My Guy Can’t Get It Up. What Should I Do?

Evan, I have been dating a 35-year old guy for a couple months now. When we first started fooling around, he was unable to attain an erection. It was understandable, because he was going through a divorce, and so I know he had a lot on his mind all the time, and was used to one woman for so many years. After a few weeks, he was able to have sex with me, and even reached climax a couple of times. But now…we’re back to erectile problems. There is nothing wrong with his sex drive. Even when we’re unable to have sex, he’s always making sure that I’m fulfilled in other ways. I really, really, really would love to think that there isn’t anything wrong with me…I’m only 24 years old, and I’m pretty sure that I’m not totally disgusting. It’s a very frustrating matter, because it makes me feel so unwanted. He reassures me constantly that I’m sexy and beautiful and that he does, in fact, want me. But… a body cannot lie, and his inability to maintain an erection at all times worries me. –Brittany

Brittany,

I know, by looking at me, you’d think: this guy is an expert in erectile dysfunction.

This is biology we’re talking about, and it’s futile for you to take responsibility for what’s going on inside of him.

But really, that’s just an image I try to give off for the public. In fact, my penis remains in good working condition, not unlike a reliable Honda Accord with 120,000 miles on it. So, like any expert who is out of his depth on a given question, I turn to the Internet to help bolster my opinion with a few facts.

First of all, I want to disabuse you of the opinion that this has anything to do with YOU. It does not. Blaming yourself for his inability to get it up would be like a guy blaming himself because you’re PMSing or are clinically depressed. This is biology we’re talking about, and it’s futile for you to take responsibility for what’s going on inside of him.

Second, you should know that this is FAR more frustrating for him than it is for you. The only times that I’ve had trouble getting it up were the times that I HAD to (when my wife and I were trying to conceive). And I’ve gotta tell you, not being able to summon your penis when it’s been perfectly responsive (both voluntarily and involuntarily) your whole life is really trying. While I’m no doctor, I think it’s obvious that the more pressure a guy puts on himself to perform, the more he’s stuck in his own head, the less likely he’ll be able to perform. Factor in the pressure that you’re putting on him – as if he’s not just disappointing himself but disappointing (and rejecting) you, and, well, it’s no surprise that this problem hasn’t corrected itself on your watch.

Your body’s not the problem, but your attitude may be.

Put another way: your body’s not the problem, but your attitude may be.

As it stands, erectile dysfunction (ED), effects about 18% of the population, according to a study reported by the Mayo Clinic. For men aged 20-40, that number is closer to 5-10%. Unusual, to be sure, but not outside the realm of normal probability. Hell, I’m color blind, and that applies to 8% of all men, too. I can assure you, Brittany, that’s not your fault either.

If you’re going to turn this ship around – or get this elevator to rise, as it might be – you’re going to have to adapt a supportive, loving, no-big-deal stance to his temporary flaccidity. It IS hard to get it up when you’re not in the mood and your brain is buzzing with thoughts of work, lawsuits, and divorce, and you have to respect that.

While I can’t guarantee that you’ll solve his ED problem, I can promise you that your new attitude will not make it worse – something I can’t quite say about your current stance on his Royal Limpness.

(By the way, I’m not saying that you have to stay with him if he leaves you sexually dissatisfied; I’m saying that if you’re GOING to stay with him, being supportive, easygoing, and positive will be the most effective way to help him with his problem – instead of making it all about you.)

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Marc

    It’s most definitely him, not you. It doesn’t take much for us to get it up when everything is working okay physically and mentally. Clearly he has some issues to attend to, but it doesn’t at all sound like he’s turned off by you. But if you give him a hard time about this (no pun intended) you will push him away. Patience, compassion and maybe some Cialis will solve the problem.

  2. 2
    Real Men Secrets

    People don’t like to talk about it but it may be cause from pron, his arousal levels got high so he is not aroused by his partner, if tat the case just make him stop watching it.

    It’s is some other cause he should really try to exercise his CP muscles, i recommend using kegel exercises (for men)

  3. 3
    Ian

    Dan Savage on his podcast has addressed this issue lots of times. First he should make sure that there’s no physical problem with his doctor(probable at 35). He then suggests taking intercourse off the table for a period of time, which will take the pressure off of him. Do things which don’t require or expect an erection for a period of time (say a month) even if he gets an erection. Then if the erection is back after that period of time put intercourse back on the table.

