A listener asks what to do about feeling anxious before sex with a new partner.
Panelists offer techniques to get present, reframe spinning thoughts, and set the scene for pleasure.
Wild & Sublime Podcast Transcript
#S2E51 | Working through pre-sex anxiety
[Wild & Sublime theme music]
Erica Washington: Whenever we're anxious, we're never in the present. We're either ruminating over the past, or over what we think is going to happen.
Karen Yates: Welcome to Wild & Sublime, a sexy spin on infotainment®, no matter your preferences, orientation, or relationship style, based on the popular live Chicago show. Each week, I'll chat about sex and relationships with citizens from the world of sex positivity. You'll hear meaningful conversation, dialogues that go deeper, and information that can help you become more free in your sexual expression. I'm sex educator Karen Yates. This week, our panel discusses how to cope with pre-sex anxiety. Keep listening.
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Hey, folks. So, who doesn't feel a little nervous or worried prior to a sexual engagement with someone when you are still in the newer phases of relationship? I loved this conversation today that was sparked by a supporter on Patreon who shared a question to which our panel then gave an abundance of suggestions in reply. And suggestions, I might add, that are great for any anxiety-provoking event — like get-togethers at holidays when you're just getting back into the social whirl? Yeah, I thought you'd be on board with that one. So today you'll hear from a sex-positive holistic mental health therapist Erica Washington; sex coach and pleasure mentor Tazima, Parris; and queer and somatic psychotherapist specializing in trauma, grief, pleasure, and courageous relationships, Elmo Painter. Enjoy.
[to panelists] Here's the question: "I get really, really anxious before having sex with new or newer partners. To be clear, I'm not anxious once intimacy begins; I'm anxious the day of, or in the hours leading up to seeing them. I want my appearance to be perfect; my place, et cetera. If you haven't figured it out, it takes me time to actually relax once I see them. Once a relationship develops, it gets easier. Can you give me tips for working with my head? Signed, [emoji with the clenched teeth]." So when I read this — Elmo, you are a somatic psychotherapist. I would like to begin this with the somatic perspective.
Elmo Painter-Edington: Yeah. Well, first of all, I want to talk about just how natural this is — like, how natural this anxiety is. And I'm also getting this really awesome image of those birds that clear out their space to do their mating dance, you know? They, like, meticulously clean out this whole area, they move every twig, every piece of leaf, everything, so that they can be like, [exhales] 'Check me out!' And do their little dance around and stuff like that. I mean, it's so natural — like, National Geographic normal. Like it's... [laughter]
Karen Yates: That's normal. [laughing]
Elmo Painter-Edington: So that's the image I was getting. And at the same time I'm hearing that there's maybe a level of anxiety that is feeling like a bit of a struggle for this person. So I'm wondering about the ritual of cleaning your space, cleaning yourself, making yourself attractive, smell good. All those things are wonderful. And when is there kind of a level of 'enoughness'? And when is there maybe these feelings of not-enoughness coming up? And is there a point where you can kind of sit down and take a minute to sit down in your space and look around and just take in the light, take in the air, find your feet on the ground, and say, 'Yeah, this person is coming over, and I'm here.' And finding the fullness of your body. And just even giving yourself a little squeeze on your joints to just like, really find the solidity of yourself, and finding your center, finding your base, and how you're existing in your space, rather than focusing on the space itself and how you look within it. Switching that to how you feel within it. How you feel in your own body. And how does it feel to you to be around this person, rather than, 'What does this person think of me? What is this person feeling, being around me?' Switching that perspective up. How does it feel to be with this person? Do I feel comfortable with them? Do I feel at ease? Is there a sense of difficulty? Is this feeling of insecurity maybe an intuitive feeling of judgment? What kind of folks are you attracted to? Are you attracted to people who have really, really high standards? Are you attracted to people who are more accepting? So just checking in with those kinds of things.
Karen Yates: Yeah, great. Erica or Tazima, do you have thoughts?
