Men, women, and couples come to my practice each week talking about “ED”—erectile dysfunction. The term apparently refers to anyone who can’t get an erection when he wants to—once. This, of course, implies that penises should behave like ATMs—ready to do business 24/7, rain or shine.
But that’s not how penises or the human brain are built. Penises actually need a lot of conditions in order to do what their owners, or their owners’ partners, want them to do. Those conditions can involve emotions, environmental issues, or features of the partner. If one of those isn’t quite right, even the healthiest penis will stubbornly stay small and soft and quite calm.
So here are ten common situations in which penis owners—or their partners—often expect or demand an erection, and don’t get one. Such cases are examples of unrealistic expectations, not ED.
* You’ve been drinking a lot
“A lot” might be as little as a couple of drinks. You don’t have to be drunk in order to be compromised by alcohol. You know how drinking slows down your reflexes for driving? It also slows down your erection reflex.
* You’re really tired
Sometimes sex is available exactly when we’re most tired—and worse, we may fear it won’t be available when we’re rested (or a potential partner has had a chance to think things over). Besides, many people leave sex for the last thing at night, when they can no longer do anything productive. When we treat sex so disrespectfully it’s no wonder if our bodies don’t respond.
* You’re afraid sex will lead to pregnancy (or an STI)
Even if you’re telling yourself over and over “it won’t happen,” or you’re repeating to yourself “don’t forget to pull out,” that can be pretty distracting.
* You don’t really want to have sex with this person
Sometimes it’s a long-term partner we’ve lost interest in, but we have sex in order to prevent conflict. Sometimes it’s a casual partner that we’re not that attracted to—but hey, it’s sex, right? Actually, wrong.
* The stuff she’s doing isn’t sexy to you—in fact, it hurts
Long, long fingernails where you don’t want them, too much teeth, thrusting or bouncing on your penis in a way that scares you—these can all chase away an erection. And a look, a phrase, or lingerie that she thinks is sexy but just strikes you wrong can also get in the way. Turns out men are more sensitive than some people give them credit for.
* She’s sloppy drunk
Why you’d want to have sex with a drunk woman is an important question. Among other things, it’s hardly ethical (although I understand that you both might be). But once you’re into it—or trying to be—it usually turns out to be way more trouble than it’s worth. Most penises don’t find it to be a pretty sight.
* She doesn’t want to have sex
Trying to talk someone into it—or roughly pushing them into it—gets some men excited, caveman-style. Most men are simply too human to enjoy it. And no matter how desirable she was before she said “no,” once a woman says “no” it’s hard for most men to keep their self-respect if they keep pushing. And erections usually leave when dignity does.
* You’re in a big hurry
If you’re in a big hurry, you’re either thinking about the thing you need to do next, or you’re worried about being caught (or simply running out of time). Not conducive to erection.
* You’re just not in the mood
Many men have been told that since women control sex, a man doesn’t have the luxury of not being in the mood when sex is available. If you’re not in the mood but proceed anyway, your penis may reveal the truth by refusing to participate.
* You still haven’t gotten over the argument you recently had
That argument hurt, didn’t it? And even if it didn’t, it made you feel separate from your partner, right? Besides, a productive argument actually gives you something to think about afterwards. If you’re thinking about that, that’s good—but it may not leave much of your attention available for sexual interest.
* * *
Why does it matter what we call a situation that may be, variously, aggravating, embarrassing, confusing, or shocking?
For one thing, getting beyond the narrative of ED means the lack of erection may not mean a lack of desire, arousal, or affection. For another, it means that the lack of erection may be quite temporary—as soon as the right conditions are arranged (an hour later, a week later), an erection may be quite available. And finally, it means that erection drugs may not be the right approach to getting the desired erection.
As in so many things sexual, honesty with oneself and communication with one’s partner are frequently the first steps toward improving your sexual experience—in this case, getting more reliable and drama-free erections.