“It’s not that I can’t get hard. I’m fine when I’m by myself, in the right mood, or with the right person. But sometimes it works at first and suddenly goes limp or just won’t work, and I feel like I’m offering my partner a wilted rose instead a nice, hard cock. What do I do when I can’t get it up?”
This is not one particular question but a how-to that will broadly answer the myriad of questions we get from guys who find themselves unable to get or sustain an erection in sexual situations.
Our answer here will not be for men who truly have erectile dysfunction, or a physical or medical condition that prevents them from getting hard.
Instead, we will answer the question for men who can get erections in some situations (alone, while masturbating, when they wake up, throughout the day, during sex with a particular partner or during a certain kind of sex) but who cannot get hard-ons or lose them during sexual encounters (with a particular partner, during a certain kind of sex, or when inebriated or in a bad mood).
The Solution in 7 Parts
1. Focus Elsewhere
If your partner is a nice person, they’re going to feel bad for you, pat your chest, look sad, and say things like, “Sorry” or “It’s OK, don’t worry about it.” (If they’re mean or try to humiliate you, leave immediately and never speak to them again.) This pity party is only likely to make you feel more pathetic, however.
The best thing to do is not to let the sex fizzle out even if one part of you has, and that means taking the focus off your cock and it’s metaphorical association with your virility, manliness, and sexual worth. Most of the advice here boils down to doing this temporarily until you have regained your erection, not seeing a flaccid penis as a permanent and epic fail, and figuring out how to save the evening and do better next time.
“But really, isn’t my dick always the focus of sex? The measure, the barometer, the yardstick?” Stop being so self-centered. There are a lot of ways to have sex successfully, a lot of ways to be a good partner, and a lot of things you can do in bed that don’t involve your penis. Move onto something else; maybe your erection will come back in a few minutes all on its own. Even if it doesn’t, you need to stop yourself and your partner from just sitting there, looking at your limp dick, and wondering, “What do we do now?” That’s a good way to develop a complex and start psyching yourself out with worries like, “What if I never get hard again?”
And remember, you can and will get hard again. This thread isn’t for guys with medical erectile dysfunction. If you function fine while masturbating, for example, then you’re capable of functioning fine during sex. You might just need the right moment. No sane person makes a woman feel bad these days if she needs the right conditions, the right touch, the right person, or the right toys to have an orgasm. Why shouldn’t a man be afforded the same leeway just because his equipment is on the outside for the whole world to see?
2. Be good at other things
If you go soft, say, “Let me focus on you right now.” One way to take the focus off your dick is to be good with your hands and tongue and to be generous about using them on your partners. There are two ways this can be useful:
1) By focusing on someone else’s pleasure, you’ll become less self-aware and less worried about your member. It might even turn you on and give you the time and space to become erect again all on your own.
2) If you please someone with your oral or digital skills, they’re going to be pleased. That is, no matter what your cock does, they will leave their encounter with you having orgasmed thanks to your terrific skills. They’re more likely to have that fact stand out in their mind than the fact that you went soft, and you can feel proud of what you’ve done.
3. Give a sexy, positive explanation
If this is something that happens with any regularity, you can relieve a lot of pressure just by explaining it in a positive light. Don’t apologize, denigrate yourself, or make your partner feel bad. There’s always a possibility that, if this is the first time or early in a relationship, that your inability to get hard could mean that there’s no next time. But lots of other things could do it too, particularly if it’s a one night stand or no strings attached situation. The that will guarantee that you won’t ever bed this person again would be a bad attitude about it. You’re likely to put them out of the mood and not even get a chance to show all your can offer with your fingers and mouth.
Instead, tell them that you’re really enjoying yourself but that sometimes you need to give it time, focus on the other person first, or the right conditions or comfort level to become erect and have an orgasm. Say that you really enjoy pleasuring them and that you can have a good experience from that alone. If you set expectations, make the other person feel comfortable, and remove doubts about your enthusiasm for your partner, it will take a big load off your shoulders and just might relieve performance anxiety.