Erica Washington: So, you know, when I read this question, the first thing that came out to me was social anxiety. You know, whenever we are meeting new people, there's always going to be, like, that level of anxiety. Because there's the newness. It's kind of back to that new relationship energy kind of thing. And that there's still also going to be that level of anxiety, because we're trying to put forth our best face; we're trying to be in the moment, be fun, and be okay with it. But there's still that level of, like, this is new, so I don't know what to expect just yet. Right? And so, what I would say with that — like, I am really big on sensory things, just like Elmo said. You know, there's a lot of different grounding techniques. But a lot of the things that I tend to like to use would be — I have people, like, create sensory bags, and things like that. So anything that would appeal to your senses. Scented hand sanitizer, lotions, that kind of thing, can not only be cool to the hands, but it can also give a nice scent, and it can help with calming, and things like that. You could have something sour for taste, or something sweet — gum, candy, something like that — so that you have a focus. It is really about creating a focus, versus trying to distract yourself. Because you want to be able to focus on the sensations that you're feeling, so that you can stay and remain in the present. And in this case, we're ruminating over what we think is going to happen. And so, doing anything kind of sensory — cold, rough things, you know, people do, like, the rubber band on the wrist, so you have that little bit of pain — any of those different kind of things can be helpful. Also, something that I specialize in is mindfulness. It is also still using the senses to ground yourself, but it's different types of meditations, and things that use different sensory things to help you learn how to focus. So any sort of mindfulness meditations, be it, like, mindful breathing, mindful eating, walking meditations, that kind of thing. You can do all those kind of things as well. There's also thought-stopping techniques that you can try to use, because of course, we know everything is jumbled up in the brain during this time. And so you're thinking about, 'Do I smell good? Do I look good? Is my house clean? Did I, you know, chill the champagne,' if you drink champagne, you know? What are all the like aspects of this? And it's just becoming overwhelming. So one of the techniques that I like to use myself, on a regular basis, and it takes some practice, even though it sounds easy — there's a technique called the STOP technique, and it is: first you just. You stop yourself, right? You say "Stop.' You might say it out loud, you might just say it to yourself. Then you take a breath. Right? So now you sit and you breathe, and you just do some deep breathing, until your whole body is calm, and you're ready to kind of go forward. You also want to observe your emotions. Observe, like, what's happening in your body — like, are you sweating? Are your hands, are there tremors? Or your heart palpitating, that kind of thing? And as you observe these things, then next you make a plan. And you plan what you're going to do next. Am I going to do some sort of self care? Am I going to use a coping skill? Am I going to do something sensory? What am I going to do? And then you actually start practicing that thing, right? And you practice until you get it to where you need to be, and then you can kind of go forward. And so that is some of the different ways that I work with people who have social anxiety, or anxiety in general, is using those different sort of techniques. And so it's the same thing with this — like, it's anxiety. And what do we do for anxiety? We use coping mechanisms. And there's a ton of them out there. The person just has to see which ones work for them, so you have to try them all out, so you know which ones work best for you.
Karen Yates: Awesome. Yeah, what you're saying, and also what Elmo said, about sitting in one's place — I've started doing something which is really effective. And this is, like, around my work, where once I finish a task, if it's been a long task, and I've been working for some time, I actually go lie down for, like, five minutes. And it's not to go to sleep, it's not to nap, it's merely to basically dump out any, like, residual tension from the task I have been doing. And it's almost like a clearing. And I don't even do anything special; I just lie down, I stare at the ceiling, and I'll just get up after five minutes. And it's like, it will markedly just change my energy, just doing this kind of removal from the room where I was working into another room and then back again. Tazima, what do you have to say?
Tazima Parris: Ahh, I love this discussion so far. So many good things, both Erica and Elmo dropping the goodies. Love that. And I love the five-minute lay down. So the really, really anxious — my attention is brought to the really, really anxious, and the part about the appearance, perfect, the place, et cetera. Those are the two things that are popping out for me. What those things tell me are that, one, this person is having an external locus of control about the situation. So there's an external — like, they're using not their own lens looking out, they're using a fabricated lens, and looking into their life and trying to judge and project what the other person could think about potentially what is present at the moment. That's a lot of work. And it's probably inaccurate.
Karen Yates: [laughs] It's a lot of work and there's a lot of people! Right? A lot of people out there—
Tazima Parris: And people have moods and stuff, and you never know what's going on. There's way too many variables. And as a scientist, reducing those variables is really critical and important to me. That's what I do. So, one, I want to share that anxiety is often ruminating with judgment. So it's not just ruminating, it's also the judgment that's overlaid. Like, 'Oh, this is a bad thing.' And so then you're dealing with the judgment, and then the shame under that. So there are all these things that are getting heavier and more tense, and you're holding against that. And then maybe you're even trying to — the person is trying to stop the thing, but that just keeps it going. On the other thing that I'm holding, and I'm hearing some of that in what all of you have said so far, and that is shifting your state. The way that I share with my clients, and in content that I have produced, of like, how to drop into being with yourself. So, dropping into presence, dropping into your body, is, there's this really lovely phrase that we use, when we say 'Come to your senses!' You can use that. I love the idea of the bag, but you might be somewhere where you're away from your sensory bag. I think that's a great idea, but if you're away from your sensory bag, guess what? All your senses still work. But if you literally pay attention to the slightly funky flavor in your mouth, and the smell of your mask, or... like, it's not sexy, but you will get present in the moment! [laughing]
Karen Yates: Funky flavors, weird smells... Mmmm, I'm alive in the present!
