An erection is what happens when the spongy tissue inside of a penis fills with blood and becomes hard. But if a person with a penis experiences performance anxiety, the stress narrows the blood vessels, which interferes with blood flow. In a sexual dynamic involving a hard penis, this can look like negative feedback. Anyone of any gender can experience sexual performance anxiety. Stress around sex is totally normal, and it’s also totally normal to experience physical side effects as a result.
In case you need to read it twice: not getting or staying hard because of sexual performance anxiety, or any other reason, is normal. Feeling distress around it is normal. Really.
There are a few culprits that lead to sexual performance anxiety. Some of the biggest include fear that you won’t be able to please your partner, poor body image, and communication issues within the relationship. Here’s what to do about them.
1. Fear of Being Unable to Please Your Partner
You might want to sit down for this if you have a penis: your penis is not the only way your partner experiences sexual pleasure.
It’s not even the main way your partner experiences sexual pleasure. If you believe that the only way to have sex and please a partner involves a hard penis, it’s time to expand the way that you think about sex. There are lots of ways to have sex that don’t involve an erection, and exploring them will help you and your partner experience far more pleasure, with or without performance anxiety.
First, have a conversation with your partner about your erectile dysfunction and what it means and doesn’t mean. The best way to do this is outside of the context of sex, such as over coffee on a weekday morning when sex isn’t immediately a possibility. You might feel vulnerable, but try to speak openly with your partner about your worries.
Then, talk about pleasure. Share what you like, what they like, and what of those things you want to do together. Is there anything new you’d like to try that you’ve been wondering about? Ask about a fantasy they’ve always wanted to explore, and practice openness and non-judgement when you hear the answer. Talk about what types of porn you like and what you find hot about them, and watch some together. Ask to watch your partner masturbate in front of you (hot) and pay attention to the types of touch they use and where for the next time your hands or mouth are on them.
If you’re not used to talking about sex directly with each other, or even if you are, you might be surprised by what your partner shares. Listen without judgement, ask them to tell you more, and be ready to share in return. Chances are good that neither of you will be totally into everything the other person is curious to explore. The overlap is where things get interesting.
2. Poor Body Image
Low body image can affect anyone of any gender.
People who say they have good body image also say they have the most satisfying sex, according to a review of the research on body image and sex. And according to one study of a limited demographic of men (to use researchers’ language around gender), men with low body image were more likely to experience premature ejaculation, which according to WebMD can happen alongside erectile dysfunction.
There are a few things you can try to improve your body image.
3. Communication Issues in the Relationship
Your sex life can be a mirror for the other parts of your life, and especially for your relationship. Any issues you and your partner are having won’t stop at the door to the bedroom. This means that, even if it sounds unsexy, practicing open communication, learning or relearning to trust each other, and seeking outside help from a licensed therapist can all help take your sexual connection to the next level.
Can I Really Cure My ED?
Some cases of erectile dysfunction need the support of a medical professional, but almost all ED cases also involve psychological issues. Sex therapy can be effective in treating erectile dysfunction, so start with some at-home treatments and exercises before you seek medical intervention.
In the Lover app, Getting Hard Made Easy is a course designed by clinical psychologist and Lover co-founder Dr. Britney Blair specifically to help with maintaining erections. Just make sure to keep exploring with your partner along the way.
To learn more about overcoming performance anxiety and solutions for sexual issues like ED, try Lover's courses designed to improve your sex life.