Mar 012010

“Spectatoring” is the art of worrying about sex while you’re having it.

Rather than paying attention to the pleasant and tingly things your body is experiencing, it’s like you’re floating above the bed watching, noticing how your breasts fall or the squish of cottage cheese on the back of your thigh or the roll at your belly or…. you’re worried about the sex you’re having, instead of enjoying the sex you’re having.

And worry is the opposite of arousal. It is the anti-arousal. Because anxiety slams on the brakes of your sexual inhibition system. Turning off anxiety eases off the brakes, letting your sexual response flow smoothly forward.

We know the phrase “performance anxiety” because men experience a similar phenomenon, worrying about whether or not they’ll be able to get and sustain an erection, and it makes it more difficult for them to get erections. (Of course erectile difficulties are literally the worst thing in the world. Worse than genocide. Worse than the Chilean earthquake. Worse than a government lying to its people. This is sarcasm. Erections come and go, they’re not a big deal, and if men understood that then, ironically, they’d have less trouble getting them.)

Women, whose erections are non-obvious and unnecessary, strictly speaking, for intercourse, haven’t been given credit for this particular problem, but it affects us too, often in the form of spectatoring.

Fortunately it’s one of those problems that’s simple (thought not necessarily easy) to fix! Here’s a quick and dirty how to:

Humans, unlike any other species, can be in control of their minds, rather than the other way round. We can notice what we’re thinking or feeling, and we can do something about it. That’s the key to managing performance anxiety. Notice that you’re worrying and then do something about it. Simple.

But it requires practice. Lots and lots of practice. It will probably be easiest if you begin by practicing outside the context of sexuality – say, standing in line at the grocery store or sitting on the bus, notice how your arms and legs feel, how your stomach feels, what you’re thinking about, the speed with which you’re thinking, how what you’re thinking is making your shoulders and belly feel. Your breath. In. Pause. Out. Pause. Just notice.

The most important thing to notice is when your attention wanders from the thing you’re trying to notice. That skill right there? That’s mindfulness. Noticing when your attention wanders from the thing you’re trying to notice is the skill that will help you stop spectatoring, because you’ll learn to notice when you’re spectatoring and then redirect your attention to the sensations in your body.

To conclude: teach yourself to notice how your body feels and to notice when your attention wanders from how your body feels. Do it every day, even if it’s just two minutes, and apply this skill during sex. Have better sex and easier orgasms, and light up the world with your unbounded ecstasy. The world will thank you for it.

Emily Nagoski

  7 Responses to “orgasm 4: performance anxiety”

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  1. In conducting class, Dr. Renshaw calls it being “conductorized:” when you’re thinking about your conducting while you’re conducting instead of just conducting.

  2. “What I’m doing, not how I’m doing.” Thanks Mike Rowe!

  3. I’ve read this like 5 times and I can’t figure out how you are suggesting I fix the problem. I’m usually bored and/or worried during sex – very understimulated. If I try to focus on my breathing, I’m not any more focused on sex. If I think about what my partner is doing, I just notice how little it does for me.

    • Well, bored and worried and very different experiences – from a physiological point of view, they’re opposites. Worry is dealt with by relaxing, which is of course easier said than done. Worry is too much stimulation to SIS, the brakes. Boredom is lack of stimulation to SES, the gas. The worry can be dealt with as described in this post, by practicing mindful awareness of sensation. If what you notice when you notice your experience during sex is that you’re not experiencing much, the next step is some variation on sensate focus, in which you stop having sex. (You don’t actually stop having sex, you temporarily replace sex with mindful sensation awareness.) When you take away the expectation of sexual desire, arousal, and orgasm, you open the opportunity to find out what you ARE experiencing, if not sexual sensations. This practice is easiest in the context of formal sex therapy, but it doesn’t require a therapist.

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