What To Do When You Feel Self-Conscious During Sex

Being intimate with someone can bring about a lot of new emotions and insecurities. Sex has the potential of making someone feel more vulnerable and definitely more self-conscious. Even the most confident people have doubts about their body, their performance in bed or what their partner is thinking of them. These thoughts are perfectly normal, but how do you deal with them? We asked some experts (one of them a student and “proud feminist”) and created a list of things to keep in mind if you start to feel awkward in bed.

1. Sleep with someone you’re super comfortable with

In today’s dating world, hookups are common. Whether hookup to you means a steamy make-out session or a one-night stand, everyone is going to have to make the decision to follow through with one at some point. However, having sex with someone you just met can increase thoughts of self-consciousness. Adam LoDolce, a dating confidence expert who started the popular site SexyConfidence.com says, “Be choosy about who you get involved with.” LoDolce, whose work and advice has been featured on MTV, Glamour, and Cosmopolitan, says that it’s better to get to know a person than jump right into bed with them. This familiarity with them will make it easier to overcome feelings of self-consciousness later on. Of course, do whatever you feel comfortable with; if you know you will be more than fine having sex right away with that hottie at a party, you do you as well!

2. Don’t fall into the trap of societal standards AND communicate!

A lot of self-doubt can be linked to how sex is portrayed to us in the media. Asha Sawhney, a junior at Northwestern University, is the membership chair of Sexual Health and Assault Peer Educators (SHAPE), a student organization that is all about empowering students in their sexuality and fostering healthy conversations around sex. Asha thinks that our minds are constantly running over “unrealistic social scripts from the media. People put pressure on themselves to look perfect, act completely confident, and particularly women are pressured to come off as experienced but not over-eager, due to slut-shaming in our society,” she says. “On the other hand, men feel they have to come off as experienced, totally in control, and worry-free because of our notions of masculinity. Queer and gender non-conforming folks are oftentimes left out of our social scripts altogether and have the added worry of navigating their safety as it relates to their marginalized identities in sexual relationships.”

Men and women are also discouraged from talking about these concerns with their partners, according to Asha. While hardly being shown in the media and not being deemed as sexy, couples tend not to voice their opinions about self-consciousness during sex. “Not only does this lack of communication leave our worries unresolved, it is also downright dangerous to be afraid to communicate with one's partner because obtaining consent requires many levels of communication,” Asha says. You should never be afraid to speak your mind.

Related: What to Do When Your Partner's Sex Drive Is Higher (or Lower) Than Yours

3. Self-reflect on who you are and what you want

If you have never had sex before or don’t have much experience, it’s always good to think about what you prefer. What do you want sexually and emotionally? What do you need from your partner or from the sex you’re having? Asha says that without reflecting on yourself first, you might be more prone to awkward feelings in bed. A healthy and satisfying sex life often comes out of being comfortable with your body and what you want. A great checklist of questions can be found at Everyday Feminism, and Asha says this is a great place to start! Be sure to also communicate your findings with your partner! Even if it’s a fling or hookup, at least this way you’ll know what you want.

4. Don’t worry/stress too much about your sex appeal

Another reason you may be feeling awkward in bed is your perceived sex appeal, or for some people, the lack thereof. However, that is not something you should be stressing about. Everyone obviously wants to feel wanted when getting intimate, but this can lead to thoughts of “Does he/she find me attractive? What do they think of what I’m doing? Does their silence mean I’m horrible at this?” These are common concerns, but not something that should inhibit you in the bedroom.

Some partners are more verbal in bed, constantly telling the other how hot they are or how good they’re doing. However, this isn’t all that common according to LoDolce. “Many times if you’re not getting that positive feedback from that person, that overriding insecurity, that makes you think ‘Oh god, I must be doing something weird or awkward or he/she is just not that into me,’” he says. Silence isn’t a sign of a sinking ship. Other than voicing consent, it’s normal for partners to be non-verbal during sex. Just try your best to gauge the situation and how your partner is reacting to what you’re doing (and vice versa). Silence doesn’t mean dissatisfaction or judgment. While communication is key in any relationship, try not to worry if they aren’t vocal. Everyone expresses pleasure in different ways.

5. Stop overthinking/over analyzing

Though we know that it’s easier said than done, overthinking can kill any mood. It’s good to think through tough situations, and in the moment it’s super easy to fall into that pit of despair where “Does he/she think I’m cute?” and “What does this all mean?” just float around your head. And of course, if you know that you’re being awkward or you’re trying your hardest not to be, that continual mantra you have going on in your head is not helping your performance. “If you’re thinking about how to stop your self-consciousness during sex, that’s just going to make you worse,” says LoDolce. “It’s a feedback loop that’s going to get worse and worse and worse as time goes on.”

Just like a reoccurring nightmare, this loop will kill not only the mood of your sexy night with your SO, it will surely just make you feel crappy in the end. We know that it’s very hard to turn your brain off sometimes, but just know that these thoughts will bring about your ultimate demise.

Related: 5 Embarrassing Things That Can Happen During Sex (& How to Recover)

6. Listen to your body and your feelings

If you do have constant worried feelings about being intimate, you shouldn’t suppress them. “I don't think anyone under any circumstances should suppress feelings of being unsafe or uncomfortable in a sexual relationship,” Asha says. She suggests taking a step back and unpacking your feelings. If you find that you seem to have the same feelings through all or most of the same sexual experiences with all your partners, definitely try and work through that with the suggestions in this article. However, if the source of your discomfort comes from anything your partner is saying or doing, try and communicate that with him or her. But do be aware that this might be a signal of an unhealthy and possibly unsafe relationship, which should be dealt with. No one deserves to feel worthless.

7. Remember: There’s no pressure!

You shouldn’t feel like anything is expected of you in a relationship or any sexual situation. However, if you do ever feel self-conscious when having sex, just know that you’re not alone and that there’s no pressure to do anything you don’t want to. No partner should voice frustration if you refuse to do something or are uncomfortable due to lack of experience or otherwise. Reach out to someone you trust if you feel like you’re in an unhealthy relationship and just self-reflect and give it time if you know your awkwardness is stemming from your mindset.