4. Give it time
Honestly, Sometimes you just need a few minutes or a few hours to get comfortable with a person or a situation, particularly if you and your partner are new together. Focusing on their body and their pleasure is the best way to gain this time, as is cuddling and kissing. What doesn’t work at 11:00 might just work at 11:30. And if you don’t get an erection this time around with your partner, if you ensure that they have a good time, maybe you’ll get a chance to sleep with them again, by which point you may be comfortable enough to get it up.
5. Go with what does work
Maybe there’s a particular way that you need to be touched, gripped, rubbed, kissed, or sucked. Maybe there are particular things you need said to you, certain positions that work best, things you need to see, fantasies to narrate, or scenarios to be played out. Maybe you need to watch porn before or during. You can ask for those things. You should find a partner who is into them to and willing to try or give them to you.
If your partner doesn’t know how to do it right, show them. Make a game of it. And always give the out that it doesn’t work every time or with every partner–or at least not until you know them well. Most women will understand that because that’s the way they work too.
And if it works best if you do it yourself, go for that. Women frequently touch themselves during intercourse with a partner; it doesn’t diminish a man for him to do the same thing. You might find that you can work yourself up to being able to engage in full intercourse; and even if you don’t, you might be able to pleasure yourself in the presence of your partner.
6. Penis and partner cross training
Training your penis and your partner together obviously won’t work with every partner–certainly not a one night stand. Most of the advice we give in this post really is best for someone with a regular sex partner, though steps 1-5 can work with a new hookup just fine. (And remember, the best part about new hookups is you usually don’t have to see them again.)
Since you can get an erection on your own, why not start there and try to make progress in baby steps? It just might work, but you’ll definitely need to think positively about it.
You might do the following: At a time scheduled for this activity and this activity alone, masturbate but have your partner available. Use pornography or whatever else works for you. Slowly introduce your partner into the situation: a phone call, a video chat. See if you can stay hard through that. That might be all you get through together the first time around. Then raise the stakes a bit. Bring your partner into the room and have her or him watch you. The next time, have them sit next to you. The next time, kissing. After that, fondling. Keep going this way, increasing involvement each time, and see where you get hung up. Don’t try to force things too much. Go slowly, and if you get stuck somewhere, take a step back and try again next time.
7. Side note: Blame it on the Vodka
No, not really. If you’re semi-regularly drinking yourself into a state in which you can’t get an erection, then you’re choosing alcohol over sex, which is the wrong choice to make, in our opinion. But a nice buzz (not binge drinking) can help overcome some inhibitions as long as it doesn’t inhibit your physically itself.
If you’re going to go a chemical route, our big suggestion is to avoid any herbal or other remedies that don’t require a prescription but are advertised on TV or online or sold at corner stores and truck stops. Really. You’re just throwing away money that you might want to save for a name brand prescription or something else. And while we don’t condone illegal activity, there are soft drugs out there like marijuana that may be legal where you live that will make you feel more at ease and connected with your partner without depressing your system the way alcohol can.
If It Becomes Chronic
Our answers above will work for low level cases of erection anxiety, but if you suspect that you have a medical issue or true psychological phobia that’s preventing you from getting or maintaining an erection, seek help. It’s embarrassing and difficult to talk about, but you deserve to get the most out of your sex life and you want to nip this problem in the bud before it gets worse.
And think of it this way: Whether you have a medical condition or not, see a doctor and find out if drugs for erectile dysfunction (Cialis, Viagra, Levitra, etc.) might work for you. If using a drug helps you get hard and lets you have fun in bed, why not? It might even help you get over the hump (pun intended) and be an important part of cross training your penis and your partner. Think of it as training wheels that you’ll take off one day.
If you do have a medical condition, then treat it. We’re used to using drugs and alcohol to help smooth other social situations, and many women (and men) are comfortable making vibrators and other sex toys part of their path to orgasm; men shouldn’t be sheepish about bringing in a little outside help of their own. There’s no such thing as cheating in the bedroom … unless, you know, you’re having an affair.