By Daniel Sher
Us men carry a lot of insecurity about our ability to perform sexually and X-rated criticism can become an especially sensitive matter. Here’s three common psychological changes that can affect us when we are given such negative feedback and what we can do to recover.
Research links poor self-esteem to mental illness and unhealthy thinking patterns, whereas people with healthy self-esteem levels are more likely to be optimistic and successful at work, as well as leading more satisfying sex lives!
Can receiving negative feedback about our performance in bed lower our self-esteem? Absolutely. Sex and sexual intimacy are incredibly important aspects of our overall identity.
We’re indoctrinated to believe that being a man means always wanting sex and being able to get an erection without a moment’s hesitation. So, when we’re criticized about our sexual performance, this has an even greater impact on our self-esteem. Why? Because we think that we’re failing not just in the bedroom, but in manhood generally.
When our self-esteem takes a knock, our minds often shift into a negativistic mode. We become more likely to make common thinking errors that are both untrue and problematic because they further lower our confidence. Learn to identify these thought patterns and replace them with more accurate and helpful ideas like reminding ourselves of our strengths as a couple or recounting more successful past sexual encounters.
Just one instance of finishing too soon (premature ejaculation) or not being able to get it up (erectile dysfunction) can be enough to start the cycle of sexual performance anxiety. Add being criticized for your performance and risk triggering a powerful cycle of self-critical thoughts and physiological anxiety, which combine to stop us relaxing enough to have satisfying sex.
Performing better the next time round proves that we don’t have anything to worry about, but unfortunately, the more pressure we feel, the more likely we are to fail.
For some men, performance anxiety passes without any intervention. For others, relaxation techniques like regular exercise, meditation, and deep breathing, can effectively reduce the overall tendency toward anxiety.
Recent research shows that mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective treatment for performance anxiety. In fact, it has been shown that psychological erectile dysfunction can be overcome in as little as four-to-eight weeks using mindfulness meditation techniques.
Can negative feedback about your sexual prowess trigger full-blown clinical depression? In and of itself, probably not. However, if you’re already predisposed to depression and are dealing with a lot of stress and sadness generally in life, negative feedback might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Lowered self-esteem, performance anxiety, and sexual dysfunction are all closely linked to depression. Ultimately, it’s caused and maintained by a combination of factors and critical feedback from your partner may be one of them.
If you’re suffering with clinical depression to the point where feelings of sadness and hopelessness interfere with your ability to live a normal life, it’s important to seek professional support. Depression responds well to therapy and/or medication (if necessary), so speak to a psychiatrist or psychologist about the best way forward.
Using feedback to become your best self
Using constructive feedback, whether in the world of boardroom or the bedroom, provides us with an opportunity to grow into our best selves. It’s important to differentiate between nasty criticism and constructive feedback though. While the former is designed to inflict emotional damage, the latter forms the basis of any healthy sexual relationship.
So, if our partner is giving us constructive criticism, welcome it! It’s a sign that she (or he) is willing to start up a conversation about how to take the relationship (and carnal knowledge) to the next level. Just make sure that our knee-jerk emotional response doesn’t end up sabotaging this opportunity for growth!
Daniel Sher is a certified clinical psychologist, sex therapy expert, and the creator of the Between Us Clinic’s Performance Anxiety Program – A mindfulness meditation online program for men’s sexual performance anxiety.
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Bossio, J. A., Basson, R., Driscoll, M., Correia, S., & Brotto, L. A. (2018). Mindfulness-based group therapy for men with situational erectile dysfunction: A mixed-methods feasibility analysis and pilot study. The journal of sexual medicine, 15(10), 1478-1490.
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