Women, Anxiety, and Sexuality: Gads, GAD is a Surprising Reason You Might Not Like Sex!
Women, are you suffering from anxiety? Do you find yourself so full of worries throughout the day that you cant concentrate? Do you always fear that something bad will happen to someone you love? Do you consider yourself a worrier?
If your life is full of anxiety, your sex life will suffer mightily too. And you probably do not recognize the connection between your level of daily anxiety and your disinterest in sex.
May 4, 2005, is National Anxiety Disorders Screening Day. This is a national event where hospitals and mental health treatment centers all over the country provide free screening for anxiety, a day to stop in your daily routine and take a few minutes to do a mental health check-in and see if you are one of the millions and millions of people in the United States who are struggling with a diagnosable and treatable anxiety disorder.
But its not a one day thing. Ask yourself, are you anxious, worried, or panicky.
If so, take the time to use the resources which are available at the end of this article to identify and make plans to get treatment for anxiety disorders which are ruining the quality of your life. There are many different anxiety disorders, and there are excellent sites on the internet which can help you decide if you have one.
For your sake, check them out after reading this article for useful information. This is a good time to to learn about a particular anxiety disorder which causes havoc in lives and ruins sex lives as well.
If you recognized yourself in the questions at the beginning of this article,answered two or more yes, you should contract a health care professional to see if you have a very common condition Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD.
GAD is a disorder characterized by long periods chronic anxiety and worry, which you cant control. Sometimes, the anxiety has specific focuses, such as work, relationships, finances, looming deadlines, or potential problems in your life or the lives of others. Other times, you will feel anxious, but not be able to figure out what you are actually anxious about.
Generalized anxiety disorder affects four to five million Americans and research shows that it affects about two women for every one man (Brawman-Mintzer O, Lydiard RB, 1996), with the median age of onset occurring during the early 20s.
(Rickels K, Schweitzer, E., 1990.)
One of the little recognized side effects of GAD is the chilling effect it has on a womans sexuality. Typically, women with GAD do not even recognize that they have a psychological problem. They just think of themselves as worriers. They tend to come from families of worriers as well, so they tend to believe that their emotional lifestyle and their thinking patterns are normal.
In more than 30 years in clinical practice, I have never met a woman in a stable, long term relationship who has untreated GAD and who is able to enjoy sex! Generalized anxiety disorder is poison for womens sexual pleasure.
There are several reasons why this is so. They are all related to the GAD- womans inability to control her own thoughts and to focus her positive energy toward her sexual self for a sustained period of time. Being a sexual person is not just a natural process. Many times it is a learning process, and it takes focus. Lets take a look at how sexual relationships unfold for women without GAD and compare it to the process when a woman does have GAD.
In the beginning, the experience of being in love is the same for all of us, male and female, GAD-sufferers or not.
Many of us have had the experience of falling in love. In the early stages of being in love, men and women have basically become deluded. One of my friends used to say that people in love are in a psychotic state. We believe, insanely, that we have just found the PERFECT person, the person we were meant to be with.
We believe that IF we are united with that person for good, the rest of our life will be just as we wanted it to be. We feel we are destined to be with that person and with no one else. We are desperate when we are separated from them, and devour them greedily when we meet up again. We lose our appetite for food. Our appetite for sex with them is insatiable. We often cant wait to touch them. We dont know if they love us as much as we love them. Were obsessed with the idea of being with them.
When we are first in love, powerful chemicals are released in our body, which make us crave our beloveds touch and inflame sexual desire. (Fisher, 1992) This desire needs no coaxingit just is. The process is so powerful it eclipses the worry process of GAD. Sex is great.
But eventually, for all of us, GAD sufferers or not, if we do wind up with the person with whom we were so besotted, we get used to them! Their newness wears off, chemically. Their newness wears off psychologically, too, and we see their little quirks and faults. At this stage, the phenomenon of unremitting sexual desire changes too, particularly for women.
As men and women know, or are learning, womens sexuality is not exactly the same as mens sexuality. In fact, it is quite different, especially in long-term relationships. Many men, especially young men, continue to have a sexual drive that has a mind of its own. Desire comes unbidden, sometimes in the midst of a flurry of other necessary activity (like getting ready for a vacation, or doing your taxes
.), or in the middle of a time of little or no emotional connection between the two of you.