  4. 4
    helene

    The part that’s slightly strange about all this is that he had problems INITIALLY, then things were fine… but now the problems are back. Its not so unusual for men to have temporary ED due to performance anxiety with a new partner, but usually once things get going they don’t look back. This is not what has happened in your case. As Marc said, cialis or viagra can help men with performance anxiety to feel more confident the first few times and so these drugs CAN be helpful even if the problem is more psychological than physical, so that might be worth a try… good luck!
    Bear in mind however that if this goes on much longer it is likely to be an ongoing problem, so set yourself a time limit on how long you are prepared to give this situation. Whilst as Evan says, it is illogical for this to make you feel unattractive, nevertheless if it DOES make you feel unattractive, then you need to look after your own self esteem as well and not stay in a situation that makes you feel bad about yourself. Some women are confident enough in their own sexuality to cope with an ED problem without feeling unattractive or rejected, but that’s a tall order for someone as young as you are, so if its just too much for you, you should feel free to get out of the relationship and find someone less problematic.

  5. 5
    Laura

    Spot on as usual Evan. I would add…like most issues in a relationship, you should be looking for a team player. So, as Evan said, your job is to lean back (figuratively) and his would probably be to get his butt (and penis) to a Doc. Preferably a urologist. After ruling out physical possibilities for his ED….checking in with a therapist to vent about his stress regarding divorce, etc. might help. He needs to be willing to put his ego aside and take one fir the team!

  6. 6
    JerseyGirl

    Like Real Men Secrets said, I would consider his porn habits. This has become an increasing issue with men today who escape inside there computers and pornography. At 35 with a 24 year old, it darn well shouldn’t be her. He should be thanking his lucky stars.

  7. 7
    myhonestanswer

    It’s definitely not you! If it were in full working order, simply the phrase ’24 year old’ would do it for him, I’m sure.

  8. 8
    Starr

    He’s was going through a divorce and was given the opportunity to have sex with another woman and he couldn’t get it up?  That sounds like a huge problem…seems he should be MORE excited at this prospect.  Maybe it’s performance anxiety.

  9. 9
    Sherell

    Too early for this ish.  And you are too young.  Girl run!!

  10. 10
    susan

    taking anti depressants can affect erectile function and ability to orgasm. sometimes people don’t want to admit they are on such meds as they think they will appear “weak”. silly, yes. 

  11. 11
    Darren Miller

    Brittany, I can understand that it is doubly frustrating for a man when he can’t get or maintain a firm enough erection to make love. Not only does he feel unfulfilled sexually but it is so maddening to know you want to make love, know you desire your partner, but find yourself unable to control the crucial part of your body.

    It’s even worse when your partner feels very threatened by your not making love to her and starts accusing you of not loving her or of having an affair.

    So one of the first steps you have to take to resolve this problem is to be honest with your partner.

    I know it’s hard for a man to admit he’s experiencing erection problems but the overwhelming majority of women are very understanding – in fact, they are often relieved to discover that’s what the problem is and it’s not because of them

    Sharing this with your partner will also have the effect of relieving some of your anxiety – and that in itself will help since anxiety alone can cause, or certainly contribute to erection problems.

    Most cases of temporary erection difficulties are simply cleared up if you and your partner agree that you won’t try to have intercourse for a while.

    That absolutely does not mean that you give up intimacy and physical contact altogether – kissing, cuddling, caressing, doing everything loving, arousing and satisfying you feel like doing.

    Massage is a good way to get that loving closeness, and stimulate your hormones and physical responsiveness. The only thing to avoid is attempting intercourse itself.

    After a few days, or weeks, you should find that one time you have intercourse easily just because you weren’t worrying about it.

  12. 12
    Gem

    Brittany,

    I’ll be blunt because it’s necessary. If you are not madly, completely, wildly in love with this man…..if you don’t want to spend the rest of your life with him and have 5 kids with him….run as fast as you can NOW!

    It sounds harsh, I know, but seriously. You are a young woman with your whole future ahead of you. This is a guy you’re dating for only a few months. He’s going through a divorce and is sexually challenged. Why get sucked into his current disfunction? Why? When there are plenty of healthy, sexually functional, single and available hot men to date?