Tazima Parris: I don't like it! [laughs] Whatever! Okay, so, one, you can get present just by being present with whatever sensory input is coming in. You can just take that moment to stop and get present with, 'What sensory input data am I getting?' That will at least slow things down. That will stop the hamster on the wheel. That hamster will be like, 'What?' We're paying attention. And you can give your hamster brain something to pay attention to: Ooh, look at the pile of laundry I still have to fold. It's okay. And I can breathe through. It's laundry, and it's okay. And the judgment — I'm going to put that over here for now. The other thing that can really improve your attractiveness — and this is where I put on my pleasure mentor hat — fun is really attractive. Have fun before the date. Don't wait for the date to have fun. Put on the music that makes you dance, and makes you, like, 'Oooh!' Or, like, feel how you want to feel during the date. You can program the date by being what you want to feel on the date before you show up. Or before they show up. Whatever the situation is.
Karen Yates: There's a lot of head-nodding going on at this moment. [laughter]
Tazima Parris: And in my pleasure practice — and I'm not just talking about sexual pleasure; I'm talking about sensory, sensual pleasure, situational pleasure — I will cultivate a situation. My entire home is designed to create pleasure for me, because I get to choose. I like plants, a lot of them. I like things that smell good. I chose this place for the windows that it has, so I can look outside. I spend time every day filling myself with pleasurable experiences, so that whatever I face during the day, I've got enough resilience to do that. But if you, like, stumble out of bed, and you're cursing, and you bump your toe, and then you've got to wash really quick because you didn't hear the alarm — like, all this stuff makes you worse. And I'm not saying this person is doing that before their date. But it might be a combination of such things. But if you do what you have to do — even if you wake up late, and you say, you know what, I'm going to forgo... I don't know, making a really fancy breakfast, to I'm just going to get some cereal, but I'm going to take a longer shower, and I'm going to use that special lotion that I got, or I'm going to use that special fragrance, or that special thing, so that I feel delicious. And then that radiance is what is attractive. You create radiance in yourself by giving yourself pleasure, and then you radiate. And then everybody is attracted to you. That dog is attracted to you! [laughs] People on the street, like, you know — I was walking down the street the other day, and like, there was this dude that stopped, and it was a little creepy, but he stopped in his car to ask me if I needed help. I was like, I left my car at home! I'm just taking a walk, dude! Like, he was weird. But the point is, I was radiating, because I had done so many things that day to create that radiance for myself. And then if they show up and they like it, then that's actually genuinely you. If you're in a fun place, and you're like, yay, life, and you've already created that, then they can be attracted to that. And then you can create NRE for someone else.
Karen Yates: You can have NRE for yourself.
Tazima Parris: For yourself too. All that?
Karen Yates: Elmo. Do you have any thoughts?
Elmo Painter-Edington: I love everything you just said, Tazima, so much. And yeah, exactly. It's all about remembering who you are. Remembering what you like. And it's that shift to, 'How do I feel about this person? How do I feel in my space? This is my turf. This is my stuff. This is my habitat.' And like, how at home do you feel there? And yeah, even remembering, just thinking about the people in your life who love you for who you are. The people who have crushed on you, the people who — or your pets who adore you. And thinking about your favorite things and having your favorite smells, like Tazima said. And doing delicious things for yourself can not only help your anxiety, and help get you to that place where you can be sober in your intentions, for this new interaction that you're going into. But yeah, you're authentic. You're your authentic self, and there's just nothing hotter than that.
Karen Yates: Hmm, fantastic.
Tazima Parris: Definitely pregame. I like that you say it that, definitely. Definitely get that pregame on, because you walk different, you talk different, you know, you act different, because you're, you know, you're in the zone, right? You're in the mood, you're in the zone, and I know there's, like — I have a whole playlist that I put on, and I'm just like, 'Ooh yeah, okay, I'm ready.'
Flirt with yourself! Like, catch your eye in the mirror, like, 'Ooh, you're looking good!' You know, give yourself the compliment you want to hear! Mm, do it? Why not?
Karen Yates: For more information on Elmo, Erica, and Tazima go to our show notes. Wild & Sublime is supported in part by our Sublime Supporter, Full Color Life Therapy. Therapy for all of you at fullcolorlifetherapy.com. If you'd like to work with me to help get unstuck and add more ease to your life, consider a biofield tuning session. Biofield tuning gently restores energetic flow and shifts emotional patterning in the body, bringing greater awareness of yourself and the choices you can make. And it can be done remotely. Go to karen-yates.com, or the show notes to learn more about individual or group sessions.
Well, that's it, folks. have a very pleasurable week. Thank you for listening. If you know someone who might be interested in this episode, send it to them. Do you like what you heard? Then give us a nice review on your podcast app. You can follow us on social media @wildandsublime and sign up for newsletters at wildandsublime.com. I'd like to thank associate producer Julia Williams and design guru Jean-Francois Gervais. Theme Music by David Ben-Porat. This episode was edited by The Creative Imposter studios. Our media sponsor is Rebellious Magazine, feminist media, at rebelliousmagazine.com.
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- Erica Washington – Sex-positive holistic mental health therapist
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