How to manage your anxiety and have better sex

I know I might not look it, but I am an anxious person. I worry constantly about my status as a non-employed person being supported and about several other existential worries. And yes, for a long while I worried about sex. But over the years, I’ve slowly learned ways to manage the nagging fears and worries in the sexual arena, and it’s made all the difference. This is intended to be a comprehensive guide to conquering all of your insecurities, but are some tips to get you started. And so without further ado: how to manage your anxiety and have better sex.

  1. Get on a reliable birth control method. If you’ve got a vagina and ovaries, there’s a lot of fantastic options out there. Personally, I would advocate for the IUD if your insurance covers it and you can tolerate slightly more painful menstrual cramps that the procedure feels like. But if that’s not your style, other options include the pill, the ring, the implant, and the Depo-shot. If you’ve got a penis, sadly there are far fewer options for controlling your fertility. The best I can offer you is condoms unless you’d like to get a vasectomy.
  2. Get an STI test. Most health clinics will offer one and most insurance covers it. This is basic sexual health and I understand that it may be incredibly nerve wracking to go into a clinic, but you shouldn’t encounter anything other than routine tests. They may take blood, do a vaginal swab, and may take a urine sample. It’s a little inconvenient, but having test results to look at will alleviate a lot of gnawing fears. And being tested in advance makes it easy to ask your partner or partners to get tested as well since you’ve gone ahead.
  3. Have pregnancy tests on hand/emergency contraception on hand. If there’s a possibility you or your partners could get pregnant, having a test handily available will make it much easier for the pair of you to learn your results and then make decisions from there. Emergency contraception (the pill kind) is also extremely valuable, as having it handily available will kneecap a lot of pregnancy anxiety. It’s no substitute for regular birth control, but if your regular methods should fail, then this is vital. Plan B has a four year shelf life, so you don’t have to use it right away for it to be effective. It can be ordered online now, so make sure you’ve got something on hand before you have sex to prevent these sorts of fears.
  4. Negotiate in advance what you want to do. This can be as simple as you like. But honestly telling your partner what you’re into and what acts are on or off the table is a good way to start.

These are the beginner tips. Once you’ve got these settled, here are a few more specific ones to make your sex life that much better:

  1. Light the room. Having a softly lit room can do wonders for the ambience and will cast you in your best light. If you overhead light leaves something to be desired, consider some fairy lights or a standing lamp to cast your room in a warm glow.
  2. Wear your good luck accessories. Not everyone has access to perfectly tailored lingerie or fetishwear. But a pair of bondage rope earrings? Rocking that accessory is not only cute but gives your partner a sorta subtle clue about what you’re into. If that seems too daring, pick anything that makes you feel sensual and beautiful.
  3. Fish for a compliment or two. Listen, we all want to feel attractive and appreciated. While you shouldn’t pester your potential partner with questions about your own attractiveness, asking for a little feedback is normal and will boost your self esteem.
  4. Journal about your worst fear. Once you’ve got your fear on the page, you can properly address it. Maybe you’ll see it’s something irrational, like your partner being a murderous serial killer. Or maybe it’s more rational, like you’re worried about a particular scar. Either way, now that you’ve got it on paper, you can address it and formulate a way to communicate it to your partner.
  5. Take a deep breath and think about your best feature. If you’re plagued by anxiety with how your body looks, consider that this person likely wouldn’t have accepted your invitation to sleep with you if they didn’t find you attractive. And also? Mostly, people have what you expect under their clothes. There will be genitals, shaved or hairy or some stage in between. There will be cellulite, scars, freckles and birthmarks. They have all these things, just like you. And they probably don’t care about yours.
  6. Exercise. Now I don’t mean in the lose weight sense. I mean in the ‘get your blood flowing and your endorphins going sense’. Exercise often makes people feel more positive and upbeat. Whatever this looks like for you is excellent. Maybe you go up and down some stairs or walk around the block a few times. Maybe you bust out a couple squats. Whatever it is, a little light exercise will help you feel more confident.
  7. Know that you’re valuable and worthy even if the encounter isn’t magical. This one is hard. If something goes wrong, it’s very easy to get very down on yourself. Please don’t. Not being able to make someone come or having a a lackluster experience in bed is normal and not something you need to beat yourself about. If you listened to your partner, respected their boundaries, and had consensual sex then you did your best. Encounters can go wrong for all kinds of reasons, and some may not have anything to do with you.

As I said, this isn’t a comprehensive guide. But as someone who used to agonize over sex and what could happen, following these kinds of guidelines has helped me to have much more pleasurable encounters that don’t have anxiety buzzing in the back of my head. So go forth and have fun!

An Approaching Anniversary: One Year With Paragard

CN: Mentions of pregnancy and abortion are within this piece

There is a certain agony in deciding how to start this story. It would be easy to begin it as a jaunty, peppy little informational story about my birth control. I could clean it up and avoid showing you the rough edges of how I got to where I am. My article could spare you the story of a girl in a panic as she considers a future with an unwanted pregnancy. You don’t have that the author called her best friend, sobbing and terrified that she might have to have an abortion. I could tell you a pretty, sanitized story about why I love my IUD with none of the dark parts about why I really got it.

