If you've ever ridden a bike or gone skiing or belted one out in karaoke, you already know the massive role confidence plays in your life. Feeling great about that speech you're about to give to your whole company? You breeze through it like it's nothing. Feeling so nervous your left eye is twitching and your hands are shaking instead? You stutter your way through the whole damn thing, forgetting chunks and accidentally rearranging the vast majority of your talking points. Sure, anxious people typically fret more over their performances, but everyone experiences some degree of it - especially when the task at hand is something they've failed at before or aren't practiced enough to be prepared for.
Perhaps the most frustrating place to see this kind of performance anxiety is your sex life. You likely already know how sexual a person you are, and you've probably fantasized so much about all the things you'd like to try and do and say with your partners that you have enough material for a feature film. Actually doing the things you fantasize about doing, however, can be...challenging. I know this was most true with me near the beginning of my sex life - I was rarely verbal in bed and my movements were stilted as I figured out how to really move in tandem with someone else. Sometimes I was so nervous about how I would be for my partner that I couldn't even stay wet - and though those years might be in the past, I still sometimes feel like I can't get totally into sex, can't fully close that gap between what I imagine myself doing and what I actually do in real life. I hate it. It sucks.
Luckily (or, you know, not), I've heard this sentiment from almost everyone I know. I have friends who fantasize about waking their husbands up with a blow job...but don't want to be rejected if said men are too sleepy. I know guys who would love to pull their girlfriends into the bathroom at a crowded bar for a quickie...but don't really know how to go about initiating such a bold and sudden seduction. You know how you sometimes imagine the dirty things you'd like to say or the aggression you'd like to use, but you're a little too bashful to go for it when you're actually having sex? That damn confidence, man.
Sadly, developing sexual confidence isn't a one-step process. Half the battle is getting out of your head and back on the bed - not feeling 100 percent present can take you out of the experience, which sort of destroys the point of having sex to begin with. There are times I think I'd actually buy a sexual confidence potion to take when I need it, but Hogwarts isn't real and most street drugs are illegal. Bummer.
Despite its complexity, though, sexual confidence is not nearly as elusive as we feel it is. There are concrete ways to build it, and even though they may take time, the process will immensely improve your sex life. Trust me - it's worked for me.
Step One: What Is Confidence?
I try not to make a habit of quoting Dr. Phil, but here we are. "Confidence," he says, "comes from the power of liking and accepting yourself." I love this definition so much, because it helps us understand that our own experiences are valid, that we are already worthy partners. In other words, it helps change your framework. A lot of us who have struggled to sexually self-actualize have operated at some point in an impressor/impressee context, with us as the impressors. Instead, we want to approach sex as mutually satisfying, a place where we play both roles. (Which of course means that you get to sit back and let your partner do you good, too.) Before you can be truly confident, you have to believe that you deserve just as much pleasure from your partner as you're giving him or her.
This has the secondary benefit of keeping you present and aware of the sensations you yourself are feeling. When you can do that, it is far easier to behave as you'd like without worrying how your partner is going to react. (Note: Obviously, consent and consideration for your partner are incredibly important. It's a balance, people.) The word I like best for this phenomenon, this thing that happens when you can say and do exactly as you'd like because you'd like to - and not solely because you think it's what your partner wants - is authenticity. It's what will make all those hot things you say and do infinitely more enjoyable for you.
Step Two: 'Practice Makes Perfect' Is a Cliche for a Damn Good Reason
I've already mentioned that confidence makes you much better at whatever you're doing, but that confidence almost always originates in practice. The more you do something, the better you get at it, and the more confident you'll become. The more confident you become, the better you'll get. It's the "Winning" circle of life. I don't mean that you need to go on a sexual rampage anytime soon, but I do mean that it's OK to have sex even if you feel a little strange in your own skin - in fact, I would say that a remedy for that kind of uncertainty is almost certainly to keep practicing. (For any young'uns reading, there is a difference between feeling confident and feeling ready.)
For those who haven't developed eons of experience yet, it makes a whole lot of sense that you wouldn't feel unwaveringly confident yet. Sex is an art AND a sport. It's fucking hard, y'all - no pun intended.
Step Three: Practice Mindfulness
When you get all up in your head during sex, the best way to reground yourself is to be mindful. This is the most helpful tactic for me. It might sound like a "woo" word for those who don't already practice mindfulness, but it is gloriously simple. In short, you redirect yourself from thoughts of, "Does he like this pace?" toward the sensations you're feeling. Pay attention to how it feels when your partner runs her hands down your back or how warm or cool her skin is. Listen to the sounds she making for no other reason than to hear them.
And perhaps most importantly - slow down. I promise, even for men who worry that lessening the pace might not feel as great, it will - reground yourself in the sensations, and don't focus quite so much on building up to you or your partner's orgasms.
Step Four: Visualize It
Visualization - the act of imagining yourself succeeding wildly at whatever it is you're about to do - is incredibly powerful, and it helps with sex too. If you know you'd like to be more vocal in bed or that you want to mix up the positions a lot more, envision yourself doing just that when you're not actually having sex. It'll help you cognitively "practice," and it will also help you stop anticipating imminent failure.
Another aspect of visualization is encouraging fantasy, which might come as a no-brainer for men who have grown up watching a lot of porn, but isn't always so obvious for women. If you don't already, build some kind of erotica into your life, whether that's porn, reading erotica, sexting your partner, or shopping for some sexy stuff to wear. Sex isn't just about the physical act - it's also a state of mind. I keep a steady stream of sexual content in my life, because it gives me new ideas and keeps my libido humming.
Step Five: Study
I've said this time and time again, but we do not live in a society that wants to teach us the things we need to know about sex. And even if they did, you would be remiss not to add a little light reading on the subject to your to-do weekly to-do list. And I don't just mean smut - though that's certainly helpful - either. Spending time studying sexual anatomy is a big one, but so is psychology. If you want to enjoy sex more AND be a better partner, make an effort to understand all the complexities of sex in addition to watching porn.
None of us can ever forget that we often assume the things we hear and see on TV and in the movies is "true" by default, and we don't often challenge ourselves to dig deeper and find out how vast sexuality really is.
Step Six: You Have Permission to Fake It
No, not your orgasm - that's rarely constructive for anyone. Your confidence. Another cliche that rings true is "fake it 'til you make it." Pretending you feel confident will often make your partner think you really are and will respond enthusiastically - and eventually, you'll believe you really are, too. Feeling like you're the shit every day is exhausting and quite frankly not very realistic. This is a life hack we all deserve.