sex ed, over 40 edition
September 22, 2016 9:38 AM   Subscribe

I am a 44 year old ciswoman and my partner is a 61 year old cisman. I have never been married and have had many sexual partners but this is my first time encountering this exact thing. It is also my first time being involved with someone who is more than a couple years older than me but I'm not sure if that's important. My question is about whether his lack of an erection during foreplay is a sign of not actually being turned on, even though he seems like he is.

My partner seems really into all kinds of foreplay. However he never gets an erection from anything other than being stroked directly. Sometimes he gets a small one from doing things to me but it goes away fast. Then we can focus on him to get him erect to have intercourse which goes fine. So I know he can get hard. It just doesn't happen during the times I'm used to with men.
My question is how to understand this since he seems to be so turned on in every other way. Is he just psychologically into it but not feeling that physical way of being turned on? Or can a man be turned on without getting hard? He seems to be aroused by the way he is acting and when I asked him he said he feels great. I don't want to drill him.
This is anonymous so I will say to head off: I know it is fine and I can just relax and let it be and enjoy it how it is. However this question is not about how I should act or feel. I would like to know whether especially maybe in middle age men how much an erection or non-erection is always an accurate sign of being turned on. And whether it is possible he can be feeling aroused in the whole physical/emotional package without that sign.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total)

Definitely this is in the range of normal, "normal" having a vary large range, especially as men get older.

To anticipate the follow-on question, would Viagra or Cialis restore the spontaneity of the erection? Quite likely, but of course there are downsides in the form of cost and side-effects.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:43 AM on September 22, 2016 [8 favorites]

I would like to know whether especially maybe in middle age men how much an erection or non-erection is always an accurate sign of being turned on. And whether it is possible he can be feeling aroused in the whole physical/emotional package without that sign.

It's absolutely possible - probable - that he is feeling aroused without having an erection. He's told you so - why don't you trust him?

But there are all kinds of medical interventions he can pursue if he feels this is a problem. Could be low testosterone or some other issue. He may not feel it's a problem, and in that case you'll need to decide if it's enough of a problem for you to bring it up or break it off.
posted by AFABulous at 9:43 AM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yes, especially in middle-aged men, an erection is not a 1:1 indicator of arousal.
posted by entropone at 9:44 AM on September 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

Super normal and agree with other commenters, there are a number of things that can go into whether someone is getting an erection both physical and mental, that don't have anything to do with being turned on. It's also pretty mitigatable with medical and non-medical interventions if it's something you decide between the two of you that you'd like to do something about.
posted by jessamyn at 9:52 AM on September 22, 2016

Echoing what folks above are saying. An erection is not a definite sign of arousal. One can be aroused without getting an erection, and one can get an erection without being aroused. If he's telling you he's turned on, you should generally believe him.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:58 AM on September 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

My FH is 67, and we have never encountered this problem. But your partner should talk to a doctor about it. It's super normal.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:58 AM on September 22, 2016

I would like to know whether especially maybe in middle age men how much an erection or non-erection is always an accurate sign of being turned on.

This isn't only normal, this is one of those things that [people with penises]/men have been unfairly shamed about (thanks to abysmally shitty sex ed, and no concept of sexual education for grown people) for millennia. It is as mythological a belief as the one that says vaginal self-lubrication is the only sign of arousal for people with vaginas.

A quick glance at Amazon suggest this is not a well-delved market in books, either, and is sort of unpleasant to search because woo, there are some self-pub shockers that come up in the results. Maybe start with Joy of Sex, make sure it's the real book by Alex Comfort and of these other results... There may be a website aimed at older adults that can provide a more trustworthy bibliography.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:29 AM on September 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

This is very normal and there is no need to talk to a doctor about it because it's normal.
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:42 AM on September 22, 2016 [6 favorites]

If there's no erection, all you have is an absence of evidence as to his state of arousal, not evidence that there's an absence of arousal.
posted by griphus at 10:44 AM on September 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

61...yeah, totally within the range of normal. He's getting aroused when touched, so it's not that he's not aroused, it's that that's what gets him aroused.
posted by xingcat at 10:46 AM on September 22, 2016

HThere are also different types of arousal. One could be imaginatively aroused by a photo or scene but not physically aroused, i.e, erect. Or vicariously aroused by a partner's pleasure at one's efforts without being physically aroused. Or physically aroused at a back rub or a kiss without pointing north.

