Sexplain It: I Really Like This Girl, But I’m Dreading Having Sex With Her

By | August 6, 2020

I’m Zachary Zane, a sex writer and ethical manwhore (a fancy way of saying I sleep with a lot of people, and I’m very, very open about it). Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of sexual experiences, dating and sleeping with hundreds of people of all genders and orientations. In doing so, I’ve learned a thing or two about navigating issues in the bedroom (and a bunch of other places, TBH). I’m here to answer your most pressing sex questions with thorough, actionable advice that isn’t just “communicate with your partner,” because you know that already. Ask me anything—literally, anything—and I will gladly Sexplain It.

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Dear Sexplain It,

I’m a 25-year-old man who’s struggled with anxiety and erectile dysfunction ever since I started having sex at 17. Whenever I’m having sex with a new person, I get too in my head about getting hard, and because of that, I can’t get hard. Some women give me a second chance (where I perform just fine), but many have decided not to see me again after a poor first performance. I’m scared that’s about to happen again, and with someone I really like.

During COVID, I met this woman on a dating app and we really hit it off. We’ve now been texting nonstop for nearly three months and FaceTime almost daily, and she said she wants to finally meet up IRL. We agreed to both get tested so we can meet and hook up, but I’m nervous. I want to have sex but I know I won’t be able to get hard, and don’t know what to do. I really like her and don’t want to screw this up. Please help.

— Hardly Hard


Dear Hardly Hard,

I feel for you. Not getting hard when you really like someone has to be one of the most frustrating and potentially devastating feelings a man can experience. I don’t mean to catastrophize. It’s by no means the end of the world, and there are other ways that you and your partner can have sex that doesn’t involve your erect penis (more on that later). Nevertheless, it sucks, especially when you like someone, and they refuse to see you again after you first (poor) performance.

This sounds to me like more of an anxiety problem than a medical problem. (I’m assuming this because you have no problem getting hard subsequent times, but it’s not a bad idea to head to your doctor to get screened for any underlying health issues.) The fact that this has been a repeated issue in the past makes the negative anxiety loop difficult to break, but it’s possible. I promise.

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Often the frustration, disappointment, or anger your partner expresses when you don’t get erect stems from the idea that it’s in some way their fault, says Dr. Uchenna “UC” Ossai, Pelvic PT, certified sexuality counselor and founder of YouSeeLogic. Even though it has nothing to do with them, “few people understand that,” Dr. UC says. There’s this cultural notion that men get hard all the time. We’re constantly horny and a light breeze is enough to get a man erect. So if we’re unable to get erect—and it’s not due to whiskey dick—then the assumption is it’s because we don’t find our partner attractive enough.

This can make a woman, who’s lying in bed vulnerable and naked, feel very insecure. It may even cause her to lash out at you. I once had a woman in college berate me when I couldn’t get hard: “What the fuck is wrong with you? Are you secretly gay?” It was a traumatic experience and led to ED for a while after. (Of note, gay cisgender men typically don’t lash out the same way because they, too, have a penis, and know the deal. They recognize that sometimes you can’t get hard, and it has nothing to with how attractive you find them.)

This is why you want to let her know prior that you struggle with erectile dysfunction, and it has nothing to do with her. “Although it may be uncomfortable, talking with your partner can help to resolve concerns and can make a big difference for most guys,” says Dr. Steven Powell, Psychiatrist and Clinical Specialty Advisor of Hims & Hers.

Remember, this isn’t a one-night stand with a random person you met at a bar. This is someone you’re dating. Someone who likes you for you, not just your dick. You can let her know about your ED in an endearing way that shows how much you care for her. The key is to “front-load the conversation with your honest feelings of her dopeness, and then be honest about the ED,” Dr. UC says.

Before she sets foot in your apartment, I would tell her on a FaceTime, “I’m super excited to meet up with you. I think you’re incredible, but I just want to let you know that I sometimes struggle with erectile dysfunction the first I hook up with someone. It’s generally not a problem after the first time, and it just means that I’m a little nervous because I really like you.”

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I would be shocked if she found this anything other than heartwarming. She’ll likely appreciate your honesty and vulnerability. And when you’re in bed together, you won’t have to worry about whether or not you’ll get hard, and she won’t be there jacking off your soft penis for a solid three minutes, asking, “Okay, but how about now?” She also won’t worry that she’s doing anything wrong, making the experience far more enjoyable for her.

There’s a decent chance that letting her know of your ED prior actually solves the issue. I’m guessing your anxiety comes from the possibility of disappointing your partner with a surprise flaccid dick. By telling her, you’re removing the the surprise and hopefully, alleviating your anxiety.

Of course, there is the option for medical intervention, Powell says, but this is for “guys with persisting issues.” Given that this is a one-time issue with your partners, and you seemingly have no problem getting erect subsequent times, I’m not sure it’s needed. I worry that if you take something like Viagra to alleviate ED that one time, you may become mentally dependent on it. You’ll fear that when you stop taking it, you won’t be able to get hard, so you’ll keep taking it. I’d rather you have an honest conversation with your partner the one time, and then get erect every other time without assistance.

(For one night-stands down the line, it could be worth asking your doctor for medical treatments for ED.)

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Let’s jump to what you should do when you’re lying in bed with your partner, potential limp peen and all. “Focus on her and her pleasure,” Dr. UC says—it’s a great way to get out of your head. (But also, you’ll likely get aroused seeing her experience pleasure!) Of course, there are many ways to manually and orally stimulate your partner. These ways often feel even more pleasurable for women, given that most women can’t orgasm from penetration alone. Additionally, sexy time can last far longer when you just use your hands and mouth. (Most research estimates that vaginal sex typically lasts somewhere between three and seven minutes long.)

If you haven’t mastered your oral and manual skills, not to worry, we have you covered: Here are tips to get better and fingering and tips for oral sex.

Hardly Hard, you will be completely fine. By having the ED conversation prior, and focusing on her pleasure with alternatives to P-in-V sex, I actually think you’re setting the groundwork to have a deeper emotional connection and even better sex life. Your ED may be a blessing in disguise.

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