How To Tell The Difference Between Sexual Desire And Anxiety

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how to know if you have anxiety
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Self, Sex

Our desire for sex is often anxiety itself in disguise.

The human body has a way of sometimes fooling itself into thinking things that aren’t true. Or maybe it’s the mind that does the fooling. For example, did you know that often when we crave sugar, we’re actually just dehydrated?

Like so many young-ish adults these days, I have medium to high-level anxiety going on. And maybe a sex addiction. Maybe. I hesitate to label myself, or any other sex-positive, hot-blooded woman as imbalanced, or merely anxious. But when I really think about it, I sometimes do use sex to just... deal.

Orgasms are a great way to curb anxiety, temporarily anyway. When you orgasm, your brain is flooded with oxytocin, a pain-killing neurochemical that makes you feel divine.

Recap: sex makes anxiety better — temporarily. But our desire for sex is often anxiety itself in disguise. Got it? Sorta? Good.

But why, you may ask, does it really matter if our arousal is anxiety-based if we can just hump vigorously and often in order to feel better? Well, I would venture to say that the more self-aware we are, the better the sex (and the relationship) will be.

Freud argued that our libido drives everything we do, and the best we can do is sublimate it, or channel it into our sense of ambition. But here we’re talking about reverse channeling. From ambition to libido.

Psychologists today say that much of our sex drive is based on a desire for affirmation. Sound obvious? Maybe so, but as such, it can be really hard to figure out how to know if you have anxiety and whether we’re actually into someone, or if we just want to have sex with them to affirm we’ve got it going on, AKA anxious lust.


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While many studies have shown that men’s testosterone levels decline after losing at sports (translate: a loss in status, and therefore a loss of libido), less attention has been paid to the ways men and women both use sex to restore status. Like pretty much every cause, the effect of a “loss of status” can have wildly varying effects, sometimes reducing and sometimes increasing our drive for sex and romance. 

Another great example of such polar opposite effects in reaction to the same stimuli: fight or flight, of course. In other words, a high level of stress in one’s life over a failed relationship, a sh*tty job, or anything else that sucks, can either prompt one to suppress one’s drive for sex or else yearn for it 24/7.

I wanna be clear here: I don’t see anxious lust as any less legit than non-anxious lust. It seems rather likely that most lust is, in fact, anxiety-based.

But if you’re trying to dig deeper and get a clue as to whether your anxiety has taken over, and is maybe even standing in the way of the juicy sex or love life you’re meant to have, consider the following questions: 

1. Did someone cheat on you? 

If so, you may really, really want said partner. Or even if they didn’t cheat, and you feel like the relationship is under threat some other way, you may want to claim them and prove to yourself that they still belong to you.

2. Does your life feel out of control? 

I hear that many people experience a lower libido during bad times, but I have no idea what that’s like. For me, the higher the stress mounts, the more insane my libido gets. Trying to exert some control with sex is not rare.

3. Did you go through a recent breakup? 

Are you someone who (like me) copes with loss of love by going on a balls-to-the-wall rampage? It can make you feel hot again, am I right?

4. Are you worried about the direction of your life? 

Aren’t we all? If you feel trapped in your life, or unable to make it what you want it to be, you may just feel like having tons of sex, cheating, or, I repeat, just having tons of sex.

5. Do you panic if no one tells you you’re loved?

Affirmation addiction (hello daddy issues, at least in my case) is often tied to social status anxiety. If you feel unworthy or unlovable, sex can most definitely feel like a positive affirmation.


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6. Do you hate your job? 

Bad jobs can really screw with our self-esteem. Sleeping with people can relieve the stress and even feel like an accomplishment.

7. Does the dating scene make you want to tear your hair out? 

If you’ve overdosed on rejections, bad dates, or nightmare relationships, simple sex can sometimes appear a very enticing consolation prize — except the idea is usually more satisfying than the result (at least for women).

8. Do you see the person you’re lusting after as someone to fulfill your needs, and nothing more? 

Anxiety lust is about getting needs met, rather than about who’s meeting those needs. We objectify people when we’re anxious. A little objectification between consenting adults is fine in my book, but people are not often on the same page.

9. Are you angry? 

Sometimes, anger can feel a lot like arousal. Whenever I used to fight with one particular ex, I ended up wanting to have “hate sex” with him in the middle of it. But he wasn’t having any of that, oddly enough.

Okay, so, calmer mind equals better sex, then? Or better relationships, at least? I would say, best case scenario, yes, absolutely. The less anxious you feel, the less your mind will put up walls against the free flow of sexual energy between two (or more) people, and the hotter it will be.

Not to mention, stress can really screw up vaginal lubrication as well. Yet the reality is, there are so many factors at play in everyone’s lives that it’s hard to discern from whence our arousal comes and where it’s going.

But one thing’s for sure: self-knowledge, self-reflection, and genuine efforts to cut off your anxiety at its roots will always be beneficial to your sex and love life.


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Bellesa is a platform on which women are empowered to celebrate their sexuality.

This article was originally published at Bellesa. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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