Why can't I have sex with my girlfriend?
November 15, 2007 9:13 AM   Subscribe

I can't keep an erection while having sex with my girlfriend. What is my problem?

Hey all,

Quite embarrassing for me to ask this, but I need some help. I am a male in my mid 20's and I have a problem keeping myself 'hard' for intercourse with my girlfriend.

I have been dating this woman for a couple of months but every time we try to have sex everything on my end will get screwed up. Everything will be fine, meaning I am able to have/keep a erection prior to penetration, but when it comes down to actual penetration everything just goes completely wrong (meaning I lose my erection in addition to my self-esteem). I keep telling myself that it is all in my head, but I was hoping I could get some advice as to where this problem might stem from so that I can better understand it. Could it be the build up to the sex that is bothering me? Could it seriously just all be in my head?

I haven't had this problem before with previous women, but then again I haven't ever had sex with a woman I cared so much about. Could it be an intimacy issue? I don't think it has anything to do with my girlfriend - I find her very attractive and she is very sexual. It just KILLS me that I am killing our sex life completely. This has happened more than once - enough so that I am looking for information anywhere I can find it. My girlfriend is starting to beat herself up over it thinking it is her that is causing. Thankfully we are able to communicate so well in order to relinquish some of these complexes she is creating but the more it happens the more she brings up her being the cause.

Thanks in advance for any advice that is given. If you have any questions, please ask and I will respond as soon as I can.
posted by misled to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Try a different position. I've noticed that in-pants boners, when upright, tend to be self-propagating owing to the warmth of my belly. If you can perhaps do some naked, bodies-together, perhaps standing, makout sessions, and see how things progress, that may point to what you need to do.

Also, a good nekkid spooning session can do wonders.
posted by notsnot at 9:18 AM on November 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

You've got yourself into a negative reinforcement loop.

Have you tried doing stupid stuff to break out like a touch of alcohol (not too much), mary jane, location change, watching pornography, etc?
posted by unixrat at 9:19 AM on November 15, 2007

Kissing, more foreplay, 69, porn.

This is also just what viagra is for.
posted by goo at 9:22 AM on November 15, 2007

There are excellent mild relaxation drugs out there (both legal and not). If you're looking for the legal variety, a psychiatrist can help you get the right one. Since you have no physical problem getting an erection, I think it's a pretty safe bet that it is a kind of performance anxiety.
posted by TeatimeGrommit at 9:24 AM on November 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

Kissing = long makeout session, just kissing.
posted by goo at 9:25 AM on November 15, 2007

I think writing down a hundred reasons why you don't have to be perfect in bed will solve this. Repeat as necessary. I'm serious.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:28 AM on November 15, 2007

Viagra would almost certainly fix the symptom, and fixing the symptom could help cure the anxiety. But I'd try a relaxant first, because of the girlfriend angle. She's not going to be reassured by "my boyfriend can keep a chemically imposed erection."
posted by TeatimeGrommit at 9:29 AM on November 15, 2007

could it be performance anxiety? Of course you are aroused as anybody would be at first. Then maybe you care about her so much and find her very attractive you feel that you have to put on an excellent performance to please her and in turn lose your erection while getting overly anxious. So next time you feel things are heating up between yall just relax and enjoy and don't think about not keeping your erection, and sure enough you will have a good time! hope this helps!!
posted by kowboy at 9:29 AM on November 15, 2007

First of all stop worrying about it and understand that two people can have fun in bed without penetration. Back when there were still virgins I had a couple of whole relationships without penetration. If you can pleasure her in any number of other ways then there is no reason to think that you are killing the sexual relationship. Stick to foreplay for a couple of weeks, concentrate on her, relax a little. Most likely the problem will go away on its own, and if it doesn't then you can go to a doctor or a psychiatrist, but just remember that you are the one making it into a big deal and you don't have to.
posted by creasy boy at 9:33 AM on November 15, 2007

Again, congrats, you do have balls.
I think kowboy has it. What exactly is going through your head at the moment of penetration?
You clearly care more for this girl than others you've slept with, so anxiety is very likely the cause. Others can include fear of pregnancy, previous problems. Has she any anxieties regarding pregnancy that may have transmitted to you? Have either of you confided issues relating to previous bad experiences that are preying on your mind... etc., etc.,
posted by Wilder at 9:36 AM on November 15, 2007

Sure, it could be in your head. She's important. You want everything to be perfect, so you're stressing.

