I’ve realised I don’t know how to be myself in the bedroom. I’ve been with my partner for eight months and he’s great, but I have always felt quite insecure in bed. How can I relax and stop turning sex into a performance?

When you think about sexual confidence you probably think about being assertive, or wildly experimental, but that’s not it at all. Sexual confidence is not actually about sex. It is not even about confidence. It is about being comfortable with who you are, knowing what you like and not being afraid to be honest, even if that means admitting that you feel inexperienced, insecure or inadequate.

Sexual confidence is linked to self-esteem (feeling that you are enough and that you deserve to have your sexual needs met) and it is also linked to self-belief (feeling that you have agency and that you are capable of having and enjoying great sex). However, the route to getting more sexual confidence is not trying to have a bigger ego, or a shopping list of demands, it is self-acceptance.

You need to appreciate the skin you are in, imperfections and all, so rather than thinking in terms of sexual confidence, first try to embrace your insecurity and share your awkward feelings with your boyfriend. It takes much more courage to admit vulnerability than it does to fake confidence, but this is a message we rarely get taught.

Becoming an adult is about learning to conform to specific standards. We learn how to look and behave in a certain way, and to resist showing our true emotions in case we embarrass ourselves or make other people feel uncomfortable. This constant emphasis on performance and restraint makes it hard for us to feel good about who we are, and it is very much at odds with the openness required for intimacy. It is also why many people have such dreadful sex lives.

Honesty, particularly in a sexual context, is scary, and admitting that you have been pretending to be more confident than you really are is scarier still. I know that telling your boyfriend the truth probably feels like an enormous psychological hurdle, but it’s a bit like sticking a pin in a balloon.

Once you get the words out, you explode the past and create an opportunity to shape the future differently. Like most big admissions, the impact will probably be a little anticlimactic. Although it is your performance that you are anxious about, your boyfriend may well worry about his own after you tell him how you feel, so you will probably end up reassuring him that he is not the problem.

Be clear about the fact that this has always been a problem for you, but that you have never trusted a partner enough to admit it before. The fact that you have felt able to reveal yourself to him will exponentially increase the level of trust and intimacy between you.

People who are sexually authentic are true to themselves and their values regardless of what other people say or do – and this is the essence of sexual confidence. They don’t care if they get things wrong because they are OK with being imperfect.

They are willing to try new experiences because they don’t mind trying, failing, laughing and trying again. They know that, deep down, everyone shares their insecurities too. And that of course is the most salient point. You assume that your boyfriend is not vulnerable; that he has no doubts or insecurities around sex. But it’s worth remembering that men are equally prone to sexual insecurity and can find it even harder to be open. If you are brave enough to make it OK to talk about hopes and fears, you open up the possibility for him to do the same, and that is when sex will really start to get exciting for you both.

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