How to avoid embarrassment in bed?
March 26, 2014 9:03 AM   Subscribe

I have a history of sexual performance issues. Part of these stem from the inability to become as erect as I would need to be to perform the function unless I am extremely attracted to the other person. This has led to limited intercourse experience.

I am seeing a girl tonight who I've been out with a few times and is extremely sweet and caring, but I realize after a failed sexual experience over the weekend that I'm not as attracted to her as I hoped. She has been the primary initiator and has been eager to get into bed with me, which not I'm at all opposed to, but I feel guilty letting her down. I was able to play off my lack of "firmness" Saturday night to alcohol intake, and I thought taking care of her "needs" would help out but she made it crystal clear only penetration would be fully satisfying.

So she wants to try again tonight, and I hope to give it my best shot, but due to my inexperience and other issues I predict the same problems will happen. I don't plan on drinking too much so alcohol doesn't actually become the issue, but it has served as a decent excuse in past situations where I can't perform. Clearly I can't be direct and state "I'm not getting hard because I'm unattracted to you," but how else should I deal with the problem? I want to be honest with her and give it a shot, but I feel bad letting the partner down. Please let me know if you have any advice! Thanks-
posted by JJ987E to Human Relations (29 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I think you should consider not having sex with people you are unattracted to? This would be the kindest solution for both you and the girl in question.
posted by lalex at 9:07 AM on March 26, 2014 [49 favorites]

I think you should stop dating people you aren't attracted to. And maybe consider what exactly constitutes "extremely attracted" to examine why it's so rare for you?

--are you being warped by perfect porn ladies and can't find any real women attractive?
--do you just require a lot of chemistry and comfort level and so on? This is true of many people! And yeah, you'll have less sex, but better sex ;)
--are you...possibly not actually as attracted to women as you think you are?

All three of those problems need different approaches, so, you know. Figure out the real issue first.

As for this girl, you should stop seeing her but absolutely do NOT tell her she isn't "attractive" enough for you to bang. You have some shit going on that is NOT HER FAULT. Don't try to make your issue her issue.
posted by like_a_friend at 9:08 AM on March 26, 2014 [30 favorites]

There are pills for this. Can you get to your primary care doc before tonight? He/she could probably even give you a free sample along with the prescrip, if you explain the time constraint discreetly.

...and this is the kind of question that screams for an anon answer functionality because let's face it, who is even going to email a mod with their experience in this regard?
posted by allkindsoftime at 9:10 AM on March 26, 2014 [6 favorites]

For clarity and before this becomes the focus: this is not someone I am terribly unattracted to, and I regret framing the question as having issues with people I'm unattracted to. I have performance issues with ALL women, but I have noticed over time that it easier to get turned on by people I find more physically attractive than others. This is someone I don't find straight up unattractive, I just thought it would be helpful to the question but now I realize it's a distraction. Please don't attack me for it.
posted by JJ987E at 9:12 AM on March 26, 2014

Oh yeah, also, I mean...the shit that you have going on, it could be psychological, or it could be physical. If you're a pretty young dude who's had erectile issues his entire sexual life, that's worth a doctor's visit. Short term maybe you use allkindsoftime's idea, but long term, make sure there's not something underlying that you need to get treated.
posted by like_a_friend at 9:12 AM on March 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Well, she said that, as you say, "only penetration would be fully satisfying." I mean...what if you manage to get it up tonight? All you're doing is signing up for more stress as you keep trying to get it up for someone you're not super into.

So what you probably should do is stop seeing her and hold out for someone you do have excellent chemistry with, but I realize you're not super likely to make these kinds of decisions based on what a stranger on the internet is telling you, so if you decide to go through with this, my advice is either to talk to a doctor as suggested above, or go to an adult toy store in your area and buy a cock ring. If she has questions about that, just explain that sometimes you get a bit nervous around new partners and this will help with that.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:14 AM on March 26, 2014

You didn't mention condoms, but it could be worth exploring all your condom options if that's a source of some discomfort. Latex ain't the only game in town.
posted by magdalemon at 9:16 AM on March 26, 2014

Last comment and I'm leaving: the erectile issues are not generally the problem, I think it's more anxiety due to lack of actual performance issues. Have been to 3rd base enough, I just have limited penetrative experience and I think that contributes to the anxiety when I get to the point when intercourse begins. As far as getting hard in the first place, generally not a problem.

