DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I appreciate you’re not a medical doctor so can’t comment on potential physical causes for this issue, but I’m not even sure where to start looking for advice on this that doesn’t immediately descend into snake-oil and weird assumptions. I’ve been following your blog since the sex-positive hey-day of the late aughts, so I hope you or your followers might have some pointers. (We’re in the UK, for accessing resources purposes)
So, my husband (M39) and I (M35) have been together nine years, lived together four, and married for two (and before some cleverclogs in the comments suggests it, no, there’s been no infidelity). I get that one’s sex life tends to get less athletic as you get older and more familiar, but we’ve got an ongoing problem that is just getting upsetting now, namely that my husband is experiencing premature ejaculation when he’s topping during penetrative sex. I think it started maybe 5 years ago – he’d been going through a pretty stressful time with one thing and another, I tried not to make a Big Deal of it when it started because I didn’t want to give him a complex – and it’s got to the point where he goes off a matter of seconds after he’s in. It’s uncomfortable for me (he’s even hurt me a couple of times when he’s involuntarily thrust before I was ready), and unsatisfying for both of us (he’s only getting the most perfunctory orgasm out of it).
It’s also deeply upsetting for him, because it plays into a whole slew of insecurity about being “undesirable” and “unlovable” no matter how much I try to convince him that I do love him and desire him very much. He doesn’t have a problem getting or maintaining and erection, and lasts for a normal length of time during other kinds of sex, it’s literally just topping. Thing is, although we do have and enjoy having non-penetrative sex (I’m including oral in that, fwiw), he’s sort of got it in his head now that anal is some sort of Gold Standard and that I couldn’t possibly be satisfied by anything else. And, like, I am, of course I am and I let him know that, but if I’m going to be honest, though, and also conform to stereotype, sometimes I like being f--ked and I do miss it. (As a couple of asides/ context points, he doesn’t especially enjoy bottoming, and I have depression which can make my sexual response a bit hit and miss sometimes, but I’m usually happy to get him off even if I’m feeling dead from the waist down)
So, how do we even begin to address this? I’m pretty sure it’s a psychological thing rather than a physical one, and he’s being stubborn about going to his GP about it. We had limited success with me getting him off, then giving it half an hour before trying, but he got worried he was just training himself to cum too quickly that way too and stopped it. I actually have no idea what his masturbation habits are like, we’re both deeply private about that (thanks conservative upbringing!). I’m seriously worried this is going to start impacting on all aspects of intimacy between us, as we do get into vicious cycles of avoiding sex, or anything that could be interpreted as initiating sex, because of the upset it causes both of us. I love him, I think he’s terribly attractive, and we otherwise have a very close, supportive, affectionate relationship, but I know from past experience that nothing kills a relationship faster than lack of intimacy.
Thanks for any suggestions,
Slow Speed Racer, Slow
DEAR SLOW SPEED RACER, SLOW: One of the unusual things about sex is how much of it depends on what’s going on between the ears as much as between our legs, SSRS. It’s kind of amazing how much our brains can affect our sexual response — from desire to arousal to, well, being a little too quick on the trigger. I think you’re right: it sounds like your husband’s issue is psychological rather than physiological. If he’s only orgasming that quickly when he’s topping you and lasting a normal (for him) amount of time for other forms of sex, then the odds are it has to do with the stuff going on upstairs, rather than in his junk.
What that is, exactly, however, is a tricky thing to work out because there’re so many potential causes and triggers. It could be, for example, that he’s trained himself to ejaculate quickly during some sex acts. If he’s been cranking one out, especially either to porn or fantasizing about topping, and he’s been trying to get off as quickly as possible, then he may have created an association between topping and speed.
(This can sometimes happen when one partner is trying to hide the fact that they’ve been masturbating; the faster they get off, the less likely they are to get caught, and so on.)
Alternately, it could be that whatever he went through five years ago — you don’t say — has given him a complex about his relationship with you. If it was something that hit him square in the confidence or made him doubt his ability to please you, his desirability to you or simply the security of the relationship, then topping you could have taken on such dire importance that it causes him to pop off right at the start. Which, I realize, seems counterproductive, but that’s brains for you.
Unfortunately, the only person who can tell you what’s going through his head and what he’s feeling is, well, him. And it’s pretty clear his anxiety is doing a number on him. One of the most frustrating things about dealing with insecurity is how it comes across differently to the person