Sex Anxiety Ruining Dating
March 1, 2015 6:47 PM   Subscribe

How do I - healthy 20-something male - have a normal dating life when my libido seems to wax and wane?

On multiple occasions, I have gone out with a lovely woman and on the second or third date when things are set to get hot and heavy for the first time, I can not get an erection. I have completely blown two potential relationships/dating situations like this - we go back to their place, I can't get it up, they are understanding and kind about it. We go on another date the next week, we try again, and then it happens again - and that is when they seem to get very awkward and cold, like they seem frustrated they can't elicit an erection from a healthy 20-something male. Both women on both occasions declined my offers to do, uh, other things with them in bed and also declined another date.

So I met this current woman on a dating site and we seem to get along great and I'm definitely attracted to her. Date number 5, we find ourselves in the bedroom for the first time. I'm enjoying myself but I am nervous and feel like my genitals are completely detached from my body - not "horny" at all, not getting an erection, trying so hard to relax and enjoy the moment. We finally give up (you can only make out for so long before it starts to get boring/chapped lips) and I apologize and explain it's been a really stressful week and it has absolutely nothing to do with her. She is sweet and understanding about it but tells me that I should probably go home if I'm that stressed, and she is tired and wants to go to sleep. I would have loved to spend the night but didn't want to invite myself or impose, so I go home.

It's been a few nights since this happened and I am so nervous to ask her out again because I'm worried this will happen again. I certainly haven't been feeling "horny" this week and don't know when I will return to normal libido levels. I saw a doctor a few years ago and they said I was fine, thyroid levels are fine, that this happens, etc. My job can be very stressful, but strangely I've had plenty of stressful weeks where I was still maximum-levels horny - I've come to accept that this is just the way my body is, that some weeks (or months, even) my sex organs will be useless. When I do successfully have sex with a woman it's only because it happens during an "on" period. But right now I am "off" - so what should I do? Should I be careful not to date anyone if I'm feeling in a sexual funk? Should I press on and just hope they will be more understanding? Is there a way I can help them understand? Should I just get a damn viagra prescription?

It all just sucks and feels so bad - I want so badly to be horny and I really do love sex, but it's like my brain and my body are disconnected. I've tried everything - exercise, sleep habits, eating more vitamin [insert letter here] - but it's all becoming too frustrating and I just need to figure out how to deal with this from an interpersonal standpoint. How do you have a healthy dating/sex life when your libido is not the way you want it to be? When the prospect of sex feels like a scary crapshoot with regards to the "equipment" working?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Is the issue more that this is a common problem in new relationships for you or that you're just not into sex for certain periods? They call for different potential solutions.
posted by metasarah at 7:22 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

maybe you're just not into them as you want to believe you are? it seems like your body is telling you that you might want to get to know these women more and decide if you really like them before you get more involved and/or intimate. you might not be into casual sex and might like sex more if you were in a relationship. either way, getting turned down because you couldn't get it up is pretty harsh and kind of cold and it seems you probably should cool it for a while before you try again. if it seemed like an all the time thing, ok fine, but to blow you off (no pun intended) because it happened once and then not call you is kind of shitty. maybe you just need to find a woman that is more understanding and actually into you as a person and not just what your equipment brings (or doesn't) to the bedroom.
posted by lunastellasol at 7:26 PM on March 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think you're putting too much pressure on yourself. Have you had any longer relationships, ones that have lasted 6 months, a year, two years? How was your libido then? I'm assuming it was (or would be) fine.

You seem like to be the type of person who needs a long time to get used to someone before you feel comfortable enough to have sex with them. Just slow everything down, way down. You may be someone who needs more than a handful of dates before sex.

Set the expectations lower and more explicitly for both of your partner and yourself. If you sense things are going to get physical, just say, "I just want to make out tonight," or "I'll be glad to sleep over and get naked, but I don't want to have sex yet." Do this as many times as you need to. It's OK to admit you're nervous or that you need a long time to warm up to a new partner. Incrementally raise the bar of sexual intimacy. You'll feel more and more comfortable. And if the woman you're with isn't the patient sort, then she's not someone for you.
posted by Leontine at 7:27 PM on March 1, 2015 [9 favorites]

Date better people. That, and/or wait a little longer before having sex so you can get a better idea of how you feel about the person you're dating. It's completely ok to not jump into bed with someone new ASAP, and to take some time to figure out whether your mind and body are actually in tune with the person as they really are, and not just the idea of them.
posted by un petit cadeau at 7:29 PM on March 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

Two thoughts on this - one really a question.

