mental blocks in sex

Emotional Blocks in Sexual Pleasure

fact checked

This article was scientifically reviewed by Human Sexuality expert Dr. Laurie Mintz. She is a professor, researcher, private practitioner and Fellow of the American Psychological Association.

You’re really into a new romantic or sexual partner. They make you feel lit up, seen, supported, and you also happen to think they’re super cute. You start to kiss and it feels right, you feel arousal building, everything feels hot and sexy, but then you just seem to… tap out.

You like them, you’re attracted to them, and you want to have sex with them, but when it comes down to it you’re not able to feel the pleasure you want to experience. 

Can you relate to this scenario?

It’s not just when dating someone new, there are endless situations where you can feel blocked off from your sexual pleasure. While some physical conditions can cause this, a lot of the time it comes down to emotions. How do your emotions create blocks to your sexual pleasure – and how do you break them down?

Stress and Your Sex Life

We’re well aware that stress can be detrimental to your health. It can also put quite a damper on your sex life. We get it, life happens, but if you want to experience the sexual pleasure you crave and deserve, you need to examine the way stress and the emotions it causes impacts your intimate relationships.

You don’t need science to tell you since you’ve probably experienced it for yourself, but high levels of chronic stress were found to be correlated with lower genital sexual arousal. Essentially, stress makes it more difficult to feel sexual pleasure in your genitals. 

Stress isn’t necessarily an emotion, it’s more of a physiological state that directly affects your mental health, and thus your emotions. Stress can make you feel depleted, distanced, irritable, and a whole lot of other emotions that can keep you from fully enjoying your sex life. 

Sex and Trauma

Trauma is a broad term that can be emotional or physical (like from an injury). When you get an injury, your body creates scar tissue as a way of healing and protecting that body part from getting hurt again.

That scar tissue is a necessary part of the healing process, but can then create more issues like aches and pains in the body. Physical scar tissue can impact your sex life if it’s in your pelvic floor for example after someone gives birth, but trauma also creates emotional scars.

When you go through something difficult in your life, something that you considered traumatic, you build up this metaphorical scar tissue to protect yourself. In an effort to protect yourself this sometimes also keeps you from letting things in. Like deep connection with others or sexual pleasure. 

This can happen whether you’ve experienced sexual trauma, abuse, or even seemingly unrelated things like an accident. One study found that people with PTSD had a significantly lower sexual function in terms of sexual satisfaction, sexual pain, and sexual aversion. 

Holding Back in Relationships

When you don’t feel comfortable, safe, or fully trust the person you’re having sex with, there’s a part of you that tends to hold back. This can happen with people you just met or have been with for years. 

It’s a bit woo-woo, but when you hold back, whether or not you’re conscious of it, you’re not able to be fully present with the people in your life. This can affect your relationships, and especially your sex life.

Some of the reasons we hold back in relationships come from:

  • Fear of rejection or abandonment
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feeling burnt out
  • Not feeling happy or fulfilled with your life

In practical terms holding back can look like not being fully honest if something is bothering you, not feeling present because you’re worried about something that happened in the past, or just generally not feeling “like yourself”.

Dealing with Emotional Blocks 

These different blocks cover a wide range of how your emotional and mental health can affect your sex life. Everyone is unique in how they handle their emotions and how their emotions relate to their sex lives. There’s no one size fits all approach to dealing with these blocks. 

There are, however, plenty of steps you can take to help support your emotional health so that you can experience more sexual pleasure.

Managing Stress

You know that stress can put quite a damper on pleasure. Stress is unavoidable, some of it is just part of life. While you can work to help lower the number of stressors in your life, a more comprehensive approach is to work on how you manage stress.

Meditation, breathing exercises, physical activity, and getting creative are all helpful tools in managing your stress. Even just lowering your stress levels a little bit can make pleasure feel more readily available to you, and help increase your libido if it’s also been impacted.

Healing From Trauma

Trauma is a highly complex and individualized topic. We never want to minimize anyone’s experience. That being said, when you’re able to take steps to help heal trauma, bit by bit you can feel better in every area of your life – including sex. 

People dealing with traumatic experiences or PTSD can greatly benefit from working with a mental health professional. This could be a psychologist, counselor, or even a sex therapist. Other mindfulness practices like doing yoga or journaling can trickle out and help you heal and feel deeper pleasure.

Being More Present in Relationships

It’s hard to bring your full self to the table all the time. It’s also natural to hold back sometimes in relationships. But if it’s a recurring pattern that’s affecting your sex life, it needs to be addressed.

You can try journaling or even just reflecting on these questions:

  • Why am I holding back?
  • What do I need to be more present in my relationship?
  • What feelings come up when I’m having sex or masturbating?
  • What do I want to experience in my sex life and relationship?

See what you come up with and have an honest conversation with your partner about how you can move forward. If you don’t have a partner, you can still use these prompts to see how you can be more present with yourself, whether you’re dating or having solo sex.

Moving Forward to Experience More Pleasure

Being a human is hard. Our emotions can be sticky and affect the parts of our lives that can bring us the most joy, connection, and pleasure. The irony is that these are the antidotes to difficult emotions. Start by taking inventory of what’s blocking your pleasure and focusing on removing these blocks. Little by little, you’ll notice a difference and will hopefully feel a whole lot more sexual pleasure.