It’s happens to all of us occasionally. You’re in the heat of the moment and your equipment doesn’t work the way you want it to. It can be embarrassing, upsetting or cringeworthy. Sometimes having trouble maintaining an erection during sex can be called performance anxiety or erectile dysfunction (ED). Whatever you call it, it can be a real mood killer.
Much of the time, performance anxiety is psychological, however sometimes it’s a health problem so you should talk with your primary care doctor to rule that out first.
Doctors will sometimes refer to erectile dysfunction as the canary in the coal mine as it can alert them to bigger issues with 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.
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 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.
As men, and especially as gay men, sexual performance issues can bring up a lot of shame. However, you don’t have to deal with this on your own. And you’re certainly not alone.
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. In our own country, it wasn’t that long ago that Matthew Shepard was tortured and killed in Laramie, Wyoming for being gay. While you may not be aware of this fear on a conscious level, it may be showing up in bed. Fear can certainly get in the way of intimacy. If you have a history of dealing with fear around being different, it could be causing problems in bed.
Cruising and anonymous sex are a part of gay sexuality and they have been for a long time. While most of our 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 anonymous sex. However, if you’re having trouble being intimate with someone that you know more deeply, that could be a sign of sexual compartmentalization.
While anonymous sex can be exciting and novel, if you have a history of compartmentalizing sex and intimacy you can run into problems with sex in long-term relationships. If you condition yourself to like new and different partners, it can be challenging to maintain excitement as your relationship grows deeper. Compartmentalization can be especially true for those 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 come up, or not come up. Sorry, I couldn’t help the bad pun there.
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 is 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 your internal emotional world with your partner 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. 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.
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 from a therapist about this topic yet, here are a few tips you can try on your own. (Though this is not meant to substitute help from a professional.)
- 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.
- And have fun. What is sex without play and fun?