Sexuality, Love, Desire: Fear. Entering into relationship with someone can be scary. For many, meeting someone for the first time is downright terrifying. If you have ever felt anxious around your relationships with others - aromantic, platonic, romantic, sexual - you are knot alone.
What is social anxiety and how might it make you feel?
Let’s talk social anxiety. Social anxiety can be described as a fear of social situations that include contact and interaction with other people. Social anxiety cues thoughts and body sensation in response to worries of negative evaluation. Social anxiety can trigger feelings of shame, inadequacy, sadness, low self-esteem, and humiliation. Physiologically, social anxiety can mimic tension in the shoulders, tightness in the chest, a knot in the stomach, tingles in the hands and feet, and other uncomfortable sensations in the body.
How might social anxiety impact your sexuality?
Social anxiety is the body's adaptive (or helpful) response to stress and change around you: the body, mind, and spirit primed for action! Social anxiety is attempting to support you, but likely is misfiring in the wrong contexts - contexts in which you could benefit from contact and connection. With respect to your sexuality, social anxiety impacts:
Love & Partnerships: Even the most consensual, well-paced, and respectful activities (sexual, romantic, and other) can cue unwanted thoughts, feelings, and images.
Sexual Experience: Touch & contact can be overwhelming & disassociating (i.e. numbed out), particularly if you have experienced sexual trauma and abuse.
Trauma: Intense, past experiences of any kind, can make it incredibly difficult to trust in the body.
For personal experiences from people navigating sexuality and anxiety, I recommend checking out this.
How can I better manage my anxiety around sexuality?
- Stop, observe, and track your physiological sensations: Social anxiety looks different for different bodies. For some it involves tension, for others tingles, and many, tightness. Social anxiety is the body's attempt to signal danger and to warn of threat in your surroundings. There is power in knowing how YOUR body responds to social anxiety because similar to a warning light that comes on in your vehicle: when you know where the alert is, you can attend to it.
Give yourself the comfort you need: When you have identified where in your body the sensation is coming from, now is the time for your self and community care. Find a quiet, private place or the company of someone you love and trust and go to work. For some, a gentle squeeze or self-hug works. For others, applying heat or a light pressure to the area is soothing. You could also move your body, noticing how speed, tempo, rhythm, and direction impact the sensation. Continue to track, notice, and observe.
- Incorporate the use of a safe image, word, or mantra: Lastly, your body needs to know that it is safe. You've attended to the response (warmth, pressure, comfort), now tell your body that it has been taken care of, much in the same way you would reassure another. Safe words, mantras, relaxing music, and positioning yourself in the words of a friend or loved one are great strategies.
Why is it important to know how to calm yourself down?
As a sex therapist, I strongly believe in your right to a positive, affirming sexuality. I endorse a sense of healthy entitlement when it comes to your love, relationships, and desires. Embracing strategies and supports to better calm yourself beautifully highlights your internal strength and ability to provide soothing comfort in challenging situations. Each time you succeed in attending to your social anxiety, you demonstrate how temporary intense sensations in the body can be, and how self-tracking and community can calm the system. There is much to explore and experience in the world. Tuning in to your social anxiety and recognizing when it is not adaptive creates opportunities for connection and healing that will help you to embrace the fullest sense of your sexuality.