    Not to be mean to him….but to be kind to you. In a couple of month’s time you are insecure about your own sexuality now. As a woman, I’d be too, no matter how much I KNEW it wasn’t ME, I’d feel those pangs. So I don’t blame you, but now you both have a problem. Don’t make his problem yours.

    Why get sucked into trying to FIX him or make his problem YOUR project. We women do that far too often. We often put the focus on the man’s issue, and forget our own needs. The longer we focus on the man’s issue and invest our time and help, and fight for the relationship, we don’t acknowledge that maybe the relationship isn’t worth fighting for. 

    AND, you may even process his problem in a way that makes you THINK you feel more for him than you do. Or you may get fixated on helping him because if you can cure him, then you can also prove to yourself that you are in fact hot and desireable (something you’re doubting now)…..I just see you getting sucked into disfunction and quite frankly, there’s not reason to for a couple months with a new guy.

    If you are a happy, functional, hot, young woman, I simply ask, why? Is THIS man, at THIS time in your life worth it?

    Do you love him THAT much? If at all? Not to be mean to him but HIS problem, honey is not yours. It’s far too new into the relationship to sign up for helper of his hard-ons.

    Wish him well, and run……   :)

  13. 13
    Goldie

    #10 Susan, that’s what I was thinking, that it could be a side effect of prescription meds, or alcohol. Either that, or the guy has a really bad medical condition that would worry me a lot if I knew him. I mean, a 35-year-old “even reached climax a couple of times” with a 24-year-old? this doesn’t sound like any 35-year-old I’ve ever met. I’d say the guy needs to go see a doctor, like, yesterday. For all I know, he may have bigger problems than ED.
     
    And, yes, agree with everyone else on here, it’s pretty obvoius that the LW cannot be causing this in any way. If this is getting to her, to the point where she thinks she’s indesirable, then maybe the commenters who say she needs to leave are right :(

  14. 14
    Sarahrahrah!

    His problems could be indicative of pornography addiction, which is very common now.  Like so many other commenters have already said, his problems are not your problems and you would be wise not to get (you and your self-esteem) sucked into them.  Good luck!  :)

  15. 15
    Martha

    I want to write to empathize with Brittany’s situation.  I’m older than she and have encountered this issue with men a few times.  It is very very very difficult to not take it personally when a man cannot get or sustain an erection.  A man you care about who easily gets an erection makes you feel very desired and loved. When this is difficult, you doubt yourself.  I would talk to myself and tell myself that it’s not rational, that I shouldn’t take it personally, but it is hard to not have doubts.

    That being said, the man I was with who went to his doctor to talk about it was a keeper.  He was concerned about his health, my needs and our relationship.  

    It wasn’t hard to say good-bye to one man who refused to go to a doctor.  With another man I had a similar experience to what you described.  Things were fine in the beginning, then there would be some difficulties. I’m guessing from what I’ve read that he had gotten too used to porn and taking care of business by himself because he began to make comments about “saving up for me” before I visited and there were no problems after that.   I have no suggestions about how to approach the topic of porn use with a man.  Sorry about that.  I wish you the best.

  16. 16
    Michael

    What men often mean when they say, “I think you are sexy, and I really want you,” is more like, “darn, I should want you, and..,” which isn’t the same. So, the self-reporting of a man in such a situation isn’t all that reliable.

    It could be about you only in the sense he’s really not that into you. He may like your companionship, may need it, but it isn’t a sexual thing. Many men don’t appreciate they want nurturing not sex. He may want someone to take care of him emotionally, not sexually, but not understand his own needs.

    Now, it is important for him to be evaluated physically. Even at his age, he could have low-T, or any number of physical issues. If he is on a med like Prozac, there is no doubt it affects his ability to achieve an erection. High blood pressure meds, etc., and the list goes on. Is he willing to answer questions about these? 

    He should be willing to have a physical check-up with a specialist. If not, something’s going on, and it is being masked. Drop it or just be his friend.

  17. 17
    Annie

    If he is going through a divorce, then there may have been sexual problems within that relationship.

    As an example, I got involved with a man who was going through a divorce years ago. His sexual experiences with his wife, were that she pretty much rejected him continuously, then when she finally “did ” give in, she would start talking about her mothers upcoming visit(as an example), while they were having sex. She really wasn’t into it.

