Other Symptoms

Anxiety and Sexual Function & Genital Issues

  • Anxiety affects every part of the body, including the genitals.
  • On men, this may result in conditions such as testicular pain and a smaller penis.
  • In women, this could result in yeast infections, dryness, and other health conditions.
  • Anxiety may also lead to issues with libido and sexual desire.
  • There are several strategies that can be implemented now to reduce anxiety, though long-term anxiety treatment will be needed.
Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated March 1, 2021

Anxiety and Sexual Function & Genital Issues

While anxiety can cause a number of different chances in your body, the reality is that none can cause as much anxiety as problems with your genitals. No matter if you are a man or woman, young or old, married or single, no one likes the idea that something is affecting them in their most private of areas.

Even though it may seem strange, there are symptoms of anxiety related to the genital areas, and they can cause a significant amount of stress. The following are some of the genital symptoms of anxiety.

Your Anxiety Levels

While your mentally or physically-based sexual dysfunction may be causing you a great deal of anxiety, what you may not have realized is that anxiety may be one of its root causes.

Sex helps humans to relieve stress and feel better. At the same time, in most settings it is considered a taboo topic surrounded by insecurity, discomfort and the sense that talking about it is inappropriate. If you are having a mental or physical sex-related problem caused by anxiety, the idea of talking about and addressing the problem can be almost as stressful as the problem itself.

The following is an overview of the kinds of mental and physical genital symptoms that can be caused by anxiety (for both men and women), and what can be done about it.

Physical Anxiety-Based Genital Symptoms

Whether you are a man or a woman, developing physical anxiety-based genital problems can cause even more anxiety, which ends up making the problem even worse.

For men, physical symptoms are more obvious and may cause them to question their manhood (as defined by popular culture). The self-doubt involved with these problems can result in cycles of negative and anxious thinking that can result in behavior that may be very harmful both socially and physically (such as overeating, secluding themselves from society or even trying to compensate for their problems through unnecessary and embarrassing behavior). Anxiety about these genital symptoms thereby causes behaviors that can result in further anxiety down the road in a self-perpetuating cycle.

Here are some examples of the physical genital symptoms that cause and may be caused in part by anxiety in men:

  • Testicular Pain And Hypersensitivity Testicular pain is a common problem. Usually it's very mild and not much of an issue. But hypersensitivity - another anxiety symptom that causes you to notice any issue related to your physical health - makes it worse. Testicular hypersensitivity is a relatively common reaction to stress in males and can be highly uncomfortable (it may flare up in either just one of the testicles or in both).
  • Shrinkage of The Penis and/or Testicles Alcoholism as a result of stress has been linked to a decrease in the size of male sexual organs. Also, those with anxiety may have trouble staying fully aroused, which can decrease the size of their genitalia.
  • STD Symptoms If you already have an STD such as herpes or HIV, anxiety will have the effect of bringing dormant symptoms (such as sores on and in the mouth or the genital areas) to the forefront.

Men may also experience perceived physical issues that may not be there. For example, someone with anxiety is more likely to think their genitals have shrunk or look abnormal, when in fact they look perfectly normal.

For women, physical symptoms may be (but are not always) less obvious, and can be socially stigmatizing. Some examples of the physical genital symptoms that can both cause and result in anxiety in women include:

  • Vaginal Dryness Natural vaginal lubrication is caused by arousal, which is heavily dependent on the body's ability to relax and be overtaken by positive stimulus. When a woman is experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety, their body will often be too preoccupied with other concerns to function as it should in sexual situations.
  • Vaginitis Vaginitis, or vaginal infections stemming from an imbalance in vaginal bacteria (which is healthy when not overproduced), may in some cases by caused by stress disrupting the body's bacterial balance.
  • STD Symptoms As with men, women's pre-existing STD conditions can be triggered by stress and result in the appearance of sores in and around the mouth and groin.

Acting Funny: Mental Anxiety-Based Genital Symptoms

For both men and women, anxiety can cause problems not only with how the genitals look and feel, but also with sexual performance.

