Most guys in America are socialized to believe that they should rack up as many sexual partners as possible. For so many men, their number of sexual partners is one of the cornerstones of their sense of masculinity. And even if you think the numbers game is silly—arguably, it is—you still probably think about it somewhere in the back of your mind.

So what do you do when having sex with someone new gives you a major case of anxiety?

A lot of men have to grapple with this exact challenge. You want to have and enjoy sex, but the anxiety you experience with new partners can feel crippling. You feel nervous about what she’s expecting and what she’ll think of your performance. You feel tons of pressure to do everything perfectly, and blow her mind from the very first moment. All the pressure and anxiety affects your sexual performance and your enjoyment in a serious way.

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If you struggle with new-partner nerves, here are seven steps you need to follow:

1. Normalize your nerves

First, you should know that everyone gets nervous about having sex with someone new. Sex is a vulnerable act, even when it’s casual. Feeling anxious is a totally normal, predictable response. It may help to remind yourself that you’re not alone in feeling nervous. Remind yourself that she’s nervous, too.

Normalizing your nerves isn’t a throwaway tactic. Tell me if this sounds familiar: You start feeling nervous. Then you get upset with yourself for being nervous. You launch into a vicious spiral of nervousness—beating yourself up for feeling that way, feeling more nervous, and beating yourself up even more.

You can break that cycle if you stop getting upset with yourself for being anxious. Simply acknowledge to yourself: “OK, I’m nervous, and that’s alright. I don’t need to criticize myself about it.”

2. Work on your anxiety outside of the bedroom

If anxiety is a persistent issue for you, it can really help to work on it independently from your sex life. Sometimes the experiences that we have in the bedroom are signals of things we need to work on outside the bedroom.

Anxiety is obviously a vast topic with many facets relating to psychological health, but there are a lot of different ways you can start tackling it. Some possibilities include:

  • Psychotherapy or sex therapy
  • Exercise
  • Getting more sleep
  • Breathing exercises
  • Mindfulness
  • Meditation

3. Don’t rush

A lot of men make themselves unnecessarily anxious because they rush to be intimate with a new woman as quickly as possible. A lot of this comes back to socialization: Guys are taught to think they need to seal the deal as quickly as possible. I say “unnecessarily” because there’s really no reason to rush yourself. If a woman is interested in being intimate with you, she’s not going to automatically change her mind simply because you’re taking your time. If anything, not feeling like you’re in a rush to get into her pants will feel like a breath of fresh air to her.

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If you find yourself consistently nervous about sex with new partners, it may be a sign that you need to slow yourself down. You can prevent nervousness by giving yourself time to get to know a woman before jumping into bed with her. Don’t have sex with her until the nerves have been replaced by excitement.

4. Focus on foreplay

Taking your time doesn’t have to be boring. So many men get into an all-or-nothing mentality around sex: either you aim for intercourse or you don’t even bother. But again, all of that rushing only serves to make your anxiety worse.

Instead, you can quell your nerves by spending a few nights focusing on foreplay with a new woman. Don’t even worry about intercourse. Focusing on foreplay will give you a chance to better know her (and her body), which will give you a major boost of confidence.

Keep in mind that you’re much more likely to help her have an orgasm with your fingers or your mouth than you are with intercourse, so it’s not like she’ll be upset about this change of pace.

5. Take performance pressure seriously

If you’re not yet convinced by my advice to slow down, here’s another reason to pay attention: If you rush yourself, you’re more likely to experience performance issues.

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I work with a lot of men with performance issues in my sex therapy practice. One of the most fascinating things about performance issues is that they’re never consistent; some guys can have crippling performance issues in certain situations, but be completely fine in others. My clients have noticed that when they follow my advice to slow down and get to know a woman before sleeping with her, they experience far fewer performance issues. Now you’re paying attention, right?

6. Examine your expectations…

Ask yourself: What, exactly, do you think “performance” means? What do you expect of yourself in the bedroom?

One of the exercises I do with my sex therapy clients is to have them make a list of the expectations they have of themselves when it comes to sex. You can do the same thing. Actually write out a list of exactly what you think you’re supposed to do in the bedroom. Write down every single belief that comes to mind.

Then take a good, hard look at it. Are those expectations really reasonable? Would you tell your best friend that he needed to live up to those same expectations? Would you expect the same things out of your partners? Sometimes being able to take an objective look at your expectations of yourself can help you realize how ridiculously high you’ve set your standards.

7. … Then reset them

I also work with a lot of women in my practice, and we talk about what they really want from their partners during sex. Here’s what I’ve learned: She doesn’t need you to perform like a machine. Even during casual sex, women are looking to feel some sort of connection with their partners. She wants to have fun. She wants to know that you care about her pleasure. She wants to feel like you’re present with her. Perfect performance is rarely—if ever—mentioned.

Don’t those expectations feel way more manageable than your own expectations of yourself? If you can change your mindset about expectations, your sexual anxiety is going to be drastically lower.

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