To frame the question a little better: I want to do my best to please this girl, since we are both willing participants, but my performance issues may let both of us down. If I do disappoint her what's the best way to deal with this?
posted by JJ987E at 9:16 AM on March 26, 2014

Be up front with her about your performance issues - that this happens with every woman you sleep with and has absolutely nothing to do with her. That will cushion the blow significantly.
posted by corb at 9:21 AM on March 26, 2014 [9 favorites]

...and this is the kind of question that screams for an anon answer functionality because let's face it, who is even going to email a mod with their experience in this regard?

I will! :D

Couple things from personal experience that you may be missing:

*By any chance, do you take antihistamines at all? This can be a killer.

*Timing: I once had a girlfriend for whom exhaustion was a big turn-on (my exhaustion, not hers). She'd want to jump me when I would have murdered someone for the chance to sleep. And, yes, it wasn't terribly easy to perform, either. Think over your history: if you're usually getting busy at the end of your day, this might be a factor.

All that said, I would echo the other voices here who've suggested that you may want to talk to a doctor. A LOT of this is a vicious head-game. Sometimes all it takes is one disappointing night to make you worry that you're in for lots of them. Addressing the possible medical causes can at least relieve you of that.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:41 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Stop dating women you're not attracted to.

The whole point of dating and sex is that you have to actually find the other person attractive. Having a lot of fun with a sweet, attentive person you're not attracted to is called Being Friends. Friends are great. Most people don't want to have sex with their friends.

OK, now I'm going to proceed as if you didn't say you weren't attracted to this woman, and give you the advice I'd give a man I was sleeping with who was having this problem:


For one thing, know that early on, sex is awkward for everyone. This is a stranger! A naked stranger! Hanging out with you in the most intimate place you ever spend time, your bed. Where you sleep. And now SEXXXXXX IS HAPPENING. Which, if you're like most normal people who aren't total players, probably is a somewhat special experience (with someone new, anyway). And you like this person, and you want them to like you, and you're probably going to be spending time together in the future after you put your clothes back on.

Scary, right? Yeah, it totally is.

A lot of dudes have performance issues the first few times. Because eek, right? Luckily, this is the kind of thing that gets easier as you start to develop trust in the other person, and as you get comfortable enough around each other to admit that you're human beings and not pornbots.

Another thing. Not being able to do all the things on the menu is not a reflection on your masculinity. A lot of guys attach so much other stuff to exactly how much blood was flowing to their penis at any given moment of a certain day. You know what? Women experience "embarrassment in bed", too. There are definitely times that I'm not ready to do the specific thing the dude wants to do, or something feels weird today, or a position I usually like is uncomfortable, or for whatever reason I just don't come. It's OK to say no if something just isn't on the agenda today. It doesn't make you less of a man, or less good at sex, or unable to please your partner.

One practical tip, for the road:

Masturbate less.
posted by Sara C. at 10:02 AM on March 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm female. I think the best path with this person and anyone in the future would be to be honest—so with this woman, let her know it wasn't alcohol the other night. And, to be clear, I personally think it has nothing to do with how attractive or unattractive she is, either, since you've said this is a problem you have in general. I disagree with those who say you're dating the wrong people--I think it's your issue, and I think that's what you should tell your partners so they don't feel like it's their fault if you don't happen to stay hard. And go to a doctor/therapist and figure out the cause.
posted by three_red_balloons at 10:07 AM on March 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

I realize after a failed sexual experience over the weekend that I'm not as attracted to her as I hoped

I know you said you did not want to make this the focus, but I'm not clear from the wording, are you assuming you are not attracted to her on the basis of the little fella not standing to attention? Is it possible you are just a bit shy and need to relax with someone new? I would bet this is not uncommon but its not something blokes talk about. Drinking does have a real effect of course so it won't have helped, its not just an excuse!
posted by biffa at 10:13 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here's something that you can consider, and decide whether or not it applies to your situation:

Perhaps the basic problem is that you're lacking the confidence to pursue women to whom you feel a strong physical desire. So you end up dating "extremely sweet and caring" women who pursue you because it takes the pressure off of you and you're eager to get past the hurdle of your limited sexual experience, even though you aren't really attracted to these women. However, the lack of attraction leads to hurt feelings, and makes you feel guilty or like there's something wrong with you.

