Help me get to the bone zone
December 3, 2012 12:55 PM   Subscribe

The guy I'm dating has no problems maintaining an erection during oral sex, but once we start to have vaginal sex, he loses his erection almost instantly. We've never talked about it or acknowledged it, and I don't know how to talk to him about it.

I've been dating a very nice, very sweet guy for about 2-3 months. We postponed PIV sex for a while and limited our physical intimacy to fingering and fellatio, with no issues.

In the past couple of weeks, we've tried to have sex, but once we start, he loses his erection and it takes about 10-15 minutes to come back, even if I go down on him. He doesn't really acknowledge it or apologize, but he does usually start fingering me to make sure I'm somewhat satisfied.

We're both sort of shy pandas/socially awkward penguins, so I have no idea how to discuss this without hurting his feelings or striking a blow to his manhood. What do I even say? "Hey dude, what's up with your dick?!"

Some possible contributing factors:
- he's a bit overweight, probably by about 40-50 pounds at least, but he doesn't seemed ashamed of his body.
- he can't grow facial hair (I don't know if that's an indicator of low testosterone levels)
- we are both in our mid-twenties
- the problem occurs regardless of what position we're in. we usually start with me on top or in missionary.
- he has very little pubic hair, and I'm basically a wildebeest, but I shave/trim. I wonder if my stubble is turning him off?

I do not know how to bring this up with him. Should I talk to him while we're in bed, or in a neutral location and time? What do I say? I don't even know where to begin. I think that whatever's going on must be psychological rather than physical, because he didn't have problems with oral sex. However, I have noticed that since we've started trying to have sex, he's been able to get an erection with oral sex, but he's no longer able to reach orgasm. Oy.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

Are you using condoms? Sometimes, that can be difficult.

Also, it's a very different thing for a man to have intercourse than it is to sit back and be orally pleasured. Many men have this difficulty (or the reverse) because one activity doesn't equal the other.
posted by xingcat at 12:57 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you using a condom for PIV sex and not using one for oral? Because maybe you need a different condom. I don't have any specific reccomendations, but I'm sure the internets will know.
posted by Weeping_angel at 1:00 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is the possibility that he's perfectly okay with having things deflate at this point, and is also okay with not having an orgasm through PIV sex. So he may be not thinking anything's wrong after all. (Although, you still have the right to speak up if YOU would prefer that.)

Everyone always says to wait until a non-sexy moment to talk about sexytimes stuff; so "a neutral time/place" would be good. A good non-judgemental script would be to ask "So, uh, you know how this happens? How do you feel about that?" And that's his opening to tell you "actually, yeah, it's a little annoying - maybe we could try...." or to say "huh, I'm actually okay with it, I don't have to come from PIV sex," or....whatever.

Also, it's totally normal for guys to inflate and deflate a few times while sex is going on, so him losing his erection but then getting it back 15 minutes later is actually pretty common (nigh unto "just about everyone has that", in my experience). Some more foreplay before you introduce the condom could help.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:03 PM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Your partner's erection or ability to have an orgasm has nothing to do with you. A frank discussion of what is going on sounds like the right thing.

This seems like a psychological issue. Which is a good thing, because it is fixable.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:06 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've never had a problem, sort of, ever. But in a new, sort of nerve wracking (but still hot and fun situation) I've noticed a little more variability in my weiner.

Are you saying he loses it so much that you can't have sex at all, or he's softer than a rock?
posted by mockpuppet at 1:10 PM on December 3, 2012

Have him tested for low testosterone, shots are available. They work.
posted by Freedomboy at 1:12 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Unless your stubble is painfully sharp and scratchy, I doubt that's the issue.

I agree with the people above that you need to chat with him about how the sex is(n't) going, what he likes and doesn't like, and what he could be doing to make things hot and satisfying for you.
posted by Forktine at 1:13 PM on December 3, 2012

Perhaps he finds oral sex physically and/or mentally more stimulating compared to vaginal sex, and the relative difference is what is making the vaginal sex a "deflating" experience for him. If that's the case, it might be worth trying no oral sex for a while to see if that changes things. So perhaps you could try going directly to vaginal sex, but obviously you might also need to have a discussion about the topic as well.
posted by Dansaman at 1:15 PM on December 3, 2012

He's nervous. Take the lead. Go on top. Don't treat it as AN ISSUE THAT NEEDS TO BE DISCUSSED.

If he can get an erection and maintain it at other times, the issue is psychological, not physical.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:20 PM on December 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

How do you feel about that?

I don't know if that's the phrasing I would use. Especially since this could very easily be a psychological issue, I think being all "PLEASE FEEL YOUR FEELINGS NOW FOR ME, THANKS!" could be really intimidating and not yield great results. After all, he might actually be feeling "I am entirely embarrassed by that and I'd like to go ahead and die right now." But he wont say that. He'll say, "I dunno." And then you'll be back to sullen silent flaccid boyfriend.

Likewise, I don't think that you should approach this from a "HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM!" perspective, cause then you're kind of raising the stakes and that can get dangerously close to feeling judgy.

