No Saber-Toothed Tigers: Turn Sexual Anxiety Into Sexual Excitement

This Article is Written By Dr. Markie Twist and Co-Author Angel Alonso
About 300,000 years ago in a land before swiping left[1] was an option, there was early man wielding wooden spears against saber-toothed tigers[2] (cats) (at that time one couldn’t simply swipe left and vanquish such a ferocious beast). One of the earliest and most important tools developed by humans–the spear–was used for defense against predatory attacks.

Consisting of a shaft and a sharp head, the pole weapon would be thrust against the flesh of one’s opponent in combat. The mere thought of such primal warfare, can stir up a variable amount of overwhelming feelings and thoughts in both early and modern-day humans.

Early man learned to adapt to predatory surroundings with both external tools like the spear, and internal tools like instinct. Instinctual responses such as flee, fight or freeze represent vital survival tools found in both early days, and in current day adaptations.

There are no saber-toothed cats[3] anymore, but for some men, the primal aspect of sex can bring forth a level of stress resembling that of primordial combat. Creating a sense of panic resulting in a flee or freeze response.

Elevated stress can produce physical responses such as heavy breathing, fast-paced heart rate, pumping and rushing blood throughout one’s body.


*All individuals are unique. Your results can and will vary.

Which, when in the bedroom can lead some men to have an erection, because the brain processes the feelings as excitement, reducing the chances of experiencing sexual anxiety, and relatedly erectile dysfunction[4] (ED) or premature ejaculation[5] (PE).

To go a bit deeper into what happens physiologically when men encounter a saber-toothed tiger of today what can be thought of as sexual anxiety–we need to look at the nervous system. Specifically, when in a situation that is perceived as threatening the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is activated.

The SNS generates the freeze, flight, or flee response and the body shifts energy resources towards dealing with what is perceived to be threatening. This is a relatively sudden process, as it is needed in the immediacy to prepare our bodies to respond to an emergency situation or what are known as acute stressors.

Acute Stressors

This involves a flooding of epinephrine, adrenaline, and cortisol, which results in rapid heart beating, increased respiration, dilation of blood vessels, a change in digestion and glucose levels that allows for a sugar rush to run through the bloodstream providing immediate energy, and stomach pain or nausea.

In men, there is also a surge of testosterone, which leads to increased arousal, however, when coupled with the releasing of increased cortisol the ability to perform can be diminished, because the blood pressure and related cardiovascular circulatory processes are affected, and thus can potentially impair the ability to attain and maintain an erection despite being aroused.


*All individuals are unique. Your results can and will vary.

For most people, once the saber-toothed tiger is gone or is perceived as being a non-threatening force the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) kicks in, which floods the body with norepinephrine, and results in relaxing the body and functions return to a pre-saber-toothed tiger state.

But, if the saber-toothed tiger does not go away or the perception of it as non-harmful remains unchanged then there can be ongoing or chronic stress over a period of time, which can affect all of the physiological systems in a longer-term manner.

In men’s bodies elevated and ongoing testosterone levels tend to affect sperm production and maturation, and can even cause ED.

What Tools Can Men Use To Battle The Saber-Toothed Tigers Of Today?

Recognizing That There Are No More Saber-Tooth Tigers!

Saber-Tooth Tigers
First start by recognizing that there are actually no more saber-toothed tigers! That’s right! The amazing system that we have built into our bodies to help protect us from danger was once needed when we encountered real threats and dangers like saber-toothed cats with greater frequency, but those days are long gone.

So, men can start by reframing the situation that activates the SNS as not one to freeze before or flee from, but to pull out their spears and face the situation head on! In other words, recognizing that what they are feeling in the situation is not anxiety, but rather excitement.

Priming Oneself For Excitement, Not Fear!

-Physiologically speaking fear and excitement are identical within our bodies. It is our perception and overall appraisal of a situation then that tells us what to make of it–this means that we decide whether a situation is fear or exciting inducing.

By reframing physiological responses like stomach pain or nausea as butterflies in our stomachs we are naming these responses as excitement – not fear.

So, if men see a sexual situation as arousing instead of frightening this will help diminish feelings of sexual anxiety, which can prevent ED and PE from occurring.

Optimizing Performance Through Arousal Regulation

In the field of psychology, there is way of conceptualizing arousal levels as they relate to performance known as the Yerkes-Dodson law[6]. When the Yerkes-Dodson law is applied to sexual arousal and performance we see that our performance is worse at the lower and extreme levels of arousal.

This means that if a man is over-aroused or under-aroused going into a sexual encounter this will not lead to optimal sexual performance. Indeed, in the case of being over-aroused this could translate into PE, and in instances of being under-aroused this could lead to ED. So, sexual anxiety can undermine performance if it brings a man to an arousal level that is either above or below peak arousal for the task.


*All individuals are unique. Your results can and will vary.

So, it is important for a man to be at a moderate level of sexual arousal in order to experience their optimum sexual performance. Using relaxation techniques like meditation and deep breathing exercises during arousal periods can help a man maintain a moderate level of arousal.

Once a man has practiced moderate levels of sexual arousal over time, and sexually performed at the levels that are optimal to themselves and their partner/s, equilibrium of arousal and performance has been attained. This means that sexual situations have become easier, more familiar, and almost automatic, physiologically speaking.

Sharing Sexual Excitement!

Sharing Sexual Excitement
-Men can turn to their partner/s for support in battling sexual anxiety. After all, there is a reason that we did not originally hunt saber-toothed tigers alone. When we work together as a team, we feel supported and not alone, which diminishes feelings of anxiety and increases feelings of excitement about a situation, including a sexual one.

Indeed, when people face stressors they can either practice approach or avoidant coping strategies. Fleeing and/or freezing in the face of a stressful situation like sexual stress is forms of avoidant coping strategies.

In practice, this is when men engage in behaviors like walking away from a sexual situation, choosing not to share their fears about sex with their partner/s, etc. Instead, when men choose to stay and fight the stress, men are making the choice to share their fears and anxieties, are asking for support and help with problem-solving, which are considered approach coping strategies.

Practicing approach coping strategies means one is choosing to fight one’s sexual anxiety, and when done as a team, can be highly effective.

For instance, activities that do not involve the pressure that comes with having to become erect or ejaculate can be discussed and consensually engaged in like oral sex, tribadism[7], erotic massage, tantric practices[8], engagement with sex toys, etc.

Read More: 10 Best Sexual Performance Techniques You Must Know For Better Sex

Practicing the above suggestions over time can lead to experiences of sexual excitement rather than anxiety.

In this way, the anxiety-related physiological concerns, and negative emotional and cognitive effects that can build from perceiving sexual encounters as modern-day saber-toothed cats can be diminished.

The result can be feelings of sexual excitement and self-efficacy, a greater understanding of one’s sexual self and one’s partner/s, and much more. So, grab your modern day spear and conquer those saber-toothed tigers of today!

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Dr. Markie Twist is a licensed marriage and family therapist and mental health counselor, clinical fellow and approved supervisor, and certified sexuality educator. Dr. Markie is co-author of the books, The Couple and Family Technology Framework: Intimate Relationships in a Digital Age, and Focused Genograms: Attachment Focused Intergenerational Assessment of Individuals, Couples, and Families (2nd ed.). Dr. Markie serves as the Program Coordinator of the Graduate Certificate in Sex Therapy Program at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, and as faculty in the marriage and family therapy programs at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Her Website: and E-mail: Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.