If this sounds like what's happening, it's not a healthy pattern to be in. I think you'd do well to realize that there's nothing wrong with only pursuing relationships with people to whom you're truly attracted, and to work on having the confidence to do so. Just because someone is sweet and kind and interested in you doesn't necessarily mean you should be involved with them romantically, even if life would be simpler that way.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:24 AM on March 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

Maybe you need to wait a bit longer before doing the deed - attraction is not something that occurs instantly and is constant. Someone you may find "not extremely attractive" on the first few dates may become incredibly sexy to you in a month after you get to know their personality, have a few make-out sessions, do some flirting, etc. And contrary to what media will lead you to believe, it IS okay to not have sex early in the relationship even if you aren't religious or conservative in any way.
posted by joan_holloway at 10:35 AM on March 26, 2014

Advice I have heard many times before on this issue is to masturbate less (if you are masturbating) and watch less porn (if you are watching porn). Good luck!
posted by onlyconnect at 10:35 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

It sounds to me like this is mostly an anxiety reaction. This doesn't mean it's fake or "all in your mind", it's a physiological response -- but it can usually be overcome by going about things in ways that work for you. So, two parts. Firstly about tonight.

a) Try not to let this or any other anxieties, in you or her, cause you to leave initiating sex until the very last thing, after food, drinking, sitting around talking/watching something late into the night, whatever. That can make you too physically tired to perform, and/or too mentally exhausted to deal with the situation calmly.

b) If you can bear to, be open about your situation. Once you've started making out and such, say something like "I find you really hot, but just so you know, it's been a while since I really did this and I still feel a little nerves. Can we take things slow if I need to?" Obviously your phrasing depends on how you usually talk, but if you say something along those lines, she'll probably understand the situation, and probably be willing to be understanding.

c) I said probably, there -- but if she isn't already aware of this she might need a little reassurance/reminder that this is just something that happens to guys sometimes, it's not because you find her unattractive or aren't into this, and without assigning blame, let her know that talking or acting like that's the only explanation is a pretty surefire way to kill a guy's erection.

d) Anyway, speaking of taking things slow, it's pretty essential but also pretty effective. As long as she can be understanding and let you experiment to find the right pace, posture/position, level of light/nakedness, time spent making out, presence of other stimulation like porn, you'll almost certainly come across the right solution together and things will get much easier from there. If you have sexy thoughts, try voicing them, or if you feel pressured to say certain things, try staying quiet. If things get too high pressure, just explore her body for a while with no particular urgency, or let her explore yours. The mutual respect and understanding that is required to do this will often help you to get into the mood. And even if it doesn't fix the immediate problem, it's a good way to have fun together (possibly including a climax for her) and will help lay ground for more success next time. By the way, an erect penis is not necessarily required for penetration.

Secondly, for the future:

a) Boner pills are great, and not just for old men. Especially cialis/tadalafil, which lasts for a whole weekend and so requires less planning/timing. They can remove pretty much all the anxiety/worry/loss-of-performance loop, getting you over the 'hurdle' and making themselves obsolete after a few sessions with them. (Although even when they aren't necessary, they can still be fun).

b) It's possible that even though you like this girl and feel that you're attracted to her, maybe there's someone else out there who really revs your engine, lights your fires, pushes your buttons and all the other metaphors. Or maybe it's some kink, major or minor, that really does it for you. Maybe not even that, but just a particular position, situation, activity, or whatever. Search these out and explore any that interest you. As with the pills, finding such a thing and seeing that it is enough to solve the problem, can mean that the problem goes away even without the pill/kink.

c) If none of the above does anything to help, it might really be a physical problem, although this is pretty rare for young men. In that case your doctor is the one to talk to. If you can see him today to talk things over and he can give you a pill to try, all the better!
posted by Drexen at 10:36 AM on March 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

Hey. You're nervous.

It's totally fine. Normal even.

