“He must be bored…I’m taking too long…I should be enjoying this, what’s wrong with me…I hope I smell OK…did I put on deodorant…don’t touch that roll of fat…I haven’t packed the lunches for tomorrow” – are these some of the thoughts rushing through your head during sex making it more of a chore than pleasurable?
If so, you might be struggling with spectatoring: the subtle art of watching yourself have sex (from a third person perspective) with an internal running commentary that is often critical, anxious or self-conscious. In other words you worry about sex while you’re having it rather than enjoying the sexual sensations or being with your partner.
Spectatoring is extremely common especially for women and one of the contributing factors to fewer orgasms and low sexual satisfaction. It can arise from body image issues, performance anxiety, an inability to move from work mode to lover mode, distraction, issues within the relationship, ineffective communication, trauma, depression or anxiety.
How can I help?
Unlike other aspects of a relationship, people tend to shy away from talking about sex with their partners for fear of hurting them or being rejected or embarrassed. Seeing a sexologist provides couples with a safe space to share their concerns as well as the necessary information, resources, strategies approaches and techniques needed to address these issues.
Within my practice, I take a wholistic approach in considering the physical, psychological, social and spiritual dimensions. When it comes to spectatoring it’s often about helping a person reconnect with their body in such a way that they begin to be curious and open to physical sensations of pleasure. This may involve mindfulness activities, anatomy lessons and communication techniques. It may involve exploring aspects such as culture, family of origin, religious upbringing, social pressures, their journey through adolescence as well as past and current sexual experiences which all shape and influence a person’s understanding of sexuality (and associated expectations). It may also mean shifting sex from being a goal-oriented activity (that is climax focused) to process-oriented which focuses on the journey.
The truth is it’s extremely normal to face issues when it comes to sex, after all, no two people are exactly the same and each couple moves through seasons that require adaptation (Eg. post-birth, illness, menopause). The important thing to know is help and resources that foster sexual wellness are available. It’s like going to the gym only for the health of your relationship – it requires courage, motivation and effort - but pays off in the long run.