Instead, I'd say discuss it like a common goal. Make sure it is somewhere you both want to go together, and figure out what can be done to get there. So the bonerdeath is a fact. It happens. You have observed it. He's observed it too, even though he hasn't commented on it. I'd just treat it like a fact, and move on. During non-sexy-times, I'd suggest talking about all the things you enjoy doing, and ask him if there are any other things that he'd enjoy doing. One of the things that you can mention is the suggestions that PIV is something you're looking forward to, someday, eventually, maybe, and you'd like to talk through some suggested tactics that the two of you can use to improve the chances of it happening.

Are there other sexytime things you can be doing that aren't penetrative so that this doesn't become The One Big Goal of All Our Lives? Bringing up those things now would be a good idea so that you're working down a checklist and getting to know one another better, sexually. If this is psychological, then it is less intimidating that way. If this isn't psychological, then you're at least trying new things and working on getting to the end goal together.

I suspect it is a little early in your relationship to be suggesting that he be seen by a doctor and be tested for something. It is never too early to engage in open and mutually-affirming communication about sex with your sexual partner(s).
posted by jph at 1:22 PM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

What are his masturbation habits? If he's gripping too hard or using very tight aids it may have interfered with his sensitivity. And any nervousness and it can be boner-kill.
posted by schroedinger at 1:31 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not every guy likes penis-in-vagina sex the best.

There are lots of good tips about this on
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:45 PM on December 3, 2012

This is something to talk about while cuddling -- it communicates your affection and caring, which makes it feel safer to discuss, but isn't during sex, which would make it feel like the stakes are high.

We can't diagnose this for you guys, and it's better to go in without any misinformed misconceptions. Just, be caring, open, and curious in how you start and lead this conversation.
posted by Pwoink at 1:48 PM on December 3, 2012

"Dear Manperson, I notice you really like it when we do X, but it seems you don't like it as much when we do Y. How do you feel about Y? And is there anything you really like that goes with Y that we can try?"
posted by zippy at 1:52 PM on December 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've had this happen once or twice when I was single. It makes you feel self-conscious and uncomfortable, right?

I think if you can't talk about it openly and comfortably with some gentle attempts at opening the discussion, then maybe rethink the relationship.

I say this because being able to talk intimately about intimacy is really really important. It's OK if you are both shy pandas and don't have experience talking about this kind of stuff. You can develop that type of communication skill if you are both willing.

What I'm trying to convey is if you find he's 100% unwilling to discuss this with you, it's deal breaker territory. Not because of the sex aspect, heavens! But because ability to discuss Important Issues is something you need in a partnership to make it work.

Don't wonder or suffer in silence. It's ok to bring this up in a respectful way. Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 2:34 PM on December 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

There's not going to be an easy way to navigate this other than flat-out talking to him about it. I know it seems like it'll be totally awkward and uncomfortable but these are things you have to learn to talk out as a couple. We (and you!) can only guess at what the issue may be, and he might even know what's going on but be too afraid to talk about it. I'm not a man but I'm going to guess that as his girlfriend you know how to phrase it in a way that minimizes the risk of him feeling insecure about his manhood. I like zippy's suggestion above.
posted by Autumn at 2:58 PM on December 3, 2012

Even if it is "just" a psychological problem, that doesn't mean it will go away if you don't mention it. An ex of mine was unable to maintain an erection ( and had never been able to do so with anyone due to psychological issues). He'd been trying to do so for nine years with different partners, hoping it would just sort itself out. It took six months of communication and gradual escalation for it to no longer be a problem. (By escalation I mean we started off by just him being able to orgasm when I was there, then me doing it, then me on top for PIV and finally him on top). Bigger condoms helped too.
I'm not saying you have an identical issue here, but unless you talk about it, you are not going to know what the deal is. The last thing you need is to start blaming yourself for it. If it is just nervousness then maybe it will sort itself out, but for all you know, this has happened with every girlfriend he's ever had and that's why he wasn't keen to jump straight into bed...
By the way, once we got over the first six months, the problem did go away forever and we had really good sex. Turns out all that communication was excellent foreplay! Good luck.
posted by KateViolet at 3:18 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with the condom issues. Some guys have such an issue with condoms that just thinking about putting them on will stop them from even getting an erection.
posted by bswinburn at 3:23 PM on December 3, 2012

I'm gonna see jbenben's remark, and raise it to say: it's the responsibility of the person with the malfunctioning equipment to own its functionality, or lack thereof. If he can't or won't speak forthrightly about his body, even in a situation that can be as sensitive as this, it's a great big red flag. It's awesome to be compassionate and helping and all, but give some serious thought to the boundaries of this situation and whether you are taking on more responsibility than is rightly yours.

Anecdata: Once upon a time I had a lover, a man well into his 60s, who had hypospadias--a rather mild form of this birth defect--which meant that his urethra routed out to a hole on the underside of his penis rather than the tip. There were some patches of skin that were very sensitive right nearby such that touching his cock in many kinds of ways was very painful. Despite the fact that this was a grown-ass man who had been married and sired a child and had had many lovers over a lifetime, he didn't say a single word about his clearly atypical cock nor the fact that I would often, quite accidentally, hurt him. When I raised the issue for frank discussion, he was completely shocked at my forthrightness. Suffice to say that this lack of willingness to take ownership of completely obvious issues pertaining to his body and health was representative of larger issues related to denial, lack of responsibility, etc, etc. In hindsight it was a huge red flag.

