How to enjoy sex even when your mental ill-health is working against you

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Anxiety and low self-esteem can seriously impact your sex life

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[E]ver 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.’

You need to learn to love yourself

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.

Complete Article HERE!

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What To Do If You Get A Panic Attack During Sex

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By Sophie Saint Thomas

[A] few years ago, while an ex-partner was going down on me, I realized I was having trouble breathing. Then a sense of dread filled my head, and I felt like I was being stabbed in the chest. So I quickly asked him to stop — not because he was doing anything wrong, but because I was having a panic attack during sex.

One of the (few) good things about panic attacks is that they usually only last for about 15 minutes, says Gail Saltz, MD, psychiatrist and author of The Power of Different: The Link Between Disorder And Genius. When I had my attack, I sat on the edge of the bed and did a series of breathing exercises. Gradually, I did begin to feel better.

But one of the most perplexing aspects of panic attacks is that they’re intensely fearful physical reactions that occur in the absence of any real danger or identifiable cause, as the Mayo Clinic explains. In my case, I was in a safe space with someone I trusted when my ex was going down on me. However, I had very real and terrifying feelings of detachment, the aforementioned shortness of breath, and chest pains.

Of course, I’m speaking about panic attacks during consensual sex. Fear that happens during an assault or dangerous sexual experience is completely different than having a panic attack during healthy sexual intimacy. (Reach out to RAINN if that’s the case.)

Although there are many causes for panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often to blame, says Barbara Greenberg, PhD, clinical psychologist and relationship expert. That was true for me: I’m a survivor of multiple sexual assaults and have been diagnosed with PTSD by a psychiatrist. As a result, sometimes during sex, I’ll have a flashback of an incident and experience a panic attack. Although the attacks subsided thanks to therapy and medication, it’s an ongoing process.

That said, panic attacks during sex can also happen to people who haven’t been sexually assaulted or diagnosed with PTSD. Dr. Greenberg says that generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder can also trigger panic attacks during intimacy, but anyone can have one during their life — with or without a diagnosed disorder. Sometimes these things just happen.

However, if your panic attacks are, like mine, recurring and have an identifiable root cause, it’s an especially healthy idea to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Saltz says. “If you are having multiple panic attacks or PTSD flashbacks you should 100% get treatment,” Dr. Saltz says. Treatment will begin with an evaluation of the cause of the panic attacks with a mental health professional. Then, that person will suggest therapy, medication, or both.

But is there anything you can do when you’re in the midst of a panic attack during sex? The first thing to do, if you can, is explain to your partner what’s happening — and step back from sex to take care of yourself. You can always try having sex again later when you’re feeling better. Deep breathing exercises, mindfulness practice, and reassuring self-talk can all be helpful in calming a panic attack, says Michael Aaron, PhD, a sex therapist and author of Modern Sexuality: The Truth about Sex and Relationships. Changing your physical position or getting up to walk around can also help comfort you.

At that point, Dr. Aaron says it’s okay to take any anti-anxiety medication you’ve been prescribed, such as benzodiazepines (e.g. Xanax, Ativan, and Klonopin). Because you can become dependent on such medications over time, they’re meant to be used on an as-needed basis, Dr. Aaron says. But, depending on your individual needs, you may be taking them for a week or have a prescription at-the-ready for the rest of your life. While you’re taking these medications, though, you’re also (ideally) learning other self-soothing techniques in therapy that will come in handy when you stop taking the meds as frequently.

On top of managing what’s happening in your own mind and body, explaining it to your partner presents another challenge. In particular, when I had a panic attack, my partner had a hard time understanding that he did nothing wrong. But Dr. Saltz says that, in the moment, it’s enough to “tell your partner [your panic attack] will pass, take slow and deep breaths, and relax your muscles.” After the crisis has passed, you can get into a more detailed description of what you experienced — and how it wasn’t your partner’s fault.

If you’ve been a witness to someone else’s panic attack, know that they have likely experienced panic attacks before meeting you and probably will have them after you’ve parted ways, says Amanda Luterman, MA, OPQ, a psychotherapist who specializes in sexuality. “What you can do is be a soothing and stabilizing partner for that person, keep the focus on them, and reassure them that it’s going to pass,” she explains.

So, remember that panic attacks do go away. But if you continue to have them during sex as part of a larger mental health issue or due to unresolved trauma, you should seek treatment. Trust me, it can be a life- (and sex life-) saving experience.

Complete Article HERE!

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