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If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Despite appearances, a man’s mind doesn’t usually go blank when having sex. Considering the standard coital facial expressions, it may not look like there’s a lot of complex thought going on up there, but men actually have a range of thoughts before, during, and after sexual activity—some perfectly healthy, others potentially counterproductive. Justin Lehmiller, a research fellow at the Kinsey Institute and author of the book Tell Me What You Want, breaks down the psychology behind some of the most common thoughts men have during sex and how to process them.
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“Is it okay to fantasize?”
The vast majority of men say that they fantasize during partnered sexual activity. This is something that’s totally normal, but some people feel a little anxiety or guilt about it. In one study, 84% of participants admitted to fantasizing during sex, but tellingly, those who felt guilt about those fantasies also experienced less sexual satisfaction (Cado, 1990).
Many people wonder whether it’s normal to fantasize about somebody other than their partner while they’re having sex. Rest assured, it’s very normal, and there’s nothing wrong with having these fantasies. They can help us maintain arousal and promote greater enjoyment during the experience. It doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything wrong with you or your relationship. In fact, one review study found that different types of fantasizing can be beneficial for a relationship (Birnbaum, 2019).
“Am I too small?”
For decades, men have been reporting issues with spectatoring. That means during sex, you’re stepping outside it mentally and critically evaluating your own performance. Am I attractive enough? Is my penis big enough or hard enough? Am I pleasing my partner? When people engage in this spectatoring during sex, it pulls them out of the moment. It can create performance anxiety, and it can make the experience less satisfying for both partners. It can also impede a man’s ability to reach orgasm.
The starting point is sex education. Most men who think their penis is too small actually have perfectly normal-sized penises (Veale, 2015). Educating yourself about what’s normal when it comes to sex and the human body can provide reassurance so those anxieties aren’t coming to the forefront during the act.
If you still find that anxieties arise during sex, another approach is to practice mindfulness techniques. That’s when you learn to be attuned to your body sensations and not get lost in your head, so you can focus on the pleasure you’re experiencing in that moment. The odds of people having a wandering mind during sex increase when they’re not engaged in a really immersive sexual experience. So, adding elements of newness, novelty, and excitement to your sex life can help you better maintain your focus and attention during the sexual experience.
Sex therapy: a method to rejuvenate your sex life
“Am I doing this right?”
This is one of those areas where having really good sexual communication with your partner is one of the keys to ensuring your partner is getting what they want, and they’re giving you direction and feedback that is going to ensure you provide them with pleasure. Building trust, intimacy, and communication with your partner can help alleviate many of these concerns men have about their performance.
“Don’t come yet!”
If you’re dealing with premature ejaculation, it’s worth looking into solutions other than getting stuck in your head because that can interfere with enjoyment and pleasure. Maybe it’s trying a delay spray that decreases penile sensitivity temporarily. Maybe it’s trying the stop-start technique or the squeeze technique. Or maybe it’s doing Kegel exercises. All of these are behavioral strategies men can try to last longer in bed so that they don’t have to be focused on worrying about it in the moment (Pastore, 2014).
“Will I give my partner a good enough orgasm?”
It’s really important for us not to pressure ourselves or our partners to orgasm. When people start to look at orgasm as an achievement that has to happen every time to have a successful sexual experience, that can start to interfere with arousal and excitement. When you’re trying so hard to make it happen, it can actually make you and your partner less likely to orgasm. Remember that sex can still be enjoyable even if an orgasm doesn’t happen. Don’t put undue pressure on yourself or your partner for that orgasm to happen.
“Should we change positions or do something different?”
There are different ways to approach this, and you have to figure out what works well for you and your partner. Verbal communication is sometimes intimidating, so we often recommend nonverbal communication as an easy way to start. That’s when you’re communicating through moans, groans, and other signs of pleasure, or you’re looking for those nonverbal cues from your partner as signs of what they enjoy.
So, if you feel particularly anxious about having the actual conversation—and especially having it during sex—start by focusing on nonverbal cues to get in tune with what your partner enjoys. That’s also a way you can positively reinforce the behaviors you like.
Sexual performance anxiety: causes, symptoms, and how to overcome
“Work sucked today.”
It’s really important to work on maintaining a good work/life balance and having a clear separation between the two. When we don’t have that, that increases the odds of us thinking about that email we need to send or what we need to do at work tomorrow when we’re supposed to be having an intimate, fun experience with our partner. Setting boundaries is a very helpful tool. That could include not checking work emails outside of work hours or disconnecting from your mobile devices a couple of hours before bed so that, by the time you go to bed with your partner, you have a clear mind and can actually be in the moment.
“This isn’t like the movies.”
There’s nothing wrong with watching and enjoying porn, but it’s important for men to try not to measure themselves up to porn stars in terms of their penis size or stamina. What you see in porn isn’t an accurate reflection of how most men’s bodies look, how long sex tends to last, or how hard a man’s penis usually gets. It’s important to look at porn in context as fantasy, not a reflection of reality. The key is to stop comparing yourself to porn performers and to get comfortable with yourself.
“Is that all?”
There are actually some men who feel sad after orgasm. It’s called post-coital dysphoria. But the vast majority of men tend to report positive feelings and emotions upon reaching orgasm. The key thing to keep in mind is that just because you’ve reached an orgasm, that doesn’t mean the sexual act has to be over. It’s important to ensure that it’s a satisfying encounter for you and your partner. Don’t look at orgasm as the end of sex. Ensure you find a way to bring your partner the pleasure they’re seeking as well.
- Birnbaum, G. E., Kanat-Maymon, Y., Mizrahi, M., Recanati, M., & Orr, R. (2019). What fantasies can do to your relationship: the effects of sexual fantasies on couple interactions. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 45(3), 461–476. doi: 10.1177/0146167218789611. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30122104/
- Cado, S. & Leitenberg, H. (1990). Guilt reactions to sexual fantasies during intercourse. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 19(1), 49–63. doi: 10.1007/BF01541825. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2327895/
- Pastore, A. L., Palleschi, G., Fuschi, A., Maggioni, C., Rago, R., Zucchi, A., et al. (2014). Pelvic floor muscle rehabilitation for patients with lifelong premature ejaculation: a novel therapeutic approach. Therapeutic Advances in Urology, 6(3), 83–88. doi: 10.1177/1756287214523329. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4003840/
- Veale, D., Miles, S., Bramley, S., Muir, G., & Hodsoll, J. (2015). Am I normal? A systematic review and construction of nomograms for flaccid and erect penis length and circumference in up to 15 521 men. BJU International, 115(6), 978–986. doi: 10.1111/bju.13010. Retrieved from https://bjui-journals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/bju.13010