Not a mistake I will be making again--and I hope you don't make it either. I say, bring it up once, kindly and sensitively, and see what happens. If he can't take over from there, that's a big, big red flag.
posted by Sublimity at 4:17 PM on December 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you postponed PIV sex for emotional/moral reasons, it might be performance anxiety. It took several tries over the course of a week or so to lose my virginity. Oral sex had not been an issue, and I wasn't his first partner, he was just anxious because it was a special thing for me.

Regardless of why it's happening, I'd probably take something like zippy's tack and ask what he likes. And/or ask for things you'd like that aren't predicated on him having a boner - seeing that you're having fun may help him relax / turn him on, plus you get sexy things you like and reassurance that he's into you.
posted by momus_window at 4:59 PM on December 3, 2012

It definitely doesn't have to be psychological. If he's overweight, it could be that. My partner lost weight recently and this issue has gone completely away.
posted by dawkins_7 at 6:43 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is one of those conversations that is just going to be awkward and there's nothing to be done about it. Just say something like "Hey, you know how you have trouble staying hard sometimes when we're fucking? Why is that? I'm totally willing to work with you here."

Nothing you can do about it. Losing an erection during sex is embarrassing and that's just how it is, but it's something you're going to have to get out in the open. If it's a psychological thing then you might be able to do this guy a real service by being the patient partner who helps him find the confidence to get past his anxiety (I had a similar problem once, and that's what fixed it for me and man am I ever glad for that). If it's a physiological problem of some kind then you can both decide what if anything you are going to do about it, like whether it might be helped by exercise or stopping smoking, or whether viagra might help, or whether you're just going to have to find a work-around.

Either way there's no way to make this situation better without talking about it, and there's no way to talk about it that won't be super awkward. Just suck it up and power through the awkwardness, it'll be worth it in the end.
posted by Scientist at 2:03 AM on December 4, 2012

Suffice to say that this lack of willingness to take ownership of completely obvious issues pertaining to his body and health was representative of larger issues related to denial, lack of responsibility, etc, etc. In hindsight it was a huge red flag.

My experience exactly. If for some reason your vagina was malfunctioning in such a way that PIV sex wasn't working, you'd likely be embarrassed, apologetic, ,etc. ... at the very least you'd probably say up front "hey my vagina has this quirk that makes PIV sex challenging..." He knows he's going limp, he's not satisfying you and not mentioning it, it's been 2-3 months and there's a huge elephant in the bedroom.

So yes, bring it up kindly, it's possible that he just needs a bit of assurance that he's in a judgment-free space with you and will speak honestly once you bring it up. But give it one shot. If he doesn't run with it and take responsibility for communication when it comes to physical intimacy with a lover who wants to work with him, then he's unlikely to take responsibility for other important/sensitive issues either.
posted by headnsouth at 3:38 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

With the lack of pubic hair or any "body hair," I'd highly recommend he see an endocrinologist at the very least. Get his testosterone levels checked. Sounds suspiciously like Klinefelter syndrome (IANY[or his]D).
posted by kuanes at 4:00 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have to agree with jbenben and headnsouth here -- if a frank and fun discussion can't be had about this, he's not a keeper. Being "good, giving and game" isn't just being willing to try new things, it's also being willing to talk about improving what you already have and maybe sussing out what might be medical issues all in the context of "hey man, let's have a chat about this thing".

All you can really do on your own to start the discussion is make the point (perhaps repeatedly) that you are not disappointed or upset by it, except that not talking about it is kind of strange at this point.

As for epidemiology, I might suspect that he's unaccustomed to the full-body contact and enthusiastic motions that PIV sex (often) requires, which are markedly different than those one gets from blowjobs and jerking off, which are (often) 100% about the cock. In other words, he may not have much experience with actual fucking and how it feels and how orgasms develop in a more athletic realm. He could also be so worried about pleasing you (inexperience could also do this) that he slips out of the boner mind state.

Annoyingly enough raising these issues can raise anxiety around the sex act, but being open and engaged about sex is much more important for long-term relationship health than having mind-shattering orgasms every time. So make sure he knows your mindset is: let's walk this path together, rather than: you have to physically please me every time.

Good luck!
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:07 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Maybe he's been jackin it exclusively to oral scenarios

Bribe him into a masturbation hiatus for at least a month
posted by MangyCarface at 6:10 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Possibly related Savage Love (see second question). He recommends stopping the excessively tight masturbation, plus some other stimulation such as dirty talk, nipple play, or other experimenting.

I agree you need to talk about it, but those are some good suggestions.
posted by I am the Walrus at 8:04 AM on December 4, 2012

Nthing his checking out possible physical causes. At best, that can be eliminated as a possible cause, and at worst there may be something there that could possibly affect his general health that should be dealt with ASAP.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:29 AM on December 4, 2012

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