NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, September 26, 2022

Are Negative Thoughts Getting in the Way of Your Sexual Pleasure?

On a recent episode of the Sex and Psychology podcast called "Change Your Mind, Change Your Sex Life" the host, Dr. Justin Lehmiller and his guest, Dr. Kelly Casperson, a urologist, talked about how to get into the right mindset to have pleasurable sex (see my articles: Are You Distracted By Negative Thoughts About Yourself During Sex?Keeping the Sexual Spark Alive and Women's Sexual Self Discovery).

Negative Thoughts Can Keep You From Enjoying Sex

Distractions Keep You From Enjoying Sex
According to Dr. Lehmiller, people are accustomed to multitasking more than ever--like listening to a podcast while you're driving or cleaning the house.  

Similarly, some people multitask in their mind.  But multitasking in your head while you're engaging in sex gets in the way of your being fully present in the moment sexually.  It keeps you distracted and affects your ability to be present with a partner or during solo sex (see my articles: Reconnecting With Your Inner World Without Distractions).

Negative Thoughts That Can Rob You of Sexual Pleasure
Similarly, your negative thoughts could be robbing you of sexual pleasure.

Here are some common examples of negative thoughts that get in the way of sexual pleasure:
  • Having Frequent Thoughts About a Negative Body Image: If, instead of being focused on your pleasure, you're focused on negative thoughts about your body, you're not in the moment.  You're feeling bad about yourself and you might also be imagining your partner doesn't like how you look. Not only does this take you out of the present moment, it takes you into a negative mindset where you're feeling bad about yourself (see my article: Is a Negative Body Image Ruining Your Sex Life? and Are You Sabotaging Yourself With Negative Self Talk?)

Negative Thoughts About Body Image

  • Dismissing Your Own Pleasure Because You Believe Sexual Pleasure is Only For Your Partner and Not For You: Thinking of sexual pleasure as being for someone else and not for you keeps you stuck in a negative mindset before you even begin to have sex.  These thoughts can be hard to detect because they often operate just outside of your awareness.  While it's good to want to please a partner, your sexual enjoyment is also important. 
  • Distracting Thoughts About Other Things You Need to Do: If you're focused on things you need to do, your mind is somewhere else instead of being focused on sexual  pleasure.  These thoughts create stress which is the opposite of being relaxed enough to enjoy sex.  The reality is that whatever time you spend enjoying sexual pleasure probably won't make that much of a difference with whatever is on your to-do list.

Negative Thoughts About Your To-Do List

  • Worrying You Don't Have Time For Sex: This is related to distracting thoughts about other things you have to do.  It's a common negative thought that gets in the way for many people.  To put this in perspective, think about how much time you spend watching TV or on social media.  According to Dr. Lehmiller, sex research reveals that heterosexual couples spend 15 minutes (on average) and lesbian couples spend about 30 minutes each time they have sex, so in the scheme of things, sexual activity doesn't usually take that long (see my article: Accessing Sexual Energy).
  • Worrying About Not Getting Spontaneously Turned On: Everyone is different when it comes to sexual arousal. Some people can get turned on by just thinking about sex.  Other people, including most women, experience responsive desire, which means they need more time to get turned on--it doesn't happen for them spontaneously the way sex is portrayed in the movies. Whether you respond spontaneously or you're more responsive, it's all normal (see my article: Spontaneous Sexual Arousal and Responsive Sexual Arousal Are Both Normal).
  • Focusing on Sexual Performance:  This type of negative thinking is similar to worrying about not experiencing spontaneous desire.  The more you can let go of thoughts about performance and goal-oriented sex, the more you can relax and enjoy yourself.  Rather than worrying about having an orgasm, reframe the way you think about sex to focus on pleasure.  Enjoy the moment rather than focusing on a goal (see my article: What is Performative Sex?).

Focusing on Sexual Performance Instead of Pleasure

  • Worrying About Sexual Frequency:  A common negative thought involves sexual frequency--having enough sex or too much sex. Comparisons to other imaginary people who are "doing it right" becomes the focus. When you compare yourself to other people, you're taking yourself out of your own sexual experience. 

Feeling Guilty and Worrying About Sex
  • Feeling Guilty That Sex is "Bad" or Wrong: Whether these thoughts are coming from your family history, religion, culture or some other source, if you believe sex is wrong, you're probably going to have a hard time enjoying it.  Maybe you don't really believe this deep down anymore, but you could have old negative "tapes" going through your mind that don't allow you to enjoy sex.  These thoughts can intrude on your experience.  If they intrude to the point where they take you out of the experience, you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed mental health professional who has an expertise in this area.
The examples listed above are some of the most common negative thoughts that keep people from enjoying sex.  There are many more.