Consider this: she sounds crazy about you, too. She's with you for a reason, and the fact that this has been happening and she's still around tells you she wants to be with you when things aren't perfect, too.

Calm down. De-stress. How? Consider letting her completely take the lead while you lie back and enjoy (really, it's okay to be selfish every once in a while). Or ask her to be very vocal, so you have obvious feedback to keep you from worrying about your own performance. Take some pressure off of yourself. It really does happen to everyone sometimes, and we all get through it.
posted by misha at 9:43 AM on November 15, 2007

erections are subject to a horrid array of psychological issues. So, this may sound like fixing the symptom and not the problem, but hear me out.

A Cockring.

It can really help keep an erection. Perhaps after staying hard and having a swell time it could get you over a potential issue (which you may or may not be even aware of) and you will no longer need the ring.

Besides, it only works while you are wearing it. Unlike viagra.
posted by munchingzombie at 9:44 AM on November 15, 2007

Yeah, nthing the fact that you've got some serious balls.

IANA sex expert on how men deal with any sexual issues, but I think the anxiety could be the main issue here. As others have said, relax and enjoy foreplay. Enjoy the relationship outside of the bedroom, too. The more comfortable you are with her, the better overall.
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 9:47 AM on November 15, 2007

You've gotten yourself in a vicious cycle of worry, which itself causes the very problem you are worrying about. Go with some sexual activity without the goal of PIV sex for a set time period of something on the order of a week. Seriously, ban this for a week -- right now you are focusing on how this is killing your sex life, and you need to focus on something else. Focus on enjoying all the ways you can touch each other without using your penis for penetration. Take turns massaging each other all over, and spend a lot of time doing it. Talk about touches that feel good on different parts of your body.
posted by yohko at 10:14 AM on November 15, 2007

nthing performance anxiety. it's the first thing that came to my head even before i finished the question. you're young, not exactly a candidate for erictile dysfunction, it hasn't happened before, with other women, and you are trying to impress and satisfy the woman you really like. i've instigated a number of such performance axieties, in my time, it really is no biggie.

the most important thing though, is for you to get out of the loop. now since it happened a few times (or didn't happen a few times - depending how you look at it), you're stressed and anticipating that it will happen again. the thing to do is to take the pressure off, meaning, you start making out, you tell your head and your other head that they will not get any and instead you go down on your girlfriend. take the focus off the performance of your dick, trust me, as soon as, you see her moaning and enjoying herself the anxiety will go away. also, the pleasing of the girlfriend and focusing on her has the added benefit of showing her exactly how attracted you are to her. good luck.
posted by barrakuda at 10:15 AM on November 15, 2007

oh, and please don't try gimmicks, cockrings and/or viagra before you give a chance to natural methods.
posted by barrakuda at 10:21 AM on November 15, 2007

I have to agree with the anxiety suggestions. In fact, this sounds very similar to some of my own past experiences.

At the beginning of my last two relationships, I had tremendous difficulty keeping the Melty-Man at bay. Oral sex, etc., were all just fine. But, once it came time for the rubber to meet the road, it was like my Grandmother just entered the room. Poof, nothing. Or, if not nothing, then premature ejaculation. I mean, Christ, the worst of both worlds, right?

Oddly enough, the fact that I actually cared about my partner acted to make me MORE anxious, not less.

Well, in the first case - thank god - my partner was quite understanding. In both cases, it took a little bit of chemical lubrication to keep me lose and - more important - not anxious enough to get the job done. The second case was very much the same. Nervousness impeeds. Impediments lead to more anxiety, which leads to more problems. In my case, I even wondered if hitting that big 3-0 was the problem. Worried that my partner would toss me to the curb. Of course, it wasn't and they didn't. (well, not because of THAT, at any rate!)

The good news, of course, was that when I finally got it "right" once or twice, my anxiety completely evaporated and erection issues never resurfaced in that relationship. Music. Mood. Socializing Intoxicant Of Choice (in moderation).

This will take care of itself. You must realize this is mental, not physical, and the more you worry about it the worse it will be. Do whatever it takes to be *relaxed* before and during, and things will take care of themselves.
posted by absalom at 10:49 AM on November 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

Give her permission in advance to take advantage of your morning wood before you fully wake up. If you're not conscious, worried and self-critical, you may get yourself off to a good enough start that the problem soon corrects itself.
posted by maudlin at 11:01 AM on November 15, 2007

Time to eat some pussy.

