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Last updated February 27, 2020. 4 minute read

What do men really think about during sex?

Am I attractive enough? Is my penis big enough or hard enough? Am I pleasing my partner? When people engage in this spectatoring during sex, it pulls them out of the moment. It can create performance anxiety, and it can make the experience less satisfying for both partners.

Written by Justin Lehmiller, PhD
Reviewed by Mike Bohl, MD, MPH

Despite appearances, a man’s mind doesn’t go blank when they have sex. Considering the standard coital facial expressions, it certainly doesn’t look like there’s a lot of complex thought going on up there. But men actually have a range of thoughts before, during, and after sexual activity—some perfectly healthy, others potentially counterproductive. Justin Lehmiller, a research fellow at the Kinsey Institute and author of the book Tell Me What You Want, breaks down the psychology behind some of the most common thoughts men have during sex and how to process them.


  • Many things can go through a guy’s mind during sex. Here are some of the most common.
  • Be thoughtful, but don’t get too caught up in your own head.
  • Communication is key, particularly when it comes to fantasies and preferred sex positions.
  • Fantasy and reality are two different things.

“Is it OK to fantasize?”

The vast majority of men say that they fantasize during partnered sexual activity. This is something that’s totally normal, but some people feel a little anxiety about it. Many people wonder whether it’s normal to fantasize about somebody other than their partner while they’re having sex. There’s nothing wrong with having these fantasies because they can help us maintain arousal and promote greater enjoyment during the experience. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you or with your relationship.


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“Am I too small?”

For decades, men have been reporting issues with spectatoring. That means during sex, you’re stepping outside it mentally and critically evaluating your own performance. Am I attractive enough? Is my penis big enough or hard enough? Am I pleasing my partner? When people engage in this spectatoring during sex, it pulls them out of the moment. It can create performance anxiety, and it can make the experience less satisfying for both partners. It can also impede men’s ability to reach orgasm. 

The starting point is sex education. Most men who think their penis is too small actually have perfectly normal-sized penises. Educating yourself about what’s normal when it comes to sex and the human body can provide reassurance, so those anxieties aren’t coming to the forefront during the act. 

If you still find that anxieties come up during sex, another approach is to practice mindfulness techniques. That’s when you learn to be attuned to your body sensations and not get lost in your head, so you can focus on the pleasure you’re experiencing in that moment. The odds of people having a wandering mind during sex increase when they’re not engaged in really immersive sexual experiences. So adding elements of newness and novelty and excitement to your sex life can help to better maintain your focus and attention during the sexual experience.

“Am I doing this right?”

This is one of those areas where having really good sexual communication with your partner is one of the keys to ensuring your partner is getting what they want, and they’re giving you direction and feedback that is going to ensure you provide them with pleasure. Building trust, intimacy, and communication with your partner can help alleviate a lot of these concerns men have about their own performance.

“Don’t come yet!”

If you’re dealing with premature ejaculation, it’s worth looking into solutions other than getting stuck in your head, because that can interfere with enjoyment and pleasure. Maybe it’s trying a delay spray that decreases penile sensitivity temporarily. Maybe it’s trying the stop-start technique or the squeeze technique. Or maybe it’s doing Kegel exercises. All of these are behavioral strategies men can try to last longer in bed so that they don’t have to be focused on worrying about it in the moment.

“Will I give my partner a good enough orgasm?”

I think it’s really important for us not to put pressure on ourselves or on our partners to orgasm. When people start to look at orgasm as an achievement—and it’s part of the sexual script where it has to happen every time to have a successful sexual experience—that can start to interfere with arousal and excitement. When you’re trying so hard to make it happen, it can actually make you and your partner less likely to orgasm. Remember that sex can still be enjoyable, even if an orgasm doesn’t happen. Don’t put undue pressure on yourself or on your partner for that orgasm to happen.

“Should we change positions or do something different?”

There are different ways to approach this, and you have to figure out what works well for you and for your partner. Verbal communication is sometimes intimidating, which is why we often recommend nonverbal communication as an easy way to start. That’s when you’re communicating through moans, groans, and other signs of pleasure, or you’re looking for those nonverbal cues from your partner, as signs of what they enjoy. So if you feel particularly anxious about having the actual conversation—and especially having it during sex—start by focusing on nonverbal cues to get in tune with what your partner enjoys. That’s also a way you can positively reinforce the behaviors you like.

“Work sucked today.”

It’s really important to work on maintaining good work/life balance and having a clear separation between the two. When we don’t have that, that increases the odds of us thinking about that email we need to send or what we need to do at work tomorrow when we’re supposed to be having an intimate, fun experience with our partner. Setting boundaries is a very helpful tool. That could include not checking work emails outside of work hours, or disconnecting from your mobile devices a couple of hours before bed, so by the time you go to bed with your partner, you have a clear mind and can actually be in the moment.

“This isn’t like the movie.”

There’s nothing wrong with watching and enjoying porn, but it’s important for men to not try and measure themselves up to porn stars in terms of their penis size or stamina. What you see in porn isn’t an accurate reflection of how most men’s bodies look, how long sex tends to last, or how hard a man’s penis usually gets. It’s important to look at porn in context as fantasy, not a reflection of reality. The key is to stop comparing yourself to porn performers and to get comfortable with yourself.

“Is that all?”

There are actually some men who feel sad after orgasm. It’s called post-coital dysphoria. But the vast majority of men tend to report positive feelings and emotions upon reaching orgasm. The key thing to keep in mind is that just because you’ve reached an orgasm doesn’t mean the sexual act has to be over. It’s important to ensure that it’s a satisfying encounter for you and your partner. Don’t look at orgasm as the end of sex. Ensure you find a way to bring your partner the pleasure they’re seeking as well.