Q&A: 21 Years Old, Having Trouble Getting An Erection

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QUESTION: My girlfriend and I recently started having sex. There have been multiple occasions when it has been impossible for me to get an erection. Being 21 years old it is taking a lot more "work" than in the past. I have been drinking alcohol more lately, and due to work I only get 4 hours of sleep each night. I have a high stress level. What can I do?

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Photo: Mark (Flickr)

Exploring sexuality in ways that take pressure off of your penis – such as breast play, sensual touching, making out and performing oral sex on her – may also be low-stress pleasurable ways of sexual sharing.

Thank you for your question.

Honesty Takes The Pressure Off

I would encourage you to talk with your girlfriend about this issue and to consider showing her this column.

She may not realize how frustrating this is for you and how strongly attracted to her you feel. Her feelings of rejection, and your feelings of embarrassment, may continue to damage your relationship unless you’re able to communicate effectively with each other.

Men’s erections are influenced by a number of factors. Young, healthy men rarely have erection difficulties as a result of physical reasons – more often, young men have erection problems that are largely caused by performance anxiety.

If you worry about pleasing your girlfriend and are stressed about being able to get an erection, then those worries may be making it more difficult for you to get or keep an erection.

However, in addition to anxiety about pleasing your girlfriend, you’ve got a lot stacked against you when it comes to lifestyle factors.

Take Care Of Yourself

Drinking a great deal of alcohol can contribute to erection problems as can general life stress, lack of sleep and illness. The most important thing you can do for your health, as well as for your penis, is to take care of your health.

Try to make time to visit your campus health center, where you may be able to make appointments to learn about how to manage your alcohol consumption, how to manage your time more effectively, healthy ways to get more sleep, and how to reduce your overall stress levels.

If you’ve been sick, please check in with a healthcare provider. If money is an issue, call around to local clinics or to your health department and ask where you might be able to find a free clinic or one that offers reduced rates or charges based on a sliding scale of income.

Find Other Paths To Pleasure

At the same time, talk with your girlfriend. Let her know how attracted you feel to her and how important she is to you. Try to reassure her that you are making efforts to improve your health so that your shared sex life can get better too.

Exploring sexuality in ways that take pressure off of your penis – such as breast play, sensual touching, making out and performing oral sex on her- may also be low-stress pleasurable ways of sexual sharing.

I would also recommend reading The Sexual Male: Problems and Solutions and The New Male Sexuality.

Both of these books provide important information to men about their sexuality and about erections and both are favorites of the college men I teach.

There is good reason to feel confident that you can improve this situation and I wish you the best.

Next Question: Masturbation And Live-In Partners

I know that all men masturbate but I’m bothered by the fact that my boyfriend does it. I just moved in with him and we have different work hours and our sex life is great when we have it, but sometimes we can’t because of our schedules. Is it normal for him to still be masturbating even though we’re living together and having sex?

Read Dr. Debby Herbenick’s response.

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Dr. Debby Herbenick (M.P.H., Ph.D.)

is a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, Associate Director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University and author of several books including Sex Made Easy and Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction.
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