But I won’t. Instead, I have decided to tell you that my choice to get Paragard was prompted by the severe pregnancy anxiety I had while I was on the pill. As an already anxious person with ADHD; combined with the fact that the pill needs to be taken consistently to be effective, my birth control became more of a source of stress than comfort for me. Constantly I worried whether or not I had taken the pill. Often, I took it irregularly, a few hours early or late.  When I was away traveling for collegiate tournaments, the start times would interfere with my pill and I agonized that I just couldn’t set a regular schedule and stick to it. And so the fear of pregnancy came at the tail end of every sexual encounter, a lingering doubt that somehow I would have to make an impossible choice. For some, the choice to end a pregnancy is, while not exactly easy, easier than it might be for me. They’re financially stable and in an area where it’s a more tolerable procedure. But I live in the South. I have conservative parents on whom I depend for financial security. Abortion, while it was something I could have accessed, would have wiped me out financially and would have caused a rift between my parents and myself, perhaps even to them cutting me off. It is a future that I wished desperately to avoid. It was unbearable living in this much fear; living while managing my money so that I would have the necessary funds in the event I needed an abortion or emergency contraception.

And so, I had one more anxiety filled night before I made my move. Earlier that night I called a nurse helpline to ascertain my chances of getting pregnant after my then fuck-buddy and now boyfriend had left my dorm room for the night. After I made that call, I pulled up more articles from Planned Parenthood and carefully researched my options. There were several long-term options available to me, but I knew which one I wanted. I wanted the copper IUD, Paragard. Paragard is the most effective emergency birth control, hands down. Paragard has an effectiveness of over 99% when inserted within 5 days of unprotected sex. Furthermore, Paragard is the longest lasting IUD, clocking in a lifespan of over 12 years. After I re-read these comforting articles, I made some calls and sent some emails. Originally, my plan was to go to Planned Parenthood to get my IUD inserted. However, the only availability they had was on a Friday that week, at the tail end of the IUD emergency effectiveness window. So when I called my campus OBGYN and found out they could accept me that afternoon, I canceled my appointment, letting the Planned Parenthood representative know I would be seen by another provider.

That afternoon, I went in for the procedure. Though it was a fairly simple procedure, I remember being so anxious that I felt emotionally numb. As I filled out the paperwork, I could barely think about what I was doing.

When I got back to the assigned room, the provider asked a few questions about my birth control status. I said I wanted to keep taking the pill and have the Paragard as backup. The male nurse looked at me oddly but didn’t refuse to do my procedure. Instead, he made sure that I wanted the Paragard IUD, asked me to take a urine pregnancy test, and asked if I wanted to be tested for STIs while I was there. I figured it was as good a time as any to get tested and headed to the bathroom with cup he provided me. After the pregnancy test confirmed that I wasn’t currently pregnant, I was asked to undress below the waist and to get into the stirrups. The procedure was not particularly memorable. Some people report that their IUD insertion was one of the most painful procedures of their life. For me, it felt like moderately bad cramps, and was nothing compared to the debilitating cramps I’d experienced last year. For reference, those cramps were so bad that I was impaired in my ability to walk. In trying to get from class to my dorm room, I was forced to sit down several times on the sidewalk and recover myself. The IUD insertion was nothing compared to that.

After the procedure, I did feel a bit woozy so I was asked to sit down and chill out for a while. I was also provided with the thickest menstrual pad I had ever seen. I tucked it into my underwear and waited for a few minutes before I headed out, where after had my blood drawn for STI. Once I had supplied the samples for the STI tests, I was discharged. When I approached the front desk, I owed nothing on leaving, though later I was charged about $300 for the procedure. Money well spent in my opinion.

The recovery period after I had my IUD inserted was about a week. During the week, I bled profusely. It was like an extremely heavy period, though the nurse I spoke to assured me there was nothing to worried about and that heavy bleeding was unfortunately normal. There was some discomfort as the IUD settled in, but it wasn’t overly painful, mainly it felt like being poked in the uterus, a sensation I’d never felt before. During the time the IUD settled in I developed a new anxiety; I was afraid of the IUD slipping out. While intellectually I knew that IUDs only fall out . 05-8% of the time, I still worried over it. I comforted myself by feeling the strings almost everyday for about a month and a half. After constantly checking for weeks, my anxiety slowly abated. I began to get comfortable with my birth control and I learned to enjoy the benefits it provides. Among the other excellent qualities, such as an effectiveness rate of 99% or more and effectives of 12 years, the Paragard also requires no maintenance. I check the strings once a month to make sure that everything is in place, and otherwise, I mostly forget it’s there. After that rough month, my period returned to normal. Or normalish. Paragard can make periods heavier, and I’m one of those people that happened for. In addition to this, I’ve been able to stop taking the hormonal birth control, which freed up my finances. While the pill wasn’t expensive per se, $15 a month every month did add up, and it’s extremely nice that I don’t have to budget for it anymore.

Since getting my IUD inserted, these past months have been absolutely serene. My boyfriend and I haven’t had any pregnancy scares, and therefore have had a pretty good sex life. Without the pair of us worrying about whether I’ll get pregnant and what would happen from that, we spend that energy doing things infinitely more wonderful. Like splitting a bottle of wine, watching lawyer shows, making dinner, having sex or spending an evening doing all of that. My IUD has made me feel confident and secure and has lifted the burden of anxiety of my shoulders.

I’ll be celebrating my one-year anniversary on September 12th, having spent the last year worrying hardly at all about pregnancy thanks to my IUD. And in case any of you were still wondering about how I feel about this device, I 100% recommend it to anyone who’s at risk for pregnancy. This device is damn near fool proof and has given your’s truly peace of mind that is as of yet unparalleled from any other device. Now, excuse me while I shop for celebratory champagne.