Our sex organs have minds of their own. Even if your brain owns a craftsman home in the heart of Sexy Town, your genitalia sometimes goes on vacation.
When we asked San Diego–based sex, intimacy, and relationship coach Tari Mannello to give us some reasons why your partner might not be able to get rock hard anymore, he cracked up. Not because he thinks flaccid penises are funny, but because there are just so many potential factors, he had no idea where to start. “Basically, absolutely anything can take you out of the moment, and that’s when you’ll lose an erection,” Mannello tells Elite Daily. Intrusive thoughts, distinct smells, a change of positions, or specific medications can knock a penis out of its erection or prevent it from ever getting there in the first place. Even with all the confidence in the world, some guys just get harder than others. Plus, according to the Cleveland Clinic, an estimated one in 10 men suffers from long-term erectile dysfunction (also known as ED).
So where does that leave those whose partners sometimes have soft penises? Mannello’s got a lot of ideas about what not to do when your partner stops getting as hard as they used to. First, he says, don’t take it personally. “As soon as they see [their partner’s] penis get soft, people think they must be unattractive and undesirable, and therefore they start behaving in a really unpleasant way: recoiling, shutting down, being distant and cold. All of that creates an unpleasant atmosphere and guarantees that [the partner] won’t be able to get it back up.”
Also, panicking or showing disappointment is only going to heap more pressure onto your partner. “Just like it took you a little while to get wet or to get aroused, it might take a few minutes for [your partner] to get there,” he says. “It’s all about not feeling that if they’re not rock-hard there’s something wrong. Don’t be afraid to touch it. Don’t be afraid for [your partner] to touch it. Encourage them to comfortably touch themself. You can say something like, ‘Baby why don’t you stroke it? It turns me on to see you do it, let’s both touch ourselves.’ And of course, if they’re interested, you can try going down on them, patiently with no expectations.”
Nebraska-based AASECT Certified Sex Therapist and AASECT Certified Sexuality Educator Kristen Lilla adds that boners gets way too much attention, anyway. “I encourage people to stop focusing so much on erect penises,” Lilla says. “People can engage in intimacy without an erect penis and still feel connected and even aroused.”
Read on to learn more about all the many influences that can make getting a hard-on so dang hard, and how to give the pendulous penises in your life the TLC they deserve.
Performance anxiety is a real thing, people.
If a person with a penis is feeling overwhelmed or anxious, a full and lasting erection is probably not in the cards — or it will at least require a bit of coaxing. “Maybe their partner is super aggressive and forward and knowledgeable sexually and therefore it intimidates them,” Mannello says. “Maybe their partner is just super duper hot and they find that very intimidating.” No matter what’s causing the distress, the emotional and physiological processes can overpower the sex organs and make it especially difficult to perform.
If you suspect this is what’s inhibiting your partner, talk to them about it. Everyone gets nervous before having sex with someone new; it’s just that when you have a penis, your nerves are all the more visible. Chances are this won’t be a regular occurence once you and your partner have gotten to know each other better and have established more of a sexual rhythm.
Or as it’s colloquially known, whiskey dick.
The consumption of too much alcohol impairs motor functions and sends a numbing sensation through our bodies, sometimes causing a penis to put up a "do not disturb" sign.
No matter how sexy the mood, all those shots your partner just slammed down at the bar have basically put their body on hold, preventing them from achieving an erection.
While a little bit of alcohol can act as a social lubricant — and may even help calm some of those pesky nerves from point number one — the temptation to overindulge will likely only lead to disappointment (and a gruesome headache tomorrow morning). And, as in any sexual situation, it’s important that everyone involved is fully conscious and able to give complete consent.
Similar to the abuse of booze, too many drugs in your system can have the same softening effect. A study from 2014 published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE found that “high levels of sexual dysfunction were reported by heroin-dependent men,” but that it improved after methadone maintenance treatment (or MMT). Additionally, researchers in 2001 conducted a study to determine the impact of Ecstasy (or MDMA) on sexual function. The study, which was published by the National Library of Medicine, found that, while MDMA appeared to increase sexual desire in both male and female participants, erections were actually impaired in 40% of the men. According to the study, “MDMA impairs sexual performance, in spite of enhancement of sexual desire and the perception of greater satisfaction.”
It’s not just recreational drugs that are proven to impact a person’s libido. Many prescription drugs can inhibit a person’s ability to maintain an erection. Medication used to treat anxiety and depression, as well as diuretics, blood pressure medicines, antihistamines, certain heart medicines, hormones, and chemotherapy are among the prescriptions listed by the Cleveland Clinic known to cause or contribute to ED. .
If one or more of these prescriptions is to blame for the lack of arousal, talk to your doctor. They will be able to help you prioritize your needs, and in some cases they may be able to prescribe an additional medication to counteract the ED.
Vascular disease, neurological disorders, and anxiety or depression (whether or not they’re medicated for it) can all impact a person’s libido. ED can be exacerbated when blood supply to the penis is blocked or narrowed, if a stroke or diabetes has damaged the nerves that send impulses to their penis, or if there’s a lack of stimulus from the brain.
Mannello says stress — either about something in the immediate space or about something completely unrelated, such as work — is a major boner-killer. Of course, it’s possible that an inability to produce an erection will only lead to more stress. The most important things to do in this situation are to communicate openly with each other and to take things slow. It’s totally normal to need a few minutes to become fully present and excited. Try setting the stage with a nice, juicy makeout session or some sexy talk first before going straight for the genitals.
The Softy Spiral
Similar to generalized stress, sometimes a person with a penis is just too deep inside their own head (the upstairs head, that is). If it’s happened before, it’s not uncommon for ED to get looped into a vicious cycle of anxiety and shame and limp genitals. Mannello tells Elite Daily that this kind of “unfortunate spiraling pattern, where this has happened a couple times before and now it happens again and again” is really common and can be frustrating for both partners. The best way to deal with it is the same as with stress: Don’t be afraid to communicate and to take things slow.
They’re Just Not In The Mood
While we’ve been socialized to believe that the simple act of having a penis automatically gives someone a ravenous sexual appetite, the truth is that everyone’s libidos wax and wane regardless of gender or genitalia. Very, very few of us are horny round the clock. It’s perfectly plausible that a person with a penis just ain’t feelin’ it. Sex is only good when everyone’s on board and feeling their best. Be patient with them. And in the meantime, don’t be afraid to exercise a little self-love of your own.
Penises are sensitive and perceptive and sometimes don’t do exactly what we want them to do. The next time you’re faced with a flaccid penis, remember to relax. Refrain from assigning blame. And as Lilla suggests, seek other forms of closeness, intimacy, and pleasure that utilize other parts of the body. You might even discover something new and exciting along the way — rock-hard penis optional.
McGoogan, Jennifer M.; Rou, Keming; Shi, Cynthia X.; Wu, Zunyou; Zhang, Baohua; Zhang, Huifang; Zhao, Linglong; Zhang, Mianzhi; Zhang, Minying (2014). Sexual Dysfunction Improved in Heroin-Dependent Men after Methadone Maintenance Treatment in Tianjin, China. PLOS ONE Journal, https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0088289
Aizenberg, D; Weizman, A; Zemishlany, Z (2001). Subjective effects of MDMA ('Ecstasy') on human sexual function. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11311178/
Tari Mannello, sex, intimacy, and relationship coach and founder of Closeness San Diego
Kristen Lilla, AASECT Certified Sex Therapist and AASECT Certified Sexuality Educator
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