1. Do you have this issue when you are alone? If no, it sounds like it's 100% nerves. If so, then yeah, you might want to see a doc.

2. Assuming it's nerves: you know, you don't have to have an erect penis in the room to have sex. Tell her that for the first several times you are intimate you want to take PIV sex off the table. Make out, go down on her, use toys, fingers, whatever. Get creative. Once you get comfortable with each other ... then hopefully things will progress naturally.
posted by bunderful at 7:42 PM on March 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

That's tough man. Have you had bloodwork to check your T levels? That might be a factor. Otherwise I recommend somehow getting outside your head - "trying so hard to relax" is I'm sure you know a pretty futile exercise. Do you smoke cannabis ever? It's a mild aphrodisiac and a good way of getting in touch with a less-rational more-sensual state of mind. Otherwise - patience, lots of affection, let yourself get really comfortable with your partner, and hopefully that should dispel some of your nerves / make it not such a huge deal if you aren't able to get hard. Some women won't be cool with taking it that slowly but whatever, their loss.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 7:43 PM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Have you considered talking to a therapist that specializes in sexual concerns? A therapist may help you get out of the vicious mental cycle you're stuck in. From your description it sounds like your fear of being able to perform becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy rather than it being a question of libido at all.
posted by cecic at 7:53 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sounds like good advice above. Echoing the suggestion that you look for GGG gals who understand that sex and intimacy are way more than PIV sex and taking it slow generally. Hang in there!
posted by Bella Donna at 8:05 PM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Try Viagra. What do you have to lose? If you are even slightly horny, it should make things happen for you. And with that worry eliminated, you'll probably have a much easier time enjoying yourself.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:16 PM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Hi there. I have been the women you're dating (twice, actually.) In neither case did it stop me from having long fruitful relationships, and the erection problem sorted itself out almost entirely once we got more comfortable with each other. It might still happen that you're in an off period every once in a while, or you're having a particularly stressful week, or whatever. That's fine.

Gender equality cuts both ways. Just as women have been pressured to be nonsexual and 'chaste' for a long, long time, and derided for being otherwise, men are still pressured to be constantly turned on and up for it. This is kinda B.S-- there are men who are like that but there are lots more men (and women) who go through periods of varying levels of sexual desire and capability. There are plenty of other ways to have sex if you're interested in pleasuring yourself and your partner-- the possibilities are pretty endless.

If your partners are like me, they are probably feeling a twinge of internalized misogyny: that women measure themselves by how attractive men find them, and that this is always tracked in boners somehow because reasons, so what's wrong with them that you're not keeping an erection? I doubt very much they're worrying about your performance; they're probably too busy being anxious that somehow they're not performing well enough for you. If you tell them the short version of what you've written here, and says something along the lines of, "But I'm still entirely turned on and want to do all sorts of things with you so let's do X instead?", I think that will go a long way towards making your future partners feel better. If they're only interested in or think that only one kind of sex 'counts', so to speak, then... well, there' s nothing morally wrong with that viewpoint, but I at least would want to be dating someone with a broader and more interesting sexual worldview, so maybe it's a good way to know you aren't compatible.

This isn't to say that there are other things that might be going on, physiologically or psychologically, but if you want to investigate those routes, you can do it for yourself and your own comfort and health, and rest easy knowing that this is not a dealbreaker in a relationship for all (or even, I suspect, most) women.
posted by WidgetAlley at 8:26 PM on March 1, 2015 [18 favorites]

The first stop should be the doctor's office, because there are physical issues that can cause this and should be checked. If your doctor blows you off, switch doctors until you find one that treats your concerns seriously. Assuming the basic physical stuff (eg testosterone levels) check out fine, then you will want to talk with them regarding what sounds like overlapping stress/anxiety and performance issues, both of which have medical options available.

That said, a lot of people also do well with anxiety issues with "alternative medicine" such as acupuncture, and of course therapy/counseling. Get the physical stuff checked first, and then explore the options for getting the anxiety and performance issues under control.

And then, as mentioned, it sounds like you are not dating the most understanding and patient of women. Is it an option to foreground the dating part (ie developing intimacy and trust) and put the physical stuff on the backburner? You don't have to hit the extreme of no sex until marriage, but it's also fine to delay nakedness well past the third date.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:29 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Bunderful and Bella Donna have it right: slow things down, have other kinds of sex. Be kind and generous and expect the same from whomever you're in a relationship with.

