I have never been in a proper relationship, and though I have dated and slept with several guys since the virginity event,  they never were my "official boyfriends".

At first I thought this was just a sign that maybe I hadn't found someone I was that into and once I found "the right guy" sex would just come naturally... Well I've met several of "right guys" since then and no matter how sexually attracted I am to them, after casual dating when things get taken to the next level, I get uneasy.


Doesn't compute. As in, those two things do not add up the way you are adding them.

Being really attracted to someone and being really comfortable with someone are not the same thing. For a sizeable percentage of people, being comfortable really only develops in a long term relationship. I wouldn't go drawing any kind of conclusions about what kind of person you are sexually until you've had more experience and developed a sexual relationship with a partner who's more than a sexual partner - the "boyfriend" experience you mention.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:36 AM on January 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I guess I am constantly worried that I'm doing something wrong and that I might be letting the guy down. I'm so worried about being exposed and just losing control of how i present myself. The entire time I'm having sex I'm too busy worrying about the noises I'm making, if I'm in the right position if I look good, if he's having fun.. Real sexy right? Kind of takes away from the whole thing. I spend so much time worried about all of this that even though the guy has fun he can tell something is wrong and just ends up being weirded out.

Tell him that.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:41 AM on January 1, 2011


You're in good shape, you have decent reflexes, but you've only skied a few times in the past, so you're nervous about skiing.

The only fix for this: more skiing, so you gain more confidence.
posted by orthogonality at 9:16 AM on January 1, 2011


I don't agree about skiing a lot of slopes. I say, work on your ability to give and receive love and intimacy, and let the physical side come after. Once you're comfortable with real intimacy and caring, some of your insecurities and fears might be lessened. Lots of casual sex isn't going to make you happier, I think.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:14 AM on January 1, 2011


I agree with many of the points above - especially that a comfortable relationship will make ALL the difference. Seriously. You need time with someone who really cares, and that will lead to exploring without judgment and overall goodness.

Another practical suggestion that hasn't been made yet - mindfulness is apparently a big factor in enjoying sex, and yoga is amazing for both developing that ability and developing some crucial muscles that apparently will blow his mind. Also, it will help with any lingering body issues as a bonus - it's one of the best exercises to become very comfortable and impressed with our own body's abilities.

Also, 21 is not that late to lose it, and your mid-twenties is still young in your sex life. I know many ladies who became sexually active later and many women I know found sex got tons better after 30.
posted by rainydayfilms at 12:59 PM on January 1, 2011


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