How To Get Out Of “Performance Mode” In The Bedroom

Credit: Aloha Hawaii/Shutterstock

My hair is arranged to cascade down my back. My expression is balanced between sultry and innocent. As I moan, I’m encouraging the lackluster performance of my partner enjoying the view beneath me.  Apparently, I’m having the time of my life, riding into a sunset of pleasure without a care in the world. 

But everything is not as it appears, I am in performance mode. I have lost track of where real pleasure begins and the performance ends. Emulating every porn star I’ve seen on screen, I am lost in ensuring that my partner is satisfied. 

My comfort has been relegated to a little box in the corner of my mind. As we finish, the feeling of emptiness rises up to choke me. 

What is performance mode? 

“Performance mode is basically when you’re trying to impress your partner,” explains sex and relationships writer and expert Emme Witt. “Instead of being in the moment and simply connecting emotionally with your partner–really experiencing all the sensations of your pleasure–you concentrate on looking good and making them feel good.” 

The origin of performance mode isn’t hard to track. It’s exploding out of every porn site as people of all genders perform pleasure for our benefit. 

Porn’s toxic influence on our sexuality is already widely known. As a society, we’re still trying to untangle this particular mess. As porn’s brainchild, performance mode has exploded out of the industry. Now, it makes regular guest appearances in bedrooms across the globe. 

Often originating from a desire to please our partners over staying true to ourselves, performance mode detracts from good sex and prevents honest connection. 

Performance mode can also be a result of feeling self-conscious in bed. We may be too focused on looking good during sex to surrender to the pleasure of the moment. 

“While this can be helpful to a person’s sex life in some respects–if you feel like you look good, you may be more open to exploring pleasure–it can lead to disconnect,” says Witt. “Sex, in the end, is about making oneself vulnerable with another human being. If you’re not able to do that because you’re worrying about performing as if you’re a porn actor, it not only gets in the way of your pleasure but your partner’s as well.”

Satisfying sex is about losing yourself in the moment. It’s about descending into pleasure unbound from insecurity. It’s not pulling out of the moment to ensure you look modelesque while grinding genitals.

Identifying the behavior

Just like any other unhealthy habit, recognizing the behavior is the first step to undoing it. 

I’m sure you know deep down if you are guilty of it. But, if you are truly unsure, treat this process like an honest interview. Do not shy away from the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it is.

Ask yourself, am I present in the moment during sex? Am I fixated on what my body looks like instead of how it feels? Is performance mode a regular or an occasional intruder? Do I actually climax or is it a performance to soothe a partner’s ego? 

If performance mode is more than a minor character in your sex life, taking a sex break to get to the bottom of it could help. Sex will always be there but your sexual well-being needs nurturing right now. 

Why do we do it?

People of all genders are vulnerable to slipping into performance mode.

Thanks to “ever-hard” penises in porn, many people with penises struggle with trying to meet this impossible standard. These individuals can get lost in trying to achieve an impossible standard of sexual performance.  

“I think men feel the need to perform more,” says Witt. “If their penis isn’t hard, they feel like they can’t please a woman. They try so hard, forgetting that just emotionally connecting with their partner needs to also be part of the experience.”

For women, who are susceptible to the same influence from porn, low self-esteem may factor in. This can also be coupled with a lack of knowledge about sex. 

“Some women perform in bed because they think this will make a man want the​​m,” adds Witt. “I think women perform as a means to attain an emotional commitment from a man. I also think that women perform because of naivete about sex. Because they haven’t explored themselves and figured out what they like sexually, they just fake orgasms.”

Getting out of performance mode

We are all susceptible to slipping into a sex routine when having sex. Performance mode may be an autopilot function that we are unaware of triggering until it’s too late.

Once you’ve recognized it, undoing it demands blunt honesty. Are you in a long-term partnership? Has your sex life been dominated by performance mode? If so, it’s time to have a challenging conversation. 

Set aside time when neither of you has any other commitments. Start a conversation, and explain how performing has impacted you and your shared sex life. Your partner may be hurt by the revelation that they have not seen the real you in bed. However, this is a necessary step to fixing the problem. 

Explain how performance mode manifests. Outline the impact it has on your sexuality, and tell them that you want to work on healing this together. Then, teach your partner how to really pleasure you. Experiment together to reignite your natural flame and soon, performance mode will be a distant memory. 

For singles lost in performance mode, it can be time to pause casual sex and focus on self-pleasure. You can work to forge an honest connection between mind and body. Knowing exactly how to climax on your own will make it easier to communicate your needs to future partners. 

If you are nervous about explaining these newfound needs to a partner, break them down into single sentences, such as “I like my penis to be stimulated gently” or “I cannot orgasm from penetrative sex alone.” Practice saying them out loud.

This way, when sharing your body again, it won’t be the first time those words have left your mouth. Interweave the statements into the sexual build-up and use them to enhance the tension. 

When you are in the throes of sex, stay mindful of your body and thoughts. Keep grounded by focusing on the sensations your body is feeling. Allow stray thoughts to float away instead of engaging with them. 

If you do slip back into performance mode, do not punish yourself for it. It’s going to take practice to eradicate its influence and the journey is unlikely to be linear. 

Remember, while performance mode is most damaging to the person in it, your partner is missing out too.