How to Overcome Negative Thoughts About Sex
The first step in making any change is usually to become aware of the problem because when the problem is outside your awareness, you can't change it. 

So, here are some suggestions about how to change a negative mindset to a more sex-positive mindset:
  • Take Time Before You Engage in Sex to Focus on Sexual Pleasure: Instead of relying completely on a partner to get you turned on, focus your thoughts on sexual pleasure.  This could mean taking a few minutes to watch a sexy movie, read an erotic story or listen to music to get you in the mood.  It doesn't have to be more than a few minutes--just enough time to help you to transition from whatever you were doing before to what you're about to experience sexually (see my articles: Sexual Pleasure and the Erotic Self - Part 1 and Part 2).
  • Write Down Your Thoughts About Sex: Thoughts can be fleeting.  Writing helps you to become aware of and capture your thoughts (see my article: What Are Your Core Erotic Themes?).  How do you really feel about sexual pleasure? Do you feel entitled to pleasure?  
Write Down Your Thoughts About Sex

  • Write About Your Sexual Fantasies: Most people have sexual fantasies and they aren't even aware of it.  They know they have erotic thoughts, but they don't think of them as fantasies.  Writing about sexual fantasies helps you to get into a positive mindset for sexual pleasure (see my articles: Exploring Sexual Fantasies Without Guilt or Shame and The 7 Core Sexual Fantasies).
  • Become More Sensually Aware: You can experience sensual pleasure in many ways when you engage your five senses, including what you see, hear, taste, feel (tactile), and smell:
    • Taking a bubble bath to relax and get back in touch with your body
    • Smoothing on your favorite lotion after you shower 
    • Enjoying certain scents that increase your sensual pleasure, like perfume or incense 
    • Savoring a delicious meal to increase your sensual awareness
    • Listening to music that relaxes you and puts you into a sensuous or sexual mood
    • Listening to an erotic audiobook
    • Watching a sexy movie
Becoming Sensually Aware

  • Use Affirmations to Help You to Change:  It's important to think of making this type of change as a process.  It's a journey.  It's not a one-and-done event. Taking small steps often helps more than trying to change everything at once. Affirmations can help you in the change process in terms of becoming aware of the change you want to make and actually making the change.  Dr. Casperson mentioned that it's important not to get caught up in toxic positivity where you're telling yourself you have already made the change.  Not only is this unhelpful--it's also disingenuous.  For instance, it's better to say something like, "I'm working on accepting my body" instead of "I love my body" when you're really struggling to accept your body image.
  • Become Aware of Your Sexual Motivation:  Dr. Lehmiller mentioned two different types of motivation when it comes to sexual pleasure: approach motivation and avoidance motivation.  An example of approach motivation is seeking love or pleasure, and an example of avoidance motivation is having sex solely to avoid your partner becoming resentful.  Approach motivation helps you to enjoy sex.  It can also give you a dopamine hit that is pleasurable.  Avoidance motivation takes you away from pleasure (see my article: Understanding Your Sexual Motivation).
  • Identify Your Sexual Accelerators and Brakes: For many people it's easier to identify the sexual brakes (e.g., worrying about unpaid bills, incomplete tasks, etc) instead of the turn-ons, which are the sexual accelerators.  If you know what turns you off, you can often just reverse it to come up with what turns you on.  For instance, if you know that being tense is a sexual turn-off, then you can think about a relaxing activity that might help you to get turned on (see my articles: Understanding Your Sexual Accelerators and Brakes - Part 1 and Part 2).
  • Breathe as a Way to Tune into the Sexual Mind-Body Connection: Focus on your pelvis area and image you can breathe in and out through your pelvis.  Not only can this help you to relax, but it can also make you more sexually aware mentally, physically and emotionally (see my article: Learning to Relax With Square Breathing).

Negative thoughts can come at any time--before, during and after sex.  It's a common experience for many people.  

You can overcome habitual negative thinking related to sex by taking steps to become aware of your thoughts and making an effort to change these patterns.

If you have been unable to change these patterns on your own, you could benefit from working with a licensed psychotherapist who has an expertise in sex therapy.

About Me
I am a New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I am a sex-positive therapist who works with individual adults and couples (see my article: What is Sex Therapy?).

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.