This week’s Sex Q&A is all about the missing boner.
Welcome to the BuzzFeed Sex Q&A where you can ask us your awkward, confusing, gross, embarrassing, or thought-provoking questions, and we’ll provide answers from leading sexual health experts. Have a question about sex or sexual health? Send it to sexQs@buzzfeed.com.
This week’s question:
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I’m a college guy who has only had sex a handful of times, and I’ve noticed a bit of a reccurring issue. During any foreplay and all that good stuff, I have a nice big erection, but as soon as I’m about to stick it in, the erection disappears like a frightened turtle. Then once the 30 seconds of embarrassing made-up explanations concludes, the erection is back.
My fear of this happening has prevented me from getting with girls who aren’t randoms in fear that they’ll tell people about it. I’ve been thinking that maybe I should pop a Viagra or something the next time I think I’m gonna get lucky, just to build my confidence a bit, but that’s really my last resort. Is there any advice you guys might be able to give me here?
The Frightened Turtle
Thanks for your question, Frightened Turtle! To help answer it, we spoke with Dr. Darius Paduch, urologist and male sexual medicine specialist at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, and sex therapist Jenni Skyler, Ph.D., director of The Intimacy Institute for sex and relationship therapy in Boulder, Colorado. Here’s what they had to say:
SO many men — not just those over 40 — deal with some form of erectile dysfunction (ED) at least some of the time.
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Try not to freak out; you and your penis are totally normal. There are a ton of different things that can affect your ability to get and maintain an erection, so we’ve listed a bunch of those below.
It’s most likely psychological. Like your head is getting in the way of your… other head.
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“It’s a really common thing I see in my office,” says Skyler. “It’s not like typical erectile dysfunction because their penis works when they masturbate and until they get to penetration. So it’s not a biological or physiological issue. That’s when men know to come to sex therapy because something is getting in the way psychologically.”
Any kind of anxiety, stress, pressure, or uncertainty (“Hm, do I actually want to be sleeping with this person?”) can interfere with your erection, says Skyler. And when that happens once, it can create this horrible self-fulfilling prophecy where you’re so worried about it happening again that it does happen again… and again, and again.
So how do you break that cycle?
First realize that this is normal, and just because it happened once does not mean it will happen again (but freaking out about it could make it happen again). Then Skyler tells people to completely ditch the idea that sex is a goal-oriented act with orgasm being the big finish. Instead, take a pleasure-oriented mentality where various sex acts are done because they feel good — not because it’s part of series of steps to get you to climax. This helps take away some of the anxiety, because when you’re not so focused on the performance, it’s not that big of a deal if there’s a little bit of stage fright, she says. There’s plenty of other things you can do while hanging out with a non-erect penis!
It can also help to tell your partner (either before you start or when it happens) that hey, sometimes it takes your penis a while to warm up or sometimes it comes and goes as it pleases — and that they shouldn’t take it personally and you won’t let it ruin the moment. When it happens, take a few deep breaths, focus on your partner, and go back to doing whatever was feeling good before. “If they approach that with authentic confidence, the partner is usually like ‘OK, cool,’” says Skyler. “Remember, you’re more than just your penis.”
Here are a few other possible explanations for erectile dysfunction:
Maybe you just had a little too much to drink.
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Whiskey dick happens, says Skyler. If you’re already nervous and picking up random partners at parties or bars, you might also be calming your nerves and upping your confidence with gin and tonics. Maybe don’t do that.
Alcohol is a depressant and it has a tendency to screw with your boner, so if you’re typically drinking before these hookups, that could be the issue. And again, even if this just happened once, the anxiety of it happening again could be what’s making your boner disappear every other time, says Skyler.
You might just be generally sleepy or stressed.
Your testosterone levels suffer when you’re particularly stressed out or sleep deprived. “One of the main indicators is the loss of morning erections,” says Paduch. But it can also screw with your boner at other inopportune times. So if this mostly happens during finals or other times when you’re skimping on sleep, that could explain it.
Maybe you’re not super into what’s going on right now.
It’s definitely possible that your boner isn’t cooperating because it’s not really thrilled to be there. Maybe you’re not sure about this partner, you’re worried about pregnancy or STIs, you’re not feeling comfortable with an unfamiliar hookup, or you typically need some other kind of stimulus to get in the mood. It’s always worth checking in with yourself to see if one of these factors might be holding you back in bed, says Skyler. If you have a hunch that it’s because you’re doing something you don’t want to do (or you’re not doing something you do want to do) pay attention to that hunch.
Or you might be missing the specific stimulation or force you use during masturbation.
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A lot of men masturbate with too much speed or grip, which can desensitize you over time, says Paduch. The problem is, you can’t really get that same sensation during IRL penetration. If this sounds like you, try switching up your masturbation technique or using your non-dominant hand.
Your testosterone could be low for any number of reasons.
Uncooperative boners might be related to low testosterone, which could be caused by anything from being overweight or stressed to having a chronic health condition, says Paduch. And in men who have taken anabolic steroids, it’s not uncommon for them to end up suppressing their natural testosterone production. If you abuse it over a long period of time, you can really mess with your natural testosterone levels, as well as your fertility and erectile function, he says.
If you think low testosterone may be the problem, you can get a blood test to check your hormone levels. Your doctor will probably try to treat the cause first, and if that doesn’t help, they can prescribe you testosterone.
Or boner problems could be a sign of another health issue.
If you’re regularly having trouble getting or maintaining erection and it’s not situation specific (for instance, this happens whether you’re with a partner or alone or watching porn or whatever), it could be a tip-off to a physiological problem. Diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular issues can all present with erectile problems, says Paduch. That’s because basically anything affecting your nerves or blood flow can impact your boners.
It’s probably not these if you’re just having occasional issues getting it up, but if the problem persists or gets worse, it’s worth talking to your doctor.
So… should you pop a Viagra?
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You’re right that this should be a last resort, but Paduch also agrees that sometimes a little confidence can help you get back on track. The thing is, you should only take an ED medicine if it’s prescribed by your doctor (otherwise you’ll miss out on the important medical info you should know before you take it). Another option is an l-arginine supplement, which can increase nitric oxide and blood flow.
“Fear of failure is such a powerful negative factor in sex,” says Paduch, who sometimes prescribes ED meds to younger guys having this issue. “Once they see they can get an erection, they’re not going to need it.”
But again, you probably don’t need a medication. If this is just an occasional issue, start with some of the tips up at the top of this list and work your way down. Then check with your doctor if you think you need a little more help.