Q&A: Trouble Maintaining An Erection The First Time

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QUESTION: My boyfriend and I recently had sex for the first time. However, he could barely keep it up the entire time. I’ve been wondering if I did something wrong to cause it – he assures me that I didn’t, but how am I supposed to know? Are there things I can do better to help him keep his erection?

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Crane attempting to lift man's penis

Photo: Kinsey Institute

When erectile problems occur among young, healthy men, the cause is typically psychological.

Nearly all men will experience difficulties getting or keeping an erection at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, not everyone knows this and so when erection problems happen to them or their partner, they may worry that they have done something wrong.

Performance Anxiety

When erectile problems occur among young, healthy men, the cause is typically psychological. Many men experience what we sometimes call “performance anxiety” – the stress or worry that they should be a good lover, give their partner an orgasm, have sex that lasts a certain length of time, or otherwise “perform” sexually in a certain way.

This type of stress – like any other type of stress – can make it difficult to experience pleasurable sex and to fully allow the process of sexual arousal to enhance one’s erections. Concerns about pregnancy or infection can also make it difficult for a man to get or keep an erection.

Communicating And Learning What Feels Right

Other times, men’s erectile problems may be influenced by their inexperience at sex. When men are just beginning to have sex, they may not yet know how to move their bodies with their partner’s bodies in ways that enhance their erection.

Over time, men and their partners tend to learn more about their own and their partner’s bodies such as what feels good, what doesn’t and what is more or less likely to lead to enhanced arousal and excitement for both people. That doesn’t mean that either person is doing anything “wrong” at the beginning of their relationship; it just means that it takes time for two people to learn what feels enjoyable and to practice communicating to each other about sex.

If you and your boyfriend expect to have sex again, you might consider talking to each other about any concerns that you have about sex, including preventing pregnancy or infection. You might also find that talking about the pleasurable aspects of sex is helpful including what types of touch feel good, how you like to kiss or be kissed, and any sexual behaviors that you very much want to try versus those that you are not comfortable with or don’t want to try.

Ongoing Erectile Problems

Ongoing erectile problems may be a sign of diabetes, heart conditions or other medical conditions, which is why it is always important for men to discuss these issues with their healthcare provider if they continue or if they cause stress or worry.

Often, however, erectile problems among younger men come and go, and tend to improve as men and their partners become more comfortable with each other and with sex.

Recommended Reading

You can learn more about these issues and others in The New Male Sexuality by Dr. Bernie Zilbergeld.

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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