    She also had a very hard time climaxing, and would often “be done” and wouldn’t allow him to also enjoy himself. As a result, he had an issue, where he was in a constant state, of semi-erection. He could get erect, but it wouldn’t get very very hard.

    But he was a very open man, and said, that he had problem really letting go, because when he finally really started to enjoy himself with his ex, she would end things and go to sleep.

    It was almost as though he only allowed himself a 1/2 erection out of hope, but never full desire because he was alway’s afraid of disappointment. This pattern developed and became engrained.

    I give that as an example, of why men can experience some sexual dysfunction.

    So be patient, know it isn’t about you and I definately agree with the comment of taking sex off the menu for a while. Help him to feel safe with you, so he might be able to take the pressure off himself and enjoy sex once again.

    Good luck.

  18. 18
    Annie

    @12

    You seem very obsessed with taking care of yourself. Does it not cross your mind that this man, may have an issue that may take some kindness to help repair?

    Do you feel any empathy at all for another or have you just been so burned out by your attempts to fix everyone, that you can no longer differentiate between when a help is needed and when you are being a doormat?

    You sound so incredibly jaded Gem.

  19. 19
    SS

    Annie, @18
     
    Sorry, but I have to agree with Gem @12 as well.
     
    I was in a similar situation, minus the divorce part. I was unaware of this, but the guy I was dating had a sexual issue that dated back to his teen years, and although the physical issue was fixed, he still had mental and emotional hangups about it almost 20 years later.
     
    So without me even knowing anything was wrong, this issue created a wedge between us. I went from having a sexually healthy mindset to suddenly developing my own insecurities because of the way he expressed the issue.
     
    It was only at the very end of the relationship that I even knew what was happening, and that he told me the truth about his situation. By then the relationship was no longer salvageable, and really, it didn’t need to be salvaged for other reasons as well.
     
    The bigger point though was that we had only been dating six months. We were exclusive, but we weren’t talking marriage for another few years, the relationship was just starting, and honestly? There was no need for me to play counselor and be supportive of someone who had not really done anything to let me know that he wanted me in his life longterm. It was a tumultuous six months for many reasons, and ultimately, it was best for all that it ended and that I didn’t spend much more time than I already had trying to be helpful and understanding. It wouldn’t have resulted in much benefit for us anyway.
     
    We see the same for Brittany. In her case, this guy is recently divorced. HUGE red flag if she wants anything longterm with him, because the chances are very high that he’s probably not going to be looking for another serious long-term commitment oriented relationship with a woman any time soon.
     
    Brittany SHOULD be focused on taking care of herself first and foremost in this situation. Just as I should have been in mine… I honestly can’t understand why women invest so much energy into men who they barely know and who’ve usually done little to warrant such an investment. She’s only been with him a few months. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if this man breaks up with Brittany in the next two months or so, because guys who are coming out of a marriage have a tendency to rebound really quickly (and often with much younger women) and then walk away when the relationship gets too heavy.
     
    Now with a long-term boyfriend, fiance or husband? Absolutely I’m sticking around and attempting to help (or give him space to work things out). But that’s because I’d have more of an investment in the relationship, and hopefully, because he’s shown he’s the type of guy who is committed to me.
     
    24-year-old women have MUCH better options than a man who was separated, now divorced, is rebounding and is having sexual troubles because of all that’s going on in his life.

  20. 20
    BeenThruTheWars

    I’ve encountered this problem from time to time, too (back when I was dating).  How much does he drink, smoke and toke?  Trust me, that is often the #1 cause of ED.  Cut down on the booze, pot and tobacco, and watch things get back to normal (if that’s the issue).  Note that cigarette smoking can, over a period of years, restrict those tiny capillaries to the point where no blood is flowing where it needs to be, and that damage can be irreversible.

  21. 21
    Joe

    If the LW was a man writing about dating a frigid woman, would there be the same number of people commenting that he should bail on the relationship?