Some people don't get erect without direct physical stimulation, while others can produce a lead pipe at a thought or a mild breeze.

tl;dr Normal.
posted by the sobsister at 10:50 AM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Just relax & enjoy the sex. If he says he is enjoying the foreplay he's most likely enjoying the foreplay. It doesn't sound like he's wanting to hurry past it so I'd take his word for it.

If it makes you feel any better my husband is 17 years younger than me & loves foreplay, but sometimes he gets so uber focused on pleasuring me he will loose his erection. He is very enthusiastic about doing these things & seems to love doing them with or without an erection. He jokes that it's because his brain needs the blood just then, but as soon as we move along or I start to do things that are more focused on his pleasure there it is. So in my non penis having experience erections just mean they have erections.
posted by wwax at 12:04 PM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Male erections decline with age in the same way female lubrication does. As you get older, you'll likely find that how wet or not wet you are is no indicator of how turned on or not turned on you are. It indicates nothing at all.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:15 PM on September 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

when your teenage partners would wake with rock hard morning wood, did you assume they were super aroused? when you ovulate and you get wet just by walking around, are you super aroused? the answer to those are probably not. the physical manifestations are not indicators of emotional mood. super turned on people with penises and vaginas can lack the tell-tale erection or lubrication and it doesn't mean anything at all, just like erections and lubrication can show up without arousal. if you both are having a good time and he's not bothered by his lack of erection/the erection shows up when you're more directly involved with it, i wouldn't worry about it or press him to talk to his doctor.
posted by radiopaste at 2:35 PM on September 22, 2016

Men can definitely be turned on physically as well as psychologically, without getting an erection.

Citation: I am a stripper. I give lap dances, i.e. I sit in the laps of men and grind. Lots. of. men. I defy any civilian to challenge my expertise on this one, haha.

Of course, people can continue to buy dances even when they're not aroused, but I am pretty good at my job and therefore pretty good at gauging the person's level of arousal: how they are breathing, how they are moving, what they're saying, how many dances they're getting, etc.

For instance, I have found that if you kiss someone's neck softly — start near the shoulder, slowly work your way up to the ear — while grinding on them, many men react to it in the same manner that I would expect them to if I were going down on them. I can hear their breathing change, I can see their eyes roll back, I can feel their goosebumps, among many other observations. All of this is often accompanied by an erection, but not always.

And erections range. Only little bit more firm vs. rock-hard. Instant vs. north of five songs. Lasting vs. peaks and valleys.

It's like women and periods. Have you ever gotten a diverse group of women into a room and chatted about what periods are like? (Like a crowded strip club dressing room, for instance!) Chatting with other women about their periods, I am sometimes amazed that we are the same species.

So yes, arousal-without-erection happens especially in guys who tend to be in their fifties and up, though by no means exclusively. I think it's just a blood flow thing. I wouldn't bring it up with your partner. Foreplay on!

Hope this helps!
posted by Peppermint Snowflake at 8:54 PM on September 22, 2016 [16 favorites]

Someone with a diabetic SO wrote a letter describing their happy sex life to savage love a while ago.
posted by brujita at 3:43 AM on September 23, 2016

Stress, sleep debt and fatigue can be big factors, as well. Not to mention worrying how one's partner will react, not wanting to disappoint.

Trying to stay present in the moment when there are a million things bouncing inside the brain can be very difficult, and all those thoughts move blood from the little head into the big head.

Mornings are often better than evenings for these elements.

Otherwise, Peppermint Snowflake nailed it, so to speak. I haven't experienced the special technique she describes but I have no doubt about the efficacy of it.
posted by trinity8-director at 12:37 PM on September 23, 2016

I'm 59. I occasionally enjoy awesome, huge, dry, orgasms, without even being hard. Bigger than anything ever experienced as a youngster.

Erections are over-rated.
posted by Goofyy at 2:51 PM on September 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

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