Stressed About Sex? Here Are 4 Ways to Start Feeling Better

If you feel unhappy, guilty, or embarrassed about sex, you’re not alone. Find out what you can do.

Happy young couple smiling in bed

Updated on August 22, 2023.

Sex can be fun—and healthy—but it’s not always easy, emotionally speaking. Feeling unhappy or stressed about your body, your sexual function, or your sex life overall is a common experience. And sometimes these feelings can prevent you from having or enjoying sex.

If this sounds familiar, you’re far from alone, according to a February 2020 study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility. Researchers from Australia’s Monash University surveyed about 7,000 women ages 18 to 39 and found that sexually related personal distress was more common than not. Just over half of participants experienced feelings of guilt, embarrassment, stress, or unhappiness in regard to their sex lives. 

Study authors also found that 20.6 percent of the women had at least one female sexual dysfunction (FSD), a persistent issue preventing them from having satisfying sex—or having sex at all. About half of those women had more than one FSD. 

Among all study participants, the four most commonly reported FSDs were:

  • Low sexual self-image (11 percent)
  • Arousal problems (9 percent)
  • Desire issues (8 percent)
  • Difficulties with orgasm (7.9 percent)

Every FSD was linked to using psychiatric medications such as antidepressants. Around 20 percent of women surveyed were taking the drugs.

Having a low sexual self-image FSD was also tied to being overweight or obese, being married, living together with a partner (unmarried), and breastfeeding. To note: FSDs were not linked to the use of birth control pills.

Nearly one-third of the total study subjects were single, and 69.4 percent had been sexually active over the previous 30 days.

Tips for improving sexual distress

While it’s completely normal to have occasional negative feelings about sex, it’s important to your self-esteem, health, and quality of life to be comfortable and satisfied with your level of intimacy. If sex distresses you, taking these steps may help you feel better.

Cultivate a healthier self-image. Making little changes to your thinking and habits may help. Try these tips:

  • Create a list of things you love about yourself
  • Do something kind for your body
  • Make it a point to celebrate your physical capabilities, from walking around to belly laughing
  • Limit your exposure to social media and be a critical viewer of the body image messages you see on various platforms
  • Try identifying negative body image thoughts and swapping them out for positive ones
  • Avoid comparing yourself to other people

And most of all? Cut yourself some slack.

Speak with a healthcare provider. Sexual distress and FSDs can be influenced by biological, psychological, and social issues. A healthcare provider (HCP) can help pinpoint the cause(s) of your problem, devise a treatment plan, and get you further professional help if needed.

Communicate with your partner. If your libido is low, your needs aren’t being fulfilled, or something else is bothering you, it’s important to talk openly and honestly. Setting aside specific, consistent time to spend with your patner—like a standing date night—may help, as well. Together, you can work toward a solution, which may include reaching out to an HCP.

Look to lower your stress outside of the bedroom. Working and raising a family are among the many stressors that may influence your sexual function. Getting adequate exercise, eating a healthy diet, prioritizing good sleep and practicing relaxation techniques may help. If your day-to-day stress is overwhelming or you feel like you can’t manage it alone, speak with your HCP. 

Ultimately, working to develop a more positive body image and connecting with both your partner and available health resources may improve sexual-related personal distress—and that can go a long way toward happier, healthier intimacy.

Article sources open article sources

J Zheng, MA Skiba, et al. “The prevalence of sexual dysfunctions and sexually related distress in young women: a cross-sectional survey.” Fertility and Sterility. Volume 113, Issue 2, Pages 426–434.
EurekAlert. “Most young women unhappy, stressed about their sex lives: Study.” February 23, 2020.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “Your Sexual Health.”
Mayo Clinic. “Female Sexual Dysfunction.”
Cleveland Clinic. “Sexual Dysfunction.”
National Eating Disorders Association. “10 Steps to Positive Body Image.”
HealthyWomen. “9 Tips for Improving Body Image and Intimacy."

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