  • Inability to Get Aroused Both men and women may experience a seeming inability to get aroused if they are too anxious. Think back to your first time it was probably pretty scary, and your body may not have known what to do. When you feel anxious, either about having sex or about other anxiety-producing stimuli in your life, your body reacts in much the same way: it is already using too much energy being worried and stressed, and fails to relax you enough to allow for natural reactions to take over.
  • Premature Ejaculation or Inability to Orgasm For men, either of these can be a result of stress. If a man prematurely ejaculates, he may have been overly excited due to the tension of the situation to sufficiently calm his body enough to enjoy an extended experience. If, on the other hand, he is unable to orgasm, this may be for the same reason that some men are unable even to get aroused. Stress and tension cause the body to behave in erratic ways, often interrupting regular functions to alert you that something is wrong even when nothing is, in fact, physically wrong. Unfortunately, these issues can also lead to further anxiety in the bedroom, causing more self-sustaining symptoms.
  • Inability to Have a Vaginal or Clitoral Orgasm For women, it is most common for anxiety to cause an inability to orgasm. Many women complain of never having had a vaginal orgasm, and some have never had any type of orgasm: while there can be many reasons for this, anxiety is an important element to overcome. Sometimes the anxiety even comes from the pressure to orgasm, which takes a woman away from the enjoyable parts of the experience of sex and turns it into a technical problem not very sexy.

Not being able to perform adequately can be a big cause of stress, not only due to your inability to enjoy sex fully but also due to the tensions it can cause in a relationship. If your partner gets frustrated with your ability to perform or believes it is their fault, it can cause even more stress and make it even harder to enjoy sex.

While medications and supplements are available to treat some mental and physical problems (erection stimulant pills for men and vaginal stimulant pills, lotions or gels for women, as well as relaxing but gender-nonspecific herbal supplements such as kava-kava, passionflower or damiana), there are also non-medical routes you can take.

Here are some tips on coping with anxiety-based sex problems:

  • Talk With Your Partner Openness and communication are essential in a sexual relationship. Let them know what you like, and what you don't like. After all, these are tips that only you can give them (they can't read your mind!). If you are in a heterosexual relationship, this is especially important, as men and women tend to respond to different types of stimulus (for example, men tend to respond better to rougher treatment, and women tend to respond better to gentler treatment: however, in any type of relationship, it may be a mistake to assume your partner's preferences are the same as yours).
  • Be Open About Your Anxiety So much of this anxiety comes from fearing the anxiety and the symptoms. So talk to your partner about the fact that you're anxious. Let them know what's bothering you and that you've been having these problems. You'll often find that the simple act of telling your partner can be very therapeutic.
  • Eat Healthier and Stay in Shape This may sound unrelated, but eating healthy and maintaining physical fitness is an important part of feeling comfortable with your body and, by extension, in sexual situations. Also, if you look good, it may also have the effect of stimulating your partner (if they are the ones experiencing sexual dysfunction). Knowing that your partner is aroused by you can also be a strong stimulant and create mutual arousal.
  • Get To Know Yourself If you are concerned about not being able to perform sexually, think of it as your duty to yourself and to others to spend some time learning what ideas or sensations turn you on or off. Furthermore, if you are self-conscious about your body, this is a great way to familiarize yourself with how it works and what to expect. Remember, everyone's body is different: don't expect to meet some type of standard, because the range of variation is wide and there are benefits to every kind of body.
  • Meditate It may benefit you to take some time in the day, every day if possible, to sit in a quiet place (a quiet room, a park, or even your car) and make a conscious effort to relax. Think about things you enjoy, or experiment with emptying your mind as Zen practitioners do. If you experience negative or anxious thoughts, rather than getting mad at yourself or letting it lead you to another negative thought (an effect Zen practitioners call monkey mind), just acknowledge the thought's presence, and let it go. Taking time by yourself away from the pressures of your life at least once every day can greatly decrease your anxiety in the long term.
  • Avoid Drinking Short term cures for anxiety like excessive drinking are likely to lead to further problems later on, and worsen pre-existing sexual anxiety problems. If you are used to relying on this type of short term cure, try replacing it with a different, healthier addiction such as jogging or lifting weights: something to get your mind off of the problem, but also get you in better rather than worse shape to perform physically.

While it is important for both men and women to reduce anxiety in order to avoid genital symptoms such as the ones described above, it is also important to be safe when engaging in sexual activities so that STD-related symptoms do not crop up whenever anxiety hits.

Ask your partner about any unusual symptoms they have (in a caring and sensitive way, as this too can cause stress in a relationship), and always use condoms and/or dental dams for protection (even when using birth control) in order to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

If you take care of yourself and stay aware of your partner's needs, it will be easy to keep your sexual relationship anxiety and unpleasant genital symptom-free.

You should also start addressing your overall anxiety as well, since the more you can reduce your anxiety the fewer anxiety related genital problems you'll have.  

Summary:

Anxiety can have an effect on the genitals. The effects differ for men and women, but may include pain, discomfort, increased risk of infection, and more. Acknowledging your anxiety and caring for your symptoms can reduce the frequency of these genital problems. 

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

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Question:

Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient

Answer:

You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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