Does a wandering mind kill sex?
Reviewing some 40 years of research on women with problems of low sexual desire, French sexologist Marie Geonet and colleagues recently concluded (link is external) that negative thoughts play a key role in women’s sexual dysfunction: They distract women from erotic stimulation, produce anxiety and guilt, and diminish sexual arousal and pleasure.
Similar processes appear to operate in men. Recent work from Portugal by Catia Oliveira and colleagues (link is external) has provided evidence that males’ arousal is linked closely to their thinking. In their small sample, distracting thoughts were the best predictor of inhibited genital response.
Predictably, research has shown (link is external) some gender differences in sexual distraction: Men tend to get distracted during sex by worries about performance; women are distracted by concerns about appearance. But both sexes worry about the potential adverse consequences of sex, such as unwanted pregnancy and hurt feelings.
While there’s still much to figure out about the specific paths of influence that connect cognition to sexual experience, one influential theory was developed in the 1980s by American researcher David Barlow. According to his model, anxiety during sex leads some people to a shift in the focus of attention from erotic cues to performance worries. This shift in turn compromises sexual arousal and undermines performance, resulting in lowered satisfaction. As a consequence, anxiety will increase in future sexual situations, as performance-related non-erotic thoughts (NETs) become the focus of attention—a negative feedback loop more powerful than a cold shower.
Evidence has since accumulated that generally supports this model. In 2011, Canadian researchers Andrea Nelson and Christine Purdon (link is external)explored the role of NETs in a community sample of 81 women and 71 men in long-term relationships. According to the authors, “experiencing more frequent NETs was associated with more sexual problems in both women and men.” Moreover, “greater difficulty in refocusing on erotic thoughts during sexual activity uniquely predicted more sexual problems.”
It’s a very well known fact that the vast majority of prescriptions for Viagra only ever get filled once — and only one pill ever gets taken. The formula is really simple:
A man gets into a state of anxiety about his sexual performance and loses his erection a number of times. He panics and runs to his doctor — who gives him a prescription for a nice shiny bottle of magic. The man gets the pills, tries one, has a fantastic sexual experience with his partner and, thereafter, leaves his bottle in the medicine chest where the pills first expire, then slowly melt together in the ambient humidity until they are a solid lump in the bottom of the bottle. But, it doesn’t matter because all they are is a security blanket.
He never had Erectile Dysfunction at all — he had anxiety, a racing mind and the inability to control it. The pills just acted like a lucky rabbit’s foot.
That’s the power of racing thoughts.
A lucky rabbit’s foot can get you back down to the level of racing thoughts you had before such that you go back to the sexual performance that was before.
And, for many men, that’s all they want.
But, actually dealing with the thoughts themselves and why they are there can eliminate them and, potentially, give you much better sexual intimacy then you previously knew.
And, if the above is true for men, it’s even more important for women because, as yet, there is no prescription for a nice shiny bottle of magic available…