(I know, this sucks. But it's temporary and one of those things that only gets worse by worrying about it. Pornography can also sometimes help.)
posted by klangklangston at 12:07 PM on November 15, 2007

So, what is working to make you come? Why not try doing that and then slippin' it to her at the last minute?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:02 PM on November 15, 2007

It could be that the problem is "mechanical" and not in your head. Does this happen after you put the condom on (if you use a condom)? If so it's perfectly normal. The break in activities between fore-play and penetration can cause the penis to loosen up. The solution to it is ultra-simple, just have your girlfriend lube you up, you should get lead pipe hard in no time at all.

The same thing might be happening if you don't wear a condom. After getting into entry position (if you're limping) have your girlfriend lube or stroke you and you should be back in business.

This may not apply to your precise case but it's worth a try.
posted by Kattullus at 1:15 PM on November 15, 2007

Psychological problems can be trickier than others suggest here, especially after it's happened a few times. Often doctors will prescribe a limited prescription of viagra or cialis in order to get you back into the not-worrying-about-it mindset. Go with what folks have suggested here if you want, but don't be afraid to consult your doctor tomorrow. Using medicine does not mean getting back on track is insurmountable, and it may even help psychologically to realise you have a back-up plan.

Above all, be honest with your partner about what's happening. It's not her fault, and it's not yours and she should know it doesn't affect how you feel about her. It's odd to realise, but the way you feel after unsuccess is likely very similar to how she feels, so be understanding in the way you hope she will be, rather than just sorry. And, of course, now is a good time to develop your non-penetrative technique - because that's worth its weight in gold.
posted by Sparx at 1:48 PM on November 15, 2007

If it is performance anxiety (which is very common) then all the advice above which says, "Just relax... blah, blah, blah" won't help. It's a mental condition - a true from of anxiety.

Luckily performance anxiety is something you can often fix yourself with some trial and error.

How's your wood in the morning? Maybe you should try skipping the evening, after-date sex and just go to sleep. Have sex in the morning. After a few mornings of successful boning you'll probably be fine having sex any time of day. Try different positions, leave the lights off, do it under the covers... leave your boxers on... hey, it maybe funny or unromantic at first, but remember this is something you should use to transition out of your anxiety of loop.

I do like the suggestion that you have a drink (maybe at dinner?) with your date. If you're both a bit buzzed then the anxiety may melt away. But be warned - alcohol will enhance your chances of having a limp dick... so be sure you moderate. One or two beers (maybe three?) max.

I think you're right on when you say that this relates with this new relationship. Generally I'm pretty shy the first few times with someone new and have just accepted that first-time sex is always going to be awful. I joked with a partner a while ago, "Well, now that we've got the lousy first time lay out of the way things should be great from here on out!" She laughed at that, because she knew exactly what I was talking about...

If this continues to be a problem then consider Viagra. Your girlfriend doesn't even have to know and after a few goes I think you'll find that you'll no longer need it.

Conquering performance anxiety is all about getting over the hump (heh) guys...

And I guarantee if you whip out a cockring most women will be freaked out. That's horrible advice...

Good luck!
posted by wfrgms at 1:51 PM on November 15, 2007

you poor possum.
perhaps see a doctor to rule out anything else more sinister.

i don't have much of a penis, so i don't have much else to advise. but i understand health concerns can wreck havoc with a lad's tickle tackle.
posted by taff at 2:33 PM on November 15, 2007

There have been many good answers so far, and I suggest you try all those suggestions first. I hope one of them works for you. (Also, if it's an anxiety thing, you might try thinking of something funny—really funny—at the critical moment. This also works for "bashful kidney". You might want to tell her you're doing this; if she thinks you're laughing at her, it's all over.)

But if none of that works, you might consider the following. Could it be the old "madonna/whore" thing? If you're putting her on a pedestal, consciously or unconsciously, she might seem too good to fuck. Relatedly, does she remind you of your mother? The resemblance doesn't have to be terribly obvious, and it could be physical or behavioral. Before you dismiss that, look at it objectively. If you think this might be the problem, you could try to mentally take her off the pedestal. Or, if you feel comfortable talking with her about it, you might ask her to act the "bad girl" part and see if it helps.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 3:22 PM on November 15, 2007

Stop thinking about her in bed. Breathe in and out. Focus on your sensations. Dont worry about her just yet.

