Q&A: Erection Problems When Using Condoms

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QUESTION: My partner loses his erection every time we try to have sex. This has happened 6 times. I've tried putting it on myself and shortening foreplay but neither has worked. He's fine right until the point the condom is put on. He says it's not because of me and that he really wants to have sex with me but for some reason that always happens. What can I do to help him?

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Some research suggests that about a third of college-aged men may experience erection problems associated with condom use.

Not A Reason To Avoid Using Condoms

Of course, that’s not a reason to avoid using condoms – to this day, condoms remain the best, most effective way for sexually active couples to reduce their risk of sexually transmissible infections, or STIs, such as Chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV, the virus that can cause AIDS.

The challenge for many couples is to learn how to use condoms while at the same time helping a man to experience a full erection. Some men find that they have erection problems while using condoms because they get distracted and lose their arousal.

In these cases, it can be helpful for their partner to put the condom on the man’s penis, as you did, but the trick is that the man should keep doing things that feel arousing to him – for example, kissing or touching his partner in sensual ways.

Foreplay Can Help

You mentioned that you two tried shortening foreplay but in fact, that may be counterproductive. Foreplay can help both women and men to become more aroused, which for women can promote vaginal lubrication and for men can help to promote their erection.

As such, you might try spending more time in foreplay before putting the condom on, or else try putting the condom on in the middle of foreplay and then continuing with foreplay, while the condom is on, in order to enhance his arousal.

Some men find that adding a lubricant on top of the condom helps to enhance sensation and thus promote a more firm erection. If you are using latex condoms, try using a water-based or silicone-based lubricant, as they are condom-compatible. If the condom seems too large or too small for his penis, he might shop online or in local stores for a condom that more comfortably fits his penis.

Finally, some men find that it can help to try masturbating with a condom on, while alone. Sexual stimulation feels quite different with a condom on, compared to off, and he may find that it helps him to get used to this sensation if he tries using a condom in this way.

Learn More

Also, because performance anxiety contributes to many cases of erection problems, your boyfriend might find it helpful to read The Sexual Male: Problems and Solutions.

Finally, in rare cases, erection problems are an early sign of heart disease, diabetes or other health problems. If your boyfriend notices erection problems regularly, even without condoms, or if he has questions about his erectile function or personal health, he should check in with his healthcare provider.

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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