  22. 22
    Goldie

    @##18 and 12, I kind of see where Gem is coming from. LW and her BF have only known each other for two months. It’s not like they’ve been married ten years and now Gem tells the LW she should walk out on her life partner just because he has ED. This guy is a relative stranger, and appears to have major issues, of which ED may not even be the biggest one. Depending on what kind of person he is, and how good of a match they are, it may make sense for the LW to not let herself get sucked into this vortex. Like one wise person told me many years ago, “Don’t let another person’s insanity become your reality”.

  23. 23
    Sherell

    @18 You can have empathy and leave.  Self love is first and foremost!  Just because someone needs help doesn’t mean you have to be the one to help them!   There is so much more out there  then guys treating you bad and guys needing help.  There are healthy guys that are ready for a relationship.  Both emotionally and physically  Women so easily fall into the role of trying to fix someone.  If they had been married or in a long relationship, then that’s another story but at this juncture women need to realize when to leave. He needs to fix this on his own. 

    You gotta know when to hold and when to fold!!!!!

  24. 24
    Gem

    Annie, #18,

    I’m not jaded. But I am a realist.

    This is a 24 year old young woman dating someone new for only a couple of months’ time. I’m telling her what I’d tell my daughter or best friend.

    If she’s madly crazy in love with him and he is the ONE then I’d advise her to stick it out and go through the process so she never looks back and says, “what if…”

    BUT, no where in her letter does she mention love or thier feelings being so strong that they are committed to each other or committed to a future.

    So why would I tell her to help, support, and figure out the issues of a man she barely knows, who’s full of red flags screaming that he’s not ready or able for a healthy relationship right now?

    He’s going through a divorce. She may be just a rebound girl because he’s not really emotionally available. How’s she going to feel after she “helps” him for months, feeling rejected and her confidence takes a hit, then he dumps her?

    Regardless, it’s a relationship of a couple of months with sexual problems from the start. Sexual problems that are now hurting her own sexual self-esteem. Why volunteer to begin a relationship with such problems?

  25. 25
    SS

    Actually… if he’s “going through a divorce,” he’s still technically married.
     
    So I agree with Gem even more now… but even if Brittany was 50 and and a hunchback, why sign up for all of this involving a married man you’ve only known a few months?
     
    If you want to stick around, Evan’s advice is solid. But… I think it’s very valid for a poster to suggest that this situation is really not worth sticking around for!!!
     
    (Sorry Evan for the back-to-back posts.)

  26. 26
    Gem

    Joe, 21,

    Yes, my advice would be the same.

  27. 27
    Detha

    The poster should think of her needs. If she is now feeling depleted by the situation this can lead towards resentful feelings and would inevitably destroy the relationship. I would say to her, love and know yourself, have boundaries on what is or isn’t acceptable FOR YOU.

  28. 28
    Christie Hartman

    ED does happen to men, even men as young as 35, but there’s always a reason. This guy needs to start looking into this because it doesn’t appear to be going to go away by itself. Yes, it’s difficult and embarrassing to go to a doctor/therapist for ED, but much less embarrassing than having to face your girlfriend, right?
     
    I once dated a guy who had a similar situation – post-divorce, sexual performance issues. The frustrating part wasn’t so much the ED, it was that he tried to pretend it wasn’t a problem, and thus never did anything about it. Denial is your biggest enemy here.

  29. 29
    Christie Hartman

    Also, if he’s going through or just completed a divorce, this can take a big toll on some men. I’ve seen them get depressed and unhappy when the papers are signed, leaving the women who date them baffled and hurt.

  30. 30
    nathan

    I’m surprised by the number of “just bail” comments here. Sexual challenges are pretty common amongst both men and women, and the reasons behind them are many and varied. Although I agree that his recent divorce status is a red flag, and also agree that she shouldn’t turn into something of a “nurse” figure here, I seriously doubt the number of “just bail” responses would be as high if the person struggling were female.
    I have been on both ends of this issue. In the beginning of one relationship, I had the same kind of symptoms as this guy. And mostly, it boiled down to a fear of getting her pregnant, which eventually led to some conversations and decisions about contraception that helped immensely. And in another relationship, my girlfriend had been raped in the past, and also was in an abusive relationship where sex was used as a method of control by her boyfriend. I could have bailed on her, but I would have lost out on all the good we had for the three years we had together.
    I don’t know what exactly Brittney should do, but it would be smart to take a good look at the whole picture of the relationship before making any final decision about it.
     

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