What It's Really Like Having Sex During A Panic Attack

The desire to be intimate is quickly overtaken by sudden hysteria.

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Panic attacks are no joke, but they’re largely misunderstood. A lot of people use the term interchangeably with being stressed out, or just wanting to throw a tantrum, but a real panic attack is debilitating. In fact, when people experience one for the first time, it can be so alarming they find themselves in the ER, or at the doctor’s office, assuming there's something wrong with their physical health because shallow breathing and heart palpitations make you feel like you’re straight-up dying.


Since about 6 million people in America have a panic disorder, there’s surely a lot of people who understand the severity of the disorder. People who experience it have sudden, repeated bouts of fear that can last several minutes or more. They can’t breathe, may feel like they’re having a heart attack, and often develop fear of when the next episode will strike.




As someone who's suffered from general anxiety disorder (GAD), I've gone through highs and lows, with the lows often leading to recurring panic attacks. For me, the best way to get through it is to try and feel grounded by doing things as normal. I force myself to breathe deeply, to eat, to smile, to walk around calmly, to do my job, to love my significant other. But sometimes it’s just too much, and I become a shell of a human.

I went through one particular rough patch in 2015 that I am so happy to have overcome. Certainly my worst experience with recurring panic attacks, daily medicine, yoga, and a lot of self love have gotten me to a very comfortable place in my life, where attacks seem to be a thing of the past — though the dread of being back in that place can spiral me downhill on occasion.

What was it like during that time in 2015? Dreadful. And so was having sex. Here’s what it's like having sex during a panic attack:

1. I felt immediate suffocation.



I remember having such bad anxiety that a panic attack was almost expected. I would find my significant other trying to soothe me, but also trying to connect with me sexually. Often, I’d initiate it just to feel human.

But then, as we’d begin to have sex, I’d feel this stranger hovering over me. His breath was like a weight on my chest that I needed off of me immediately. I felt suffocated by it. And so the panic began.

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2. Eye contact became impossible.

I’d turn my head from side-to-side, unable to make direct contact. I’d try to close my eyes and make sounds that imitated pleasure. If he’d tell me to look at him, I’d count to a certain number in my head while I took deep breaths and looked into his eyes to ensure I tried for long enough before averting my eyes somewhere else.


While my heart raced and I felt squirmy, I was so good at hiding it. Anxiety is such an internal thing that it's often impossible to see from the outside. And if you want to feel normal, especially during sex, it's very easy to hide your panic.

3. I wasn't present.

I would try and try to present — to feel everything, from his skin rubbing against mine to the kisses on my neck. But the more I did, the more I felt like I was trapped underneath a rock and I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t escape.


So I’d find myself looking at our bodies from across the room, as the essence of me sat curled in the corner, trembling. Did he know? Could he tell I wasn’t there? I’d ask myself these questions, and then wrap an arm around his back and push him deeper inside of me to make him think I was into it.

My stomach felt like claws were clenching it from the inside out. My throat was closed off. I was sweating. And then suddenly cold. But again, on the outside, I knew how to appear to be the partner I wanted to be.

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4. Sensation was totally dulled.

Sometimes, when having sex during a panic attack, you shut down. You no longer feel squirmy, just lifeless in a way. This feeling makes it impossible to enjoy penetration or touch.


I remember thinking I couldn’t feel my lower body. I felt like I would never have an orgasm ever again in my life.

5. When it was over, I was just exhausted.

The effort it takes to hide a panic attack, and anxiety in general, is exhausting. It’s also just exhausting to go through the experience of an attack. Your entire body shuts down, kind of like when you’re sick with the flu and all you want to do is put yourself to sleep to make it go away.


That’s how it was for me — this need to pull the covers up and go to sleep, like I’d accomplished so much but lost everything simultaneously.

Panic attacks are personal to the individual. And while my partner got very savvy at me trying to hide what was happening after a while, or perhaps I just couldn’t keep my cool like I could at first, it’s still very lonely.

No matter how many people you tell, no matter how many experts you see, and no matter how much you try to stay calm, the deluge of an attack, especially when trying to be intimate, is a mix of being highly sensitized and numb all at once.


RELATED: 6 Ways Stress Is DESTROYING Your Relationship

Alexa Erickson is a lifestyle writer who specializes in reporting on sex and dating tips, and news, health and wellness, travel, and beauty. An avid yogi, hiker, beach bum, music and art enthusiast, salad aficionado, adventure seeker, animal lover, and professional writer, she is an active individual who loves to express herself through the power of words.