Article title against a black & pink background

Moving Through Intrusive Thoughts During Sex

Raise your hand if you have anxiety! 🤚 Or have you ever experienced anxiety? 🤚

I’m willing to bet that there are a TON of you out there saying yes

Okay. Now raise your hand if you’ve ever experienced anxiety around sex; Maybe about having sex with someone in particular, maybe about whether or not you’ll reach a climax during a sexual encounter, maybe about whether you or your partner are feeling pleasured…the list of worries can go on and on and on.. Am I right?

Have no fear, if you’re thinking, “Yup, totally…” This is very common! Now, I have one more question for you…

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had those types of thoughts DURING a sexual encounter.

Maybe the thought, “What if they aren’t enjoying themselves and they’re just pretending it’s good?” popped into your head out of the blue despite their verbal reassurance otherwise and then disappeared while you’re left with this cold, sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach… All the while, trying to refocus back to your own pleasure. 

Still raising your hand? Wonderful! Me too and this article is for you! 

What are Intrusive thoughts? 

Intrusive thought statistic against black and pink background
Created by Jennah DuBois

If you’ve ever experienced the above, you’ve definitely experienced an intrusive thought, but what exactly are they? And what makes them different from a normal thought?

Well, intrusive thoughts are typically defined by being a thought that is uncontrollable, recurrent, and distressing in nature, often causing a great deal of anxiety when they pop in, according to an article by the Anxiety & Depression Association of America

Have you ever been driving down the road, having a perfectly nice day with the music blaring, then all of a sudden you picture just turning the wheel and driving off the road, maybe hitting a tree? Then as soon as it pops into your mind, it vanishes, and you either dismiss it entirely or get hit with a huge amount of anxiety, thinking you might be crazy? This is actually a really common example of an intrusive thought! 

And don’t worry, despite all of the stigmas and misinformation about what an intrusive thought means, this is completely normal! Intrusive thoughts can look like anything from images of volatile and abhorrent behavior to a totally random, weird thought that just bops into your head. 

“What normal?? How can this be normal!!” You might be thinking…

Well, I’m about to break two of the biggest misconceptions about intrusive thoughts:

  1. That whatever your intrusive thought was, you subconsciously want that to happen! 

This couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, according to the article from ADAA, most people who experience intrusive thoughts actually want the exact opposite and are only experiencing anxiety from the thoughts BECAUSE they hold the opposite very dear. 

  1. The thought means something. Like it’s a red flag that something is wrong. 

The truth? An intrusive thought means literally nothing– So what happened in that moment? 

Now stick with me, the science behind intrusive thoughts is a little hazy and scientists/psychologists are still learning about why and how these happen. 

What we understand so far, however, is that between your conscious stream of thoughts and the creativity center in your brain that makes your thoughts there’s a filter of sorts.

This filter exists to help distinguish what thoughts made in your creativity center are actually relevant to what’s happening in your life– and just like anything, that filter isn’t perfect! 

An intrusive thought is a byproduct of that filter having a little snafu in its process and letting the thought or image slip through.

This little slip can happen to anyone. In fact, it’s estimated that 94% of people experience some form of intrusive thoughts, according to an article in The Western Gazette! It’s how our minds and bodies react to them that creates anxiety or could even indicate something more going on.

(Want to learn more about the science behind intrusive thoughts? Check out Freedom From Obsessive Compulsive Disorder by Jonathon Grayson, PhD. Even if you don’t have OCD, this book is FILLED with good info about intrusive thoughts and where they come from.)  

Who’s More Likely to Experience Intrusive thoughts? 

quote saying let them exist let them go regarding intrusive thoughts during sex or intrusive thoughts not during sex
Created by Jennah DuBois

As I mentioned, anyone can experience intrusive thoughts and it’s very likely that everyone has at least once in their life! 

So why isn’t everyone totally freaking out in the middle of sex because of an image that popped into their head? 

Well, that’s where things get a little murkier..

No one is more or less likely to experience an intrusive thought than another but those who experience anxiety, fear, sadness, etc. FROM an intrusive thought are likely to have more of them. 

Why? The ADAA article explains this perfectly: 

“Unwanted intrusive thoughts are reinforced by getting entangled with them, worrying about them, struggling against them, trying to reason them away. They are also made stronger by trying to avoid them. Leave the thoughts alone, treat them as if they are not even interesting, and they will eventually fade into the background.”

How Can I Stop Them From Happening During Sex? 

quote saying if you're experiencing extreme anxiety from unwanted, intrusive thoughts or images, see a mental health professional
Created by Jennah DuBois

Okay, so now we understand WHAT an intrusive thought is and WHY they hit some of us more than others, let’s learn how we can move through the stress & fear they bring to better enjoy our sex lives. 

First things first, if you’re experiencing extreme anxiety from unwanted, intrusive thoughts or images, see a mental health professional; Particularly if you’re doing things to make them go away. Like possibly thinking of 5 happy things to cancel out the bad, or avoiding driving (aka compulsions)— these can be a sign of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder! I know, totally different than what you’ve ever heard or seen OCD  be in the media.. (Are we really surprised though?) 

Even more particularly if those things might not be directly and obviously related to changing the outcome like having to have your towel just in the right spot (or else) or double, triple, and quadruple checking-in with yourself that you don’t ACTUALLY want to hurt yourself; These are some examples of the intrusive thoughts I’ve experienced— all pointing to an OCD diagnosis I didn’t get until my mid-twenties. 

If you’ve experienced compulsions like these, I’m here with you. I’ve been there and I know how scary they can be. Seek help. I promise confronting those fears is far easier than living with them longer than you have to— even if it doesn’t feel like it while you’re working on them. 

Back to our regularly scheduled programing: You’re experiencing intrusive thoughts during sex, they’re causing you anxiety, and you’re not sure what you can do to be able to make them stop. 

Here are three things you can do right now to help you (and your partner(s)) move through your intrusive thoughts and continue to enjoy your sexuality! 

Meditation! 

I know what you’re thinking… “Jeanne! This is the cheesiest thing!!! Meditation CAN NOT solve all my problems!” 

You’re totally right.. It can’t AND from what we learned from the ADAA article, the best way to move through intrusive thoughts is by letting them exist and then letting them go; Which is basically the working definition of meditation. 

Try taking 10-15 minutes each day, outside of the bedroom, to focus on your breathing and letting your thoughts exist and flow, without judgment. 

Then when you get INTO the bedroom, it’ll be a lot easier to take that practice, apply it in the moment, and get through the intrusive thought quickly and without too much stress (& you won’t be putting so much pressure on yourself to “perform”. 

Communicate, communicate, communicate! 

I know, we talk about this alllll the time but it really truly is super important, especially if you experience intrusive thoughts during sex. 

Take the time outside of the bedroom to sit down with your partner, explain what’s happening and how they might be able to help when things go a little awry.

You don’t have to suffer in silence! Letting your partner in on what’s happening inside your mind while you’re in bed can help them & help you focus on your pleasure instead of your brain’s random filter glitch! 

Worried that it’s going to kill the mood or don’t know where to start? Check out How to Make Uncomfy Bedroom Talk Shameless and Sexy.

Remember: thoughts are just thoughts!!! 

I know it sounds kind of silly but thoughts really are just that. 

They can’t hurt you. 

They don’t define you.

They don’t define the world around you. 

They’re just a small part of your amazing, beautiful consciousness.

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