Sometimes, it happens. You're in bed with your partner, and you're wearing your new lace, cheeky underwear that hugs you in the most flattering way. You feel unstoppable, turned on and you’re ready to get it on. But, to your dismay, your partner’s penis does not seem to be quite as ready. In fact, it does nothing; it remains limp. If you’re wondering “Why can’t my boyfriend get hard?” and your first instinct is to worry that you did something wrong, push those concerns aside for a moment. There are so many reasons your partner isn’t getting hard — none of which have to do with you — and a lot of them have easy fixes.
It's also important to remember that your partner's erection is not the only thing that can make or break your sex life with them. “Focusing on erections is a product of our patriarchal society,” certified sex therapist Rosara Torrisi tells Elite Daily. “This is extremely harmful for everyone.” Plus, there are plenty of ways to be physically intimate with or without a hard penis. “For most clitoris owners, an erect penis is not essential for sexual pleasure,” Torrisi says.
Still, it can feel confusing or embarrassing for both parties when your boyfriend can’t get hard. If you’re the one struggling with erections, Stephen Snyder MD, a New York City-based sex therapist and author of Love Worth Making: How to Have Ridiculously Great Sex in a Long-Lasting Relationship, has some words of advice: “First, make sure you can get hard when you're by yourself. If not, maybe it's not 100% emotional. Sometimes physical factors come into play, too,” Snyder tells Elite Daily. Then, there are questions to ask yourself. “Are you compulsively trying to get and stay hard, rather than just enjoying feeling turned on? Are you rushing to penetrate, because you're worried if you don't then you'll lose your erection?” Both of these, he says, can cause or worsen erectile dysfunction.
Communication is also of utmost importance. “It's amazing how many men, once they're reassured that their partner is OK with just ‘outercourse,’ suddenly feel comfortable enough to get hard and have intercourse,” Snyder says.
If you’re the partner, though, Snyder’s advice is simple. “Don't take it personally,” he says. “Don’t assume it means he’s not attracted to you. In fact, many men lose erections when they’re very attracted to a partner and don’t want to disappoint them.”
So, if they’re so into you, why can't they get hard? These answers should help clear a few things up.
1. They Have Stage Fright
As Snyder says, your partner might be nervous about letting you down. If this is the case, try some more foreplay, or even just hanging out! “Lots of unpressured time spent talking in bed can sometimes work wonders,” he says.
There’s a physical component to performance anxiety, adds Torrisi. Chemically, when sexual performance anxiety occurs, stress hormones constrict the blood vessels, which means less blood is flowing to the penis, making it harder to get hard. “Negative expectations for erectile functioning … heighten anxiety and reduce the ability for erections and pleasure to flourish,” Torrisi says. “Anxiety often shuts down the sexual body.”
2. They're On Medication
Certain medications can disrupt a person’s sex life. Specifically, antidepressants can cause significant decreases in libido, and inhibit someone’s ability to get a boner.
“Antidepressants can be super-important for a depressed person and can really be helpful. But they are often not especially helpful in bed,” Carol Queen, staff sexologist at Good Vibrations, tells Elite Daily. “People of all gender IDs have reported arousal and orgasm issues when taking them. If antidepressants are getting in the way of sexual functioning and satisfaction, tell your doctor.”
3. They're Masturbating A Lot
“Some people seem to be able to enjoy lots of masturbation and lots of partner sex — yay for them,” Queen says. “But for others, engaging in lots of masturbation takes the edge off of the ability to get aroused with a partner.”
If this appears to be a problem for your partner, Queen recommends they try paying attention to how long it takes for them to get hard again after masturbating. Then, she says, your partner can try to put in place a “masturbating embargo” for a specific period of time before they know they want to get hard with you.
“There’s nothing wrong with masturbation,” Queen adds. “But be mindful of the effects it has.”
4. They're Not In The Best Mood
Maybe they have a lot on their plate at work, or they just got into an argument with their mom. Whatever it is, stress can certainly play a role in whether or not your partner can get hard. But it isn’t just stress — according to Snyder, feelings like grief, resentment, or sadness can also get in between a person and their erection. “We're wired to respond sexually when we're happy, and to turn off when we're not happy,” Snyder tells Elite Daily. “So many sex problems come from people trying to get their genitals to work, when in fact their genitals are doing exactly what they're supposed to, which is to turn off when conditions aren't quite right.”
Then, there’s the performance anxiety component again. If your partner’s stress, anxiety, or frustration is stopping them from getting hard, they’ll probably feel even more stress, anxiety, and frustration about the fact that they can't get hard. Then it just becomes a vicious cycle of stress that they can't escape, no matter how hard they try.
5. They’ve Had A Lot To Drink
“People think alcohol is a sexy beverage, and it does suppress nervousness — but it also suppresses the nervous system,” Queen explains.
Drinking in moderation is fine, but if your partner drinks in excess, the toxins from the alcohol that their liver couldn't break down can make their way to other parts of their body, including their penis.
6. They Have A Complicated Relationship With Their Sexuality
Queen says there are many things related to one’s understanding of their sexuality that might complicate whether they can get hard: “Fear or shame, trying to live up to gendered expectations (or identity!) that [don’t] feel right, issues of sexual orientation (including being on the asexuality spectrum), having a history of abuse — to name a few,” she explains. “It can take some time for a person to work these issues out, and in the meantime, they can affect sexual comfort and functioning.”
7. They’re Preoccupied
Queen calls this “the benign version of stress.” Maybe they were scrolling through Facebook earlier and saw a picture of their ex, and now they’re having a momentary flashback to this harrowing relationship. Or, they’ve got a big project coming up and they’re excited to get started on it.
It's not that they don’t love you, or that they don’t find you attractive; it's just that sometimes people have unexpected, uncontrollable physical reactions to their own thoughts.
8. They’re Feeling Guilty
Maybe you two got into a fight the other day, and they’re currently feeling some remorse. Or, maybe they were raised to feel shame about being sexual.
“There are plenty of sources of guilt, some of them sex-negative but others having more to do with interpersonal behavior or ethics,” Queen says. In this case, it’s best for your partner to try to talk things out, whether the conversation is with you, a trusted friend, or a therapist.
9. They Have “Shy Penis”
If things are still new between the two of you, a little time might be all you need: Snyder says that some people just take a few weeks to warm up to a new partner. “In sex therapy, we call this "shy penis,” he says. “Seems to be related to stranger anxiety — because let's face it, the first few times with someone new, you're basically sleeping with a stranger.”
10. They’re Just Not Horny Right Now
It’s false to think that people who can get erections want to have them all the time and want to have sex literally every second of the day. But just like you sometimes aren't in the mood, sometimes your partner isn’t always “on,” either.
But the lack of erection doesn’t mean you and your partner can’t get physically intimate. “Whether or not an erection occurs, sex can still happen, pleasure can still happen,” Torrisi says. “Dare I say it, even orgasms can still happen.”
And if you or your partner don’t feel like doing anything sexual, there are still plenty of things you can do to feel physically connected with one another without having sex of any kind.
Carol Queen, staff sexologist at Good Vibrations
Stephen Snyder MD, New York City-based sex therapist and author of Love Worth Making: How to Have Ridiculously Great Sex in a Long-Lasting Relationship
Rosara Torrisi, certified sex therapist
Additional reporting by Lexi Williams.
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