It helps to not be alone in that nervousness. You will be panicking in your head and feeling tortured by her, and she will be confused. You can fix that. "Hey, so, I hope this isn't weird, but I don't have a lot of experience with this, and I get really nervous. Can we chill and take it as it comes?"

Two other things:

* You're not really interested in this person, so you prrrobabbbblllyyyyy shouldn't be putting either of you through this.

* Stop jerking off.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 10:36 AM on March 26, 2014

This girl is excited by you and wants you to satisfy her in a very specific fashion - exactly the fashion you are having a problem with. You can't show up and just before things start getting hot and she is in bliss zone, you suddenly drop the " I'm having performance issues again, can you help me slowly get through this ??" line. That's way too much pressure and a real mood killer for her.

Bring this up and talk to her before the day she expects fireworks of epic proportions. Good luck.
posted by Kruger5 at 10:48 AM on March 26, 2014

So, are you pretty straightforward with her about where you are in terms of relationship or lack thereof? As long as there's no subterfuge, I see it as - you have some sexual issues, part of which are because you don't find her body superhot, but also other stuff, you want to have happysexyfuntimes and so does she. Tell her you have some sexual anxiety issues - it's not uncommon, and I'd way rather a guy said it than danced around it. Tell her what turns you on, too, talk about and demonstrate ways to have great sex without full penetration. And consider going to your doctor and getting pills for erectile dysfunction. They're legal and, as far as I know, safe and effective, and you might have more fun. It's about having fun together (well, and often much more, but that's not your question), not fulfilling external expectations, but I'm female, and many male people I know see it differently.
posted by theora55 at 10:58 AM on March 26, 2014

Also, if you take anti-depressants, many of them have exactly this side effect.
posted by theora55 at 11:02 AM on March 26, 2014

[Please stick to the question, folks. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 11:36 AM on March 26, 2014

I fully agree with Juliet Banana (and had started writing a similar answer until I previewed). The way the OP is identifying 'physical attractiveness' seems to be the ability to get hard easily, which could just mean that these women have characteristics similar to those he's used to getting hard to, ie. 'more like the ladies in porn' etc, and so habit kicks in and triggers off a bit of a positive feedback loop. That doesn't mean pursuing a relationship with a woman who doesn't share all of these characteristics is not worthwhile, especially as the OP has said he doesn't find his current lady unattractive, and that it's more likely to be anxiety-based.

To answer the OP's question more directly, I think the issue that's causing the main difficulty is this:

I thought taking care of her "needs" would help out but she made it crystal clear only penetration would be fully satisfying.

Basically the way you've framed the question is that the one and only thing that could possibly satisfy this girl is the only thing you don't really have control over. No wonder the pressure is getting to you! Did she actually say these words specifically? If you talked to her about the fact that you have these issues (despite her being super-hot, obviously) and that you maybe need a bit of patience and low-key, relaxed exploration for a little while to lower the pressure a bit, then I'm pretty sure she'd be absolutely fine with that. And if not then maybe she's not someone you really want to be getting it on with, however hot (or not) she may be!
posted by amerrydance at 11:58 AM on March 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh yeah, and something to add - about handling the change of pace from 'Unfh, sex now now now!' to a more slow, exploratory pace. When you're in the sack with someone, especially someone who you're new to being intimate with someone, it's quite easy to get into a sort of erotic 'target fixation' or tunnel vision. Things are hot and heavy, you're out of your usual comfort zone, you're exploring all kinds of new things and new movements and techniques while also radically opening yourself up to someone... so you get fixated on a particular mood, a particular tempo, the kind of state where you're figuratively surrounded by steam and blaring music. It can feel like failing to maintain that feeling is a failure, that you have to keep it up and do everything according to that template in order to be having sex and turning/spurring the other person on. In a sense, it can require you to narrow down your awareness and your personality to just a very specific and focussed slice, and to a place that is usually avoided, suppressed and denigrated in normal life.

