Ask Nadia: My Boyfriend Can’t Stay Hard

August 20, 2019

SHESAID’s resident sexpert tackles your stickiest sex questions every week.

Dear Nadia,

My boyfriend has a hard time, well, staying hard. Is there something we can do, other than a visit to the doctor?



Dear Concerned,

One of the biggest fallacies we have around sex is that it must always involve penetration, and, by default, erections.

There are several issues with this idea. The first, and probably most obvious, is it puts enormous pressure on men to perform. In much the same way women can’t produce copious amounts of vaginal lubrication on demand (regardless of how turned on we are), men’s penises don’t always comply physically with their mental arousal levels.

Erections are affected by many factors, including stress, illness, certain medications, fatigue, alcohol and diet – just to name a handful. Many of these things are out of a guy’s control, but can nonetheless prompt him to feel like a failure for not being able to perform, which creates a vicious negative thought pattern regarding sex. 

The second issue with this school of thought, is the fact it completely invalidates many LGBTQIA+ couples, who may experience sex in a bounty of other ways – none of which necessarily require an erection or penile penetration. 

And the third, and arguably most important issue with tying our definition of sex to penis-in-vagina penetration is that sex is a far more complex and nuanced experience than this gives it credit for.

By focusing on penetration, we often inadvertently sabotage our sexual passion with our partners, rushing over or completely neglecting factors like extended eye contact, kissing, caressing, slowly undressing, giving oral and exploring sex toys together. In doing so, sex can start to feel like a kind of empty transaction, and we can ultimately lose sight of its power to bond us and allow us to explore our identities, desires and fantasies. 

This isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with a quick P-in-V session, however, focussing entirely on this as the only route in which to have sex with your partner will inevitably put unnecessary pressure on both of you, while ignoring the multitude of others ways you can connect sexually.

I regularly advise women to keep lube by the bed and use it freely and unabashedly, because female bodies don’t always produce adequate amounts naturally (nor should they be expected to). The same approach applies to men; guys should have a toolbox of other activities and toys to turn to, should they not be able to achieve or maintain an erection. 

Using a dildo on you, going down on you, or even having you use toys on him, are all great alternatives to your boyfriend putting his penis inside you.

You also shouldn’t view it as a failing on your part that your boyfriend isn’t always erect during sex. Women have been misled to believe a boner is the only sign a man is turned on by us, and so in the case he doesn’t have one, we must assume we are sexually undesirable. This is simply not the case.

Most men have trouble maintaining erections at some point in their lives. Men are not robots, and as such, their bodies don’t perform on command. What you’re experiencing is completely normal and healthy. I wouldn’t pathologize it or seek ‘treatment’ for, unless it’s accompanied by other health symptoms (in rare cases, erectile issues can be connected to health issues like Diabetes).

Take the pressure off of both of you, and take the expectation of penetration off the table. Let sex be an organic exploration of one another’s bodies – and if that leads to his penis being in your vagina, great! But if that leads to oral sex, mutual masturbation, kissing, or using toys together, be open to that, too. The very best, most pleasurable sex is the kind with no restrictions placed upon it.

Happy fornicating!

Nadia xx

Check out Ask Nadia every Wednesday. 

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