E is for Expectations: How to Minimize the Pressures of Sexual Performance

Expectations are something that constantly enters my office as a therapist. When helping my clients with sexual and relationship concerns, expectation always rears its ugly head. One of the big expectations that many of us feel when it comes to sex is that we need to perform. It’s as if during sex we are held under a spotlight on stage and we, sweating and nervous, are expected to follow the script with no mistakes. 

What does this sexual performance and pressure look like when it comes to sex? You might have learned, like many of us, what sex is “supposed” to look like from movies, magazines, and the culture at large. This sexual script often consists of: hug, kiss, clothes come off, maybe there’s genital touching, maybe oral sex, and then ultimately penetration and orgasm, all within an appropriate time frame and with all genitals is perfect working order. With this script, not only is there the pressure for sex to include penetration and orgasm, the assumption also is that sex should not last too long, not too short, but juuuuuust right for the big finale of orgasm. 

But what if you don’t adhere to this Goldie Locks script many of us have been taught? What if you don’t get an erection or maintain an erection every time, or don’t have an orgasm, ejaculate quickly, or don’t like penetration? You might find your internal dialogue says something similar to “there is something wrong with me” or “I failed”. This is what often happens when we have sex using this performance-based model; there is the consistent feeling you are doing it wrong no matter what you do. 

From Pressure to Pleasure

What if I said that instead of feeling like you are walking on a sexual tightrope with immense expectations that you have to stay in line and “do it right”, you could find relaxation in sex? You can find this relaxation by transitioning your mindset from performance-based sex to pleasure-based sex. Already sounds a lot less stressful with that word pleasure doesn’t it? Not only does it sound less stressful it is less stressful because with sex focused on pleasure rather than performance, there is no failing and there is no “doing it wrong”. If there isn’t an erection, no problem! If an orgasm takes a long time or doesn’t happen, no problem! If you focus on the pleasure, you are doing it right no matter what you do.

How to embody pleasure-based sex

Remove the expectation that everything intimate has to occur, or lead up to, sex and penetration

You, like many, might feel the expectation that intimacy always has to lead to sex. This might cause you to withdraw from any intimate contact. Instead of sex being the goal of every intimate situation, focus on pleasure activities that can happen before, after, and importantly instead of intercourse. Rebecca Chalker puts it nicely in her book The Clitoral Truth, when she says non-intercourse can be “exquisitely intimate” and that “intercourse is only one way to experience the rich banquet of sexuality” (138). When you make intercourse only one piece of the pie rather than the whole thing, you can then enjoy other yummy slices such as self-pleasuring, mutual self-pleasuring, oral sex, massages, sensual showers, toys, watching or reading something sexy, etc. Try making your own yummy list of pleasure activities that you can enjoy in addition to or instead sex. 

Remove the expectation that sex has to include or end in an orgasm

Sexual pleasure doesn’t always have to be about “achieving” orgasm. Instead, focus on the pleasure of the experience rather than pressuring yourself to orgasm. Pressure is THE antithesis to pleasure and as an extension, orgasm. Rather than all that focus on orgasm, relax into the pleasure of what you are feeling and if an orgasm happens, great; and if an orgasm doesn’t happen, that’s OK too. Orgasm is not the determining factor of “success” or the end-all-be-all in sex, but rather a potential part of your overall exquisite experience. 

Remove the expectation of genital performance

To indulge in the “rich banquet of sexuality” as Rebecca Chalker mentioned, move your focus beyond the genitals and consider the entire body as one big erogenous playground for arousal. This takes the pressure off our genitals to perform because there is no longer the expectation that an erection, penetration, or orgasm has to occur. If an erection goes down mid-play, that’s ok! Have some fun experimenting with the five senses to find what sensations your body enjoys and that really build your arousal. Tantalize your ears with music or even some fun, dirty talk. Discover what kind of touch feels arousing such as firm, playful, or sensuous. Even try some delicious smelling candles or oils. Also depriving one of your senses by covering your eyes with a light blindfold while tantalizing your taste buds with delicious strawberries can bring an arousing buzz to your body. The possibilities are endless! 

Remove time expectations

Dump the Golide Locks concept of sex, where everything is juuuuuuust right and the timing is perfect for an erection, penetration, and orgasm to happen.  If you focus on the pleasure, the time becomes a moot point. Pleasure can be found in 5 minutes of kissing on the couch and in reading an erotic story together. That isn’t to say you can’t enjoy penetration or orgasm, but when you take the pressure off of performance and instead focus on the pleasure in whatever form it comes in and at whatever length of time you can have relaxing, pressure-free intimacy.