Each week we tackle a different sex problem her at The Hotbed Collective. Do you have a problem which you would like us to help sort out?
Then email us at www. thehotbedcollective.com This is the fourth in our series. Dr Karen Gurney, @thesexdoctor on Instagram, and director of the Havelock Clinic, answers one reader question...this time it's a male reader who is suffering with erectile dysfunction.
Dear Dr Karen ,
I’m 36 and from time to time (and at the worst possible moments to be honest) I’m having trouble staying hard when having sex with my wife. I’ve been to my GP (it was super embarrassing) and they did some tests and said all was fine, but what on earth is going on?! Is there anything I can do? I feel like it's something that I can't really talk to my friends about either.
Hi there and thanks for getting in touch - appreciate it's a tricky subject to talk about.
Problems with erections are normal for all men from time to time. The thing is- due to the external nature of men’s genitals - men can’t physically hide not being quite in the zone as easy as women can. The thing is, just like women, things can get in the way of feeling like sex. It sounds really obvious but in my experience it’s worth saying- men need to be turned on to get hard. Erections don’t happen in the absence of feeling desire (apart from morning erections which are not really the right kind). I’ve worked with many men over the years who expect their penis to get hard on demand, even in the absence of much desire- perhaps as when they were younger erections were more frequent and easier to come by.
In fact, despite what the media will have you believe, men are not constantly horny and indiscriminately sexual.They also need the ‘right conditions’- to feel good about themselves, to feel content and secure in the relationship, to feel comfortable in their surroundings, to not have too many other thoughts or distractions taking them away from the moment, for it to be exciting and erotic, to name a few. They can also be (of course) just as affected by the effort needed to keep sex hot and interesting in long term relationships as their partners.
So from time to time, despite your best intentions, it just won't get hard when you want it to. Or it might just disappear at the worst possible moment. Your first mistake will be to worry too much about it, your second will be to stop the sexual encounter in its tracks out of shame/embarrassment/self-protection/or lack of imagination of what else to do without a hard on. However, often these are the first things that men do, and this starts a chain of events which can make the difference from a one-off loss of erection leading to a problem snowballing and being established over time. How your partner reacts is also crucial to this process- it can be easy to take a loss of erection personally, and interpret it as a lack of attraction. Although this is often not the case, the pressure of losing an erection which may lead to a partners disappointment or upset, can be an important factor in the problem gaining momentum.
I’m not going to talk more about the more complex physical causes here as your GP has ruled these out (well done for going!), but there’s a simple explanation involving your brain-body connection which explains the snowballing I mentioned earlier. It’s impossible to separate the psychological from the physical in sex, as any thoughts we have plus the way our attention is focused affects our physical arousal response and vice-versa. This means that worrying about staying hard, being focused on our partners reaction - not what’s erotic - or spending too much time gauging how hard you are rather than enjoying sensation, starts a series of physical events which interrupts our erections. Its a Catch 22.
The simplest thing you and your partner can do is focus on sexual pleasure that doesn’t need an erect penis, not make it a big deal when it happens, and make sure the conditions are good for both of you to feel as turned on and relaxed as you need to be.
For a more complex explanation, or for more help reversing a pattern that has become entrenched over time find out more about our next series of anonymous online workshops for erections at http://thehavelockclinic.com/online-treatment/
Thanks for getting in touch and good luck.
Dr Karen x