But sex doesn't have to be like that, at least not all the time, and in fact, some people just aren't really into that at all. Maintaining that rhythm and momentum all the way from initiation to climax can actually be kind of tricky, again, especially with a new person. Some (most?) people can still have sexyfun times that are hot and interesting, while being in a relaxed, 'friendly', unhurried state, with full awareness of their faculties and personality. You can be naked with someone, horny, physically aroused or not, and be 'having sex' without being all over eachother and pumping away at however many RPM. But it is a different state, mentally, emotionally, and even physically, so to make the transition from one, or the anticipation of one, to the other, requires an awareness and understanding on the part of both people that that is an option and a fun thing to do, without the transition deflating the mood through being unexpected.. or, perhaps, unwelcome.

So basically, if she's open to taking a more controlled and unhurried pace, then see if you can find that out, and suggest or lead into it. If she isn't, that will be something you will need to address one way or another. Either way, the distinction is something to be aware of and prepared for.
posted by Drexen at 1:11 PM on March 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Refrain from masturbating for at least a week, your testosterone levels will peak after the 7th day and make everything easier.
posted by Tom-B at 1:20 PM on March 26, 2014

Since I didn't see it mentioned here: Cock rings can help maintain erections. Never used one myself, but have enough friends in porn to know that it's a big part of their appeal.
posted by klangklangston at 4:21 PM on March 26, 2014

Regardless of your age, you might make an appointment to speak to a doctor to rule out any health complications that could cause this.

I dated a guy who experienced similar anxiety issues, especially the first time he was with a woman. He was upfront about it just as things were starting to heat up. He prioritized my pleasure, and as he focused on me, he relaxed enough to reduce his anxiety. Win-win, I say! He also had a stash of Viagra somewhere, and just knowing he had that for when he wanted it was comforting to him. So my comment is another vote for being casual and up-front with this tendency. Any partner worth sleeping with should be accepting and generous.

One last thing.

I'm not as attracted to her as I hoped

This is someone I don't find straight up unattractive

Ouch. Yeah, she knows that you are pretty ambivalent about your attraction to her. I'll second only having sex with people you absolutely are attracted to and are excited to get naked with. Sex is generally much more fun and low-anxiety that way, for both parties!
posted by nicodine at 6:26 PM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

You know, if this was a woman who had met a man she liked and knew was good for her, but she just wasn't feeling it yet... I'm positive there would be a lot more comments emphasizing that she focus on what she needs to feel comfortable and secure in her sense of sexuality in order to proceed forward with the guy. And if, after a reasonable amount of time, she's still not getting what she needs in this particular potential relationship to feel confident and secure in her sexual expression, then it would be fair to move on... just saying...

Maybe her being the primary initiator is part of what's not working, and maybe her pace is simply too fast for what will work for you here. Just because you like someone, it's actually not always enough to make it so easy to jump into sexual 4th gear with them -- especially if things are moving too fast for you to feel acceptable and desirable as you are.

Also, I don't consider it shallow to experience easier functioning attractions with people who are "token attractive", if that makes sense. Heaven forbid I make this analogy, but it's kind of like driving a vehicle... "attractive" partners are like automatics -- easier to figure out how to drive maybe because it feels like the controls are plain and obvious... whereas what I'm carefully going to term "worthy" partners can be like jumping into a standard... it's not so obvious what all the controls are, but you have a clear and persistent sense that if you took the time to learn how all the pedals work, you could see yourself going far with this one.

Do also note that implies that easily functioning sex is a result of you mastering simple controls... as opposed to investing the time and observational skills to master more involved ones.

Basically, if you see yourself capable of going far with this one, assert that you need more time to get to know her -- specifically, to develop your sense of physical/sexual comfort with her (it really is okay to be a man and be more "complicated" than an erection production line). If after, say, three more dates, it's only getting worse, then cool it and move on. It will have nothing to do with her not being attractive enough and everything to do with not the right chemistry emerging from your guys' dialogue. Good luck.
posted by human ecologist at 10:06 PM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

If I were you, I'd consider the following:

Delay sex until you have established a solid friendship with emotional intimacy. Within the context of this kind of loving relationship, you can totally talk about your sexual performance anxiety, come up with ways to address it (as a team) and create the kind of safe space that will allow you to relax and enjoy sex with someone you not only find sexually attractive but also emotionally willing to deal with this with you (and there ARE people who will).
posted by Gray Skies at 1:15 PM on March 29, 2014

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