This week on Tuesday, the Philly Metro ran an interview with Julia King, MS, LPC, of the Philadelphia Institute for Individual, Relational, & Sex Therapy (PhIIRST) about how anxiety can affect a person’s life, relationships, and intimacy.
These types of pieces tend to read like advertisements to me, so I’m naturally skeptical about how an article like this appears in a mainstream commuter publication. But Julia King does mention that talk therapy can be very helpful for exploring and managing anxiety and she’s not wrong.
She goes on to say that PhIIRST specializes in sex and intimacy. “Often times,” she says, “anxiety gets in the way of allowing people to be fully present and vulnerable in those contexts. This may present as avoiding sex and relationships, being guarded, or having low desire. Sometimes, as a result, people avoid it all together.”
If you’ve read my previous posts, then you know my anxiety is nothing like this. You might even say it’s the opposite. I’m fortunate not to have experienced traumatic events and assaults on my body that might present debilitating anxiety from PTSD or something like that. And I’m confident enough that I do not experience anything other than common fear and excitement about showing and sharing myself to new (interested) partners, a fear that vanishes upon acceptance. This is a privilege, I know. And I also know that anxiety about sex can manifest from many other sources, and in these United States of America, there are plenty of possible causes.
I also try to have a realistic and progressive attitude about sexual expectations, and I try to manage my desires in a safe, consensual way. While I believe that I pursue my sexuality mostly for the same reasons as other healthy adults who like sex, I am aware that there may be a prescriptive aspect to it for me and my anxiety.
That’s not to say I’ll have a panic attack if an encounter is interrupted or I’m rejected. It’s not to say that I’d consider myself a sex addict, or anyone else would either. Or that I’m in constant pursuit of sex as a remedy for anxiety. Or that this translates directly to promiscuity.
I try not to talk about sex and anxiety in that context because it can seem like too much pressure. But, like Marvin Gaye sang, “Sexual Healing” is real and can be appealing to the right ears.
For almost five years now, I’ve been involved with Elm in an intimate and romantic partnership that have easily been the best years of my life. We spent one of those years traveling around the world having wild adventures, and I wrote a whimsical novel about it – along with our departure from SF, alcoholic roommates, group sex, and gentrification (so far unpublished). She’s an extraordinary person who seems to have no elevated anxiety at all, or much pause for indulgence.
What I will say for those who do find themselves in a relationship with someone who has a lot of anxiety in the bedroom is this: there is no stasis. If this partner is involved in a treatment program like they offer at PhIIRST, then that’s a very good indication of a goal for progress. Without a demonstrated want for improvement, there can be no improvement. Therapy cannot be effective if one chooses not to go to therapy.
Transparency: About three months after Magnolia and I broke up, she started dating a mutual friend. Six months later, they moved in together. After another six months, they were engaged, and the following year they married. When we split, I told Magnolia that I really just hoped she finds a way to be happy and healthy. And I meant it, but it seems counterintuitive [to me] that she continued to pursue the kind of intimacy that historically left her sexually dysfunctional, and ultimately caused emotional damage. She clearly did not have enough time to seek treatment and get to know herself better, or learn how to manage her traumas and anxieties yet. Maybe it was just different with this guy? Maybe they have an arrangement about sex or something. As far as I know, they’re still married, which would be going on seven years now.