Stop masterbating for a while.

Get off whatever medications you might be on. Especially stuff for depression and anxiety.

Take a break from sex for a short time. Along with suggestion #2 you might find yourself ready to go one night and not at all thinking about these issues.

Try sex in the morning after being well rested and when morning wood kicks in.

Ask yourself what you find most attractive about her. Visualize these things. Revisualize these things in bed.

Mix it up in bed. Use your imagination here.
posted by damn dirty ape at 3:31 PM on November 15, 2007

My guess is that, right at the moment of penetration, you have this little voice in your head that says something like "God I hope I don't lose my erection..." and then you lose it. This has happened to me before too. Worrying about it doesn't help at all. You and your girlfriend need to both chill out a bit and not make such a big deal out of it.

Also, don't just quit right away if it happens. Make out, touch each another, etc. Don't focus on your penis, just concentrate on the pleasure of being naked in bed with each other.
posted by number9dream at 6:07 PM on November 15, 2007

I'm with number9dream, in that I've psyched myself out plenty of time. Smoking weed almost always helps. Next time you get a physical, you might get tested for cholesterol, diabetes, and basic hormones, but you're probably ok. One way to build some confidence is to take half a cialis.
posted by rbs at 6:22 AM on November 16, 2007

Like wfrgms says, all sorts of performance issues are really normal in the early stages of a relationship. I've had exactly the same experience he describes of having floppy problems combined with too-fast problems at first, and women have told me that lots of men have those issues at first. So in that sense, no need to worry that it is weird, or automatically indicative of deeper problems.

If a Viagra/Cialis/etc prescription can get you over the hump, as it were, then go for it. Ditto "relaxing," which I am assuming is secret code for "smoke some pot." Personally, I've had these issues far worse when using condoms then when not -- I'm not advocating taking risks, but for some men (such as myself) the added delay in putting the condom on, plus the reduced sensation, can make a more marginal erection dwindle away. And, if you are masturbating a lot, I'd say cut it out for the moment, or at least for a couple days before you will be sleeping with your girlfriend -- the pattern of stimulus/response is really different between masturbation and sex, and while both are good, if you body is expecting the one but gets the other, things can wilt.

Is your girlfriend giving you the kinds of foreplay you need -- touching, oral, etc? Enlist her as a co-experimenter: if you start wilting, does it help if she immediately uses her hands or mouth to stimulate you? Is she willing to try things at a different time of day -- for me, late at night, after a long stressful day, is not the time for maximum performance. Afternoons and mornings can be times where you feel more rested and relaxed. Ditto trying it in new places -- the couch? a hotel? the car?
posted by Forktine at 6:23 AM on November 16, 2007

I'll third/fourth/whatever what others have said about anxiety breeding more anxiety. Do what you think will work for you with regards to relaxing you enough to get past that.

You may also help your anxiety about this if you remind yourself that penetration is great fun but not the be-all-end-all or even necessary for a satisfying sexual encounter. Since you have good communication, tell her that it makes you anxious when you can't perform so let you focus on her a while. And do so, with mouth, fingers, and brain.

I've had this issue a few times in my life and I found it helped to spend more time paying attention to gratifying her in other ways. It reminds me I'm not incapable of providing pleasure and the deferred gratification amps up my arousal, which helps. Lastly, when you do try penetration again you should start out at an angle that provides the least resistance. If you can get in and maintain enough hardness to keep some movement up, you may find the arousal enough to keep you hard. The cockrings and the like suggested above might be good for that.
posted by phearlez at 8:51 AM on November 16, 2007

Performance anxiety, all the way. I know how this is, and found that it went away once I got comfortable with my girl. Luckily for you, you have a girl you really care about and can have a better chance of getting hard over; yes - believe it or not - we men need a level of comfort and intimacy and trust to get our boners up.

69'ing is one of the best ways to get your needed stimulation, and hers, simultaneously. Maybe try laying off sex for a few days and let your juice build up. For me, if I'm pacing daily sex it possibly can lower my sex drive.
posted by gmodelo at 10:05 AM on November 26, 2007

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