Past the falling in love stage, most women report that even if they love their partner madly, there may be less of an experience of intense, out-of-the-blue lust for their partners that pulls them out of their daily lives and demands to be satiated. At times, it is more as if desire appears on little cat feet, a soft feeling of psychological and physical anticipation of sharing pleasure with a loved partner. That desire and arousal needs to be nurtured psychologically, and it needs to be nurtured physically.
You might wonder what I mean when I say that desire needs to be nurtured physically.
For many women, past the falling-in-love stage, arousal depends on a long period of non-genital touch. While men tend to like to have their genitals touched early in the lovemaking process, women often like to have other parts of their bodies caressed to have their arousal build. For instance, many women love to have their necks kissed, or have their hair played with.
Most women have non-genital areas of their body which they feel good about, which vary from woman to woman, but which hold a lot of potential for pleasure. Many women love the sensations they get from kissing and petting.
I have talked about touch (1998) as one of the primary Milestones of Sexual Development. Learning to enjoy sex is something we originally learn, if we are lucky enough to learn it, in our families of origin. Not by being sexual with our parents or siblings, of course, but by learning to associate safe, non-genital, affectionate touch with feelings of safety, relaxation, pleasure, trust and love (SexSmart, A.Zoldbrod l998).
Some of you readers did not learn to enjoy affectionate touch in their families, and you need to take steps to learn what kind of touch you like. (Zoldbrod, 1998; Heiman and Lo Piccolo, 1988). It takes time and being able to focus on yourself to learn what kind of touch you enjoy. Some women with GAD may be surprised to discover, in reading this, that they arent sure of what kinds of touch they like, because they cant relax enough to touch themselves, or to enjoy exploring touch through massage.
Without an enjoyment of non-genital touch, the vast majority of women in ongoing, loving relationships will not be able to become aroused enough to orgasm. Genital touch alone doesnt give we women the whole-body charge we need to really enjoy sex.
The tricky thing is, sex isnt that simple. To have good sex with an ongoing, beloved partner, you have to be able to teach your partner where you like to be touched, and you, yourself, have to learn to relax, let go of control, and focus on the pleasurable sensations.
In Sex Smart, I call this process floating, because it is such a pleasant, altered, hypnotic sensation.
In order to build excitement, a woman needs to float and feel safe in her body and let go of control--- to focus deep inside her body, to concentrate on sensation, and to let her partners touch build up feelings of physical and sensual pleasure.
Unfortunately, GAD women are too anxious to give up control. And the GAD prevents the sense of floating, because unbidden thoughts intrude and do not allow the focus on pleasurable sensations. Relentless thoughts such as: Did I lock the door? What is that pile of laundry doing on the floor? Do I look fat from this angle? prevent a focus on building up pleasurable sensation.
In other words, all women have to learn to let themselves shut out the world and float to have sexual pleasure and intense sexual arousal. GAD prevents women from ever being able to get to the floating state to begin with.
All women are distractible sexually and GAD women cant focus at all. In Sex Talk (2002), I talk about the fact that all women tend to be distractible sexually, and what to do about it. Even women without GAD who do know how to float can be distracted during lovemaking. It takes focus to stay in the floating state and build up a good sexual charge.
Men and women are different sexually in some very important ways. One of them is that once aroused, men have what is called the point of ejaculatory inevitability. That means that at a certain point in a mans arousal, he will orgasm, pretty much no matter what else comes into his head. He could have a fleeting thought about his taxes being due, what a pain his boss is, his son needing lessons on how to drive a car, or his need for a fresh haircut, but these thoughts would not be enough to prevent him from ejaculating. This accounts for why more men than women consider sex to be relaxing. No matter how stressed men are, once the point of ejaculatory inevitability is reached, their physical release is assured.
Women, on the other hand, are much more distractible. It can sometimes be more work for women than men to become aroused in the first place, and it is certainly more difficult for women to stay aroused. There is no point of inevitable orgasm for women. Instead, women can get distracted and lose their arousal at any point in the sexual encounter.
Once arousal is lost, women need to start to build their arousal all over again from the beginning. This is why (I) always encourage women to think of pursuing their own arousal and orgasm as if they were Taking a Great Dane for a Walk.