Not sure where you're located, but American culture (and Western culture generally) continually perpetuates the myth that it's normal for men to be ready for sex at all times. Because of this, many women interpret a man's lack of arousal as a signal he finds her inadequate in some way, even if that isn't true. I suspect the women who didn't call back were less frustrated with you than feeling insecure about themselves. (Gender stereotypes: ruining everyone's self-esteem for millennia.)

Tell the woman you've been seeing that this is a recurring (and frustrating) issue for you that has nothing to do with her and (possible) something to do with anxiety over past encounters. Tell her all the other things you'd be happy to do with her; tell her what other things feel good to you; ask her what things feel good to her. As long as you're mutually interested in making each other feel comfortable and happy, you've got a great foundation for a happy relationship.

On preview: what WidgetAlley said.
posted by Owlcat at 8:33 PM on March 1, 2015

This isn't medical advice, just something I've heard said about difficulty with getting an erection. It's definitely the case that anxiety about erections can be a self-perpetuating thing, so once it happens, you get so worried about it happening again that the prophecy keeps fulfilling itself and making your worries seem that much more justified.

I've heard the advice to get Viagra, not because you absolutely need it physiologically, but because it will help you get the erection when you want it, and that can help break the cycle of anxiety. Then, after you use it a few times and get past all the mental roadblocks and have gotten to know your partner better and so forth, you can stop using it. So that's a thought too.

Regarding your libido, libido is your desire to have sex. You have that. You say you want to have sex! So the issue is not a low libido, it's just the erection part that needs work.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:13 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Have you had your well man check up? You sound like you might have low testosterone. I had a partner who seemed to stop being able to get hard for our sexytimes. He said that he found me attractive... I was a little hurt by it, and then low and behold... a couple of months later he had his well man check up and his testosterone was in the basement.

He did wake up with an erection a couple times a week, which we happily took advantage of... so its completely possible to have low testosterone and the occasional erection.

You can take testosterone replacement but if you want children, be wary that it sends your sperm count to zero and for whatever reason doctors don't always explain that.... I believe there are other options...

We also had been together for a little while, so we had a foundation of sexytimes, but even for us- it was hard not to get a complex about our flailing sexytimes... so we just took a break unless he was feeling aroused...
posted by catspajammies at 10:23 PM on March 1, 2015

So long as sex is a performance, you will be subject to performance issues.

If you can shake off the mass hypnosis and come to see relationships as expressions of love and deep affection - rather than viewing sex as an activity one recruits partners to take part in, ala tennis - then there will be no performance, because making love will no longer be a canned, preconceived activity with a known plot line you must expertly execute again and again.

When love leads, everything flows from that. Expression of love arises (pun intended) spontaneously without goals, expectations, or canned assumptions. It's all just eruption and joy; when all other channels are inadequate for full expression of your love for your beloved, more carnal routes naturally are taken. Not to "get off", but to merge in heart and soul.

So long as one's seeking attractive partners to do sex with, everything will always be skewed and weird. "Genitals completely detached from my body" is the perfect description. The answer is deep love: waiting for deep love, and then letting everything stem from deep love, rather than "horniness".

If you'll consider it, this is the only mature course (as well as the solution to your problem). But sexual maturity is, alas, seldom seen (fortunately, it's contagious, so long as true love is present and one partner acts entirely from that place).
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:24 PM on March 1, 2015 [12 favorites]

I had a previous partner who was like this. He clearly wanted to have sex but wouldn't get an erection. It had happened to him with many previous partners. I really liked him and was willing to wait so we took sex off the table for a few months with the caveat that he had to go to therapy (bc I was 90% sure this was an anxiety issue). Those two things cleared up the problem.
posted by neematoad at 4:51 AM on March 2, 2015

Are you watching a lot of porn? Erectile dysfunction is now a very big problem for young men in their 20's.... think about looking into it. There is even a theory that big pharma are behind punting so much porn to flog drugs to remedy it.
posted by tanktop at 5:09 AM on March 2, 2015

Re: helping them understand, be up front about it. Like, before pants come off, tell them that you like them, that you're nervous, that it can take you a while to be comfortable having sex with a new person, and set any boundaries you want to about what you're up for doing that night.

If you're not saying "this never happened before, I don't know what's going on", you're ahead of average. This is not uncommon.
posted by momus_window at 6:03 AM on March 2, 2015

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