I'm a gay man who has trouble getting or staying hard

I’m a gay man who has trouble getting hard

It’s happened occasionally to all of us.  You’re in the heat of the moment and your equipment doesn’t work the way you want it to.  However, if you consistently have trouble maintaining an erection, there may be other things at play.   


Sometimes doctors will refer to erectile dysfunction as the canary in the coal mine for bigger issues like blood pressure or heart disease.  If you’re having consistent problems getting or staying hard, the first thing to do is check in with your doctor and rule out a biological reason for the trouble.  

Once you’ve gotten the all clear and you know it’s not a biological issue, you can start to explore what might be getting in the way of getting or staying hard.  

What if it’s not biology?  

The mind is a powerful thing and it can certainly play a role in getting and maintaining an erection.  Let’s look at some of the possible contributing factors that may be adding to your performance anxiety.


There are still a number of places in the world where it is quite dangerous and even illegal to be gay or have sex with another man.  If you’re an older millennial, like me, we came of age in the middle of the AIDS crisis. Because of misinformation and poor LGBTQ+ sex education we grew up fearing sex. And fear is an enemy of intimacy.  

Anonymous sex

Cruising and anonymous sex have been a part of gay sexuality for a long time.   While most of the cruising has moved online to apps like Grindr and Scruff, the appeal of random and often impersonal sex is still alive and well in our community.  And let me be clear, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, if you’re having trouble being intimate with someone that you know more deeply, that could be a sign of sexual compartmentalization.  

Sexual compartmentalization

While anonymous sex can be exciting and novel, if you have a history of compartmentalizing sex and intimacy this can create a problem in long term relationships.  If you condition yourself to like new and different partners, if can be challenging to maintain excitement as your relationship grows deeper.  Compartmentalization can be especially true for those of us with a history of combining sex and drugs or with a history of sexual abuse or trauma.

Not sure how to talk about it

Without the language to talk about your internal emotional world it can feel impossible to talk more openly about sex with your partner. Fear can come into play.  You might not want to disrupt the cart or risk losing all the great stuff in your relationship. And as with most things around sex, the more pressure you put on the topic, the more performance issues that can arise.  


If you grew up in a religious or conservative family, it makes sense that there would be a link between sex and shame.  Sometimes, just growing up gay in a heteronormative world can lead to a link between sex and shame.  And shame can be another enemy of your erection.  

Other issues in the bedroom

It is no shock that if there is tension or conflict in other areas of your relationship, your sex life can suffer. Being able to understand, communicate and share about your internal emotional world can actually bring you closer and increase the amount of sex you have.

Other issues that can affect performance

While relationship issues can affect your sex life, personal mental health challenges can cause issues in the bedroom, too.  If you’re depressed, anxious about work or uncomfortable with your body, that can certainly affect your sexual performance.  If you don’t feel desirable, sex can feel like a chore or a duty.  

I don’t feel attracted to my partner anymore

If you’ve been in a long-term relationship, this is certainly an issue that you may encounter.  There are many myths about sex and long-term relationships.  Sexual attraction doesn’t have to diminish over time.  In fact, with some work the deeper you know someone, the more attractive they can become.  On the flip side, if you notice that you’re not as attracted to your partner anymore, that doesn’t have to mean your relationship is over.  However, it’s important to figure out a way to navigate that challenge together and not sweep it under the rug.  

I feel a lot of pressure to perform

There are a number of things that can contribute to feeling pressure to perform in bed.  Maybe you always have to initiate sex and you’d like your partner to take the lead sometimes.  Or perhaps you feel uncomfortable about your body or penis size and that makes you feel insecure in bed.  It’s important to try and eliminate pressure around sex.  The more pressure you feel, the more difficult it will be to perform sexually.  

Sexual abuse or trauma

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or trauma at some point in your life, this can impact your sex life far into adulthood. Different types of abuse can impact people in a variety of ways. Some folks will have trouble maintaining erections with those they love because it doesn’t feel safe. Others will learn to deal with sex in a compulsive, disconnected way. Working with a therapist skilled in helping gay men cope with sexual trauma can be a game changer in this department.

What can I do about it?  

We have explored a number of topics above that may be contributing to performance anxiety in bed.  If you’re struggling with this issue, get some support.  It can be hard to talk about sex and performance issues, but you don’t have to struggle with this alone.  If you’re not ready to seek more support about this topic yet, here are a few tips you can try on your own.  

  • Try and talk more openly with your partner about your fears, worries and concerns around sex.  
  • Be kind to yourself.  If you’re having trouble getting hard the worst thing you can do is become more self-critical about it.  
  • Reduce the pressure to perform.  Approach sex without a goal in mind.   Start with sensual touch and if it leads to more, great.  If not, that’s great, too.  
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Tom Bruett

Tom Bruett

Tom Bruett, LMFT is a licensed psychotherapist with an office in Denver, Colorado. He works virtually with folks in California and Colorado. Tom feels passionately about helping people have better relationships. The purpose of this blog is not to provide advice or to take the place of working with a mental health professional. For more information please visit the homepage.