If orgasm is a womans goal, she has to take control of her sexuality and her thoughts and not let her unconscious wander. Just imagine that you are becoming very aroused and then visualize yourself stopping yourself from getting caught up in (
) You need to be talking sex to yourself and nothing else. You need to grab that Great Dane and yank it back on the path to sexual pleasure.(pages 92-93, SexTalk).
By definition, women with GAD cannot control their fleeting thoughts of worry, distraction, and doom. Their minds always are full of a to-do list, and a to-worry-about list, that keeps them from even being able to get that Great Dane on a leash!
Because GAD women cant float or focus on sexual thoughts or sensations, they never feel all that aroused sexually. Being with a loved partner might feel good in a psychological kind of way, or mildly pleasurable, like getting a massage, but it never feels electric or exciting. This is why typically, GAD women arent all that interested in sex. Without the true pleasure of high arousal and orgasm, the sexual experience might not be any more enticing than a nice day of gardening!
Perhaps you feel, in reading this, that getting over your GAD and learning to enjoy sex sounds like quite a lot of work. You believe that other people just naturally feel good about their sexual selves, that their ability to feel sexual pleasure just arose naturally. They didnt have to try to be sexual, so why should you? Well, the big secret about sexuality is that it does take some work, and it does need to be learned. There isnt a woman on the planet who likes sex who didnt put time and effort into her own self exploration. And GAD is quite treatable. So why not put yourself at the top of your agenda and do something which will improve the quality of your life?
GAD responds very well to cognitive behavioral therapy, a very specific, dynamic psychotherapy which involves more than simply talking about the symptoms. Psychologists, most notably David Barlow PhD, have researched and developed specific treatment programs to help people with GAD learn to change the way they assess the world and change their anxiety-causing thoughts.
Treatment is an active process. As the patient, you must be fully committed to doing a series of exercises and to keeping journals of your thoughts for three or four months. If you are motivated, the CBT treatment is usually successful in that time period.
Sometimes medication if helpful for people with GAD, but for many people it isnt necessary.
When shopping for a therapist, however, make sure that the professional has had specific training in cognitive behavioral training therapy for generalized anxiety disorder.
Barlow, D.H., & Wincze, J. (1998). DSM-IV and beyond: What is generalized anxiety disorder? Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 98(393), 23-29.
Brawman-Mintzer O, Lydiard RB. (1996) Generalized anxiety disorder: Issues in epidemiology. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 57(suppl 7):3-8.)
Rickels K, Schweitzer, E. (1990). The clinical course and long-term management of generalized anxiety disorder J Clin Psychopharmacol 1990 ; 10;101S-10S.)
Fisher, H. (1992) Anatomy of Love. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Heiman, J and Lo Piccolo, J. (1988). Becoming Orgasmic: A Sexual and Personal Growth Program for Women; New York:Prentice-Hall.
Zoldbrod, A (1998). SexSmart: How Your Childhood Shaped Your Sexual Life and What to Do About It. Oakland: New Harbinger (http://www.sexsmart.com)
Zoldbrod, A and Dockett, L. (2002) Sex Talk: Uncensored Exercises for Exploring What Really Turns You On. Oakland: New Harbinger.
Free Screening and More Information about GAD and Other Anxiety Disorders
To get free screening for anxiety disorders from a licensed psychotherapist in your area, you can contact the Freedom From Fear organization, a national non-profit mental illness advocacy organization: http://www.fitness.gov/anxiety_disorders_screening.html
The Anxiety Disorders Association of America is an organization dedicated to the prevention and treatment of anxiety disorders and works to improve the quality of life of individuals who suffer from them. This web site is geared toward both individuals who struggle with anxiety disorders as well as professionals who work with them. ADAA has a nationwide referral network for individuals hoping to connect with health professions who specialize in anxiety disorders, and the web site lists information about clinical trials that are being conducted around the country. In addition, this web site has information about several grants and awards for anxiety researchers as well as groundbreaking news that is relevant to this field. Moreover, this web site also includes information about its annual meeting that generally takes place in the last week of March, a gathering that includes both professionals and consumers. http://www.adaa.org.