How Losing My Erection Made My Sex Life Better
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
If you’ve turned on a television since 1998, you know how obsessed we are with guaranteeing hard-ons. Since the little blue pill appeared more than a dozen years ago, countless imitators of varying legitimacy and effectiveness have hit the market. Ads for drugs that promise to cure erectile dysfunction (ED) run nonstop during sporting events, and the sales of these medications generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year. We watch these ads and pop these pills without ever considering that the periodic inability to get an erection might just be the best thing that could happen to our sex lives.
I’m not talking about men who have serious medical problems that make it impossible to get erections without pharmaceutical help. Of course, the drug companies wouldn’t be making much money if those were the only men consuming Cialis and Levitra. A growing percentage of those taking these anti-ED drugs are men under 30, a population in which medical impotence is rare. Performance anxiety is what’s driving most young men’s Viagra consumption. And they’ll never get to the root cause of that anxiety unless they overcome the source of that fear: the belief that an erection defines a man’s sexual power.
The first time I couldn’t get an erection, I was in bed with my high school girlfriend. We’d been dating for about three months and had been having sex for two. Michelle and I played hooky from school at least once a week, riding the bus to her empty house and spending a few hours in bed together. But this particular day, we were fighting (I have long since forgotten what the quarrel was about). For the first time, we tried having make-up sex. I was angry and confused and so was Michelle. We both wanted the soothing of sexual connection. But no matter what we did, it didn’t work: my penis stayed soft.
I was 17, near the peak of what is supposed to be teenage male horniness. I’d certainly never had this problem before, and I was confused—and quickly devastated. Michelle tried giving me a blowjob, but nothing happened. I tried masturbating myself, to no avail; the harder I tried, the softer it got. Michelle burst into tears, crying that I must not be attracted to her anymore. I felt incredibly ashamed, and ended up leaping out of bed, pulling on my clothes, and running down the street to catch the bus home. I couldn’t face her.
Similar incidents would bedevil me throughout the remainder of my teens and well into my 20s. To my tremendous frustration, I could never predict when I would suddenly be unable to get an erection. It happened with one-night stands, and it happened with women I’d been sleeping with for weeks and months. The “problem” would disappear for a long time, and then re-emerge with a vengeance. Unlike that first incident with Michelle, later bouts of impotence rarely had anything to do with a fight. More often, it was performance anxiety—I’d worry about getting an erection, and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
For many years, this anxiety made me fearful of too much foreplay. Once I had an erection, particularly with someone new I wanted to impress, I would try and rush to intercourse, scared of losing my hard-on. (The way it worked for me was that once I was inside a woman, I could always stay hard indefinitely. The dreaded problem always came before what one ex of mine liked to call “invagination.”) I wanted to be hard because I wanted so badly to perform. But as I eventually figured out, that anxiety made me a worse lover rather than a better one. Everyone likes a quickie now and again, but it gets awfully dull as the default.