September 17, 2007

Q&A: Performance Anxiety: Am I Psyching Myself Out Of My Erection?

A reader asks about losing his erection from anxiety surrounding his first sexual experience with a new partner. He wonders if he might be psyching himself out

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Question: Recently I’ve started seeing someone and I like this girl A LOT. The other night “that moment” hit for the two of us but when we got our clothes off and the moment came for intercourse, I tensed up and lost my erection. We continued kissing and with foreplay, and I just told her that I wanted to wait until we really knew each other. I’ve never had this happen, but I felt so nervous about “being good” with her that it was almost as if I psyched myself out. Is there a quick fix for this or am I just being an idiot?

First, you are definitely not being an idiot. Getting to know someone you like a lot can be a lot of fun. And then when you get to kiss and touch them? Wow! It can feel pleasurable, exciting – and even a little scary or nerve-wracking.

Which is perhaps why it’s not surprising that many couples experience sexual problems when they are first becoming sexual with each other including problems related to getting or maintaining erections, the timing of ejaculation, orgasm, lubrication or being able to express feelings or communicate about what each partner likes or dislikes, or is feeling ready for.

Performance Anxiety

Typically, performance anxiety is a major contributing cause of erection problems for most young, generally healthy men (and most men have problems getting or maintaining erections from time to time).

Liking someone so much that you want to “be good” (as you said) absolutely falls under the category of performance anxiety and it is an extremely common experience.

This is particularly common for men because many men have been raised with the misperception that they are supposed to know everything about sex, “give” a woman an orgasm (no one can “give” an orgasm to a woman; she has to participate in the experience) and otherwise have all the right moves and be ready to go at the first sign of a willing or excited partner.

Anxiety and Erection Problems

Any type of stress or anxiety – including performance anxiety which is about wanting to be a good lover or please one’s partner – can make it more difficult to get or maintain an erection.

Other things such as alcohol, lack of sleep, and certain medications (including Adderall and other drugs which some students take to stay awake at night to study or party) can also cause erection problems.

Moving on to try other sexual activities that aren’t so focused on erections (such as kissing and touching) is a great way to take the pressure off of your performance and re-focus the situation on giving each other pleasure. Good for you for going with the flow.

In all likelihood, if you are able to relax, feel comfortable with your new partner, and take things at a pace that feels right to both of you, it is unlikely that this problem will persist.

Talk To Your Partner

Consider what might make you feel more comfortable together – have you talked about each other’s histories of testing for sexually transmissible infections (STI)? Have you discussed birth control (assuming you’re not planning to become pregnant together)? Have you shared your expectations with each other as to whether you are dating, friends with benefits, or in a relationship?

Having these kinds of talks might add to both of your levels of comfort so that your bodies (and minds) can relax and allow you to pleasure each other in ways that feel right.

Relaxation, Visualization, “Self-Talk”

In addition, relaxation, visualization and “self-talk” (psyching yourself up) strategies can be helpful ways to de-stress yourself.

These tips – and other helpful pieces of information about men, women and sex – are described in great detail in The New Male Sexuality by Dr. Bernie Zilbergeld. It is a classic book and is regularly suggested by sex educators for men who are dealing with this issue (and other sexual and relationship issues).

Although the erection problems are unlikely to continue, if it makes you feel better, or if it does continue over a long time, consider checking in with your healthcare provider as occasionally erection problems can signal other health conditions such as diabetes.

Sex therapists also routinely counsel men about these issues – you can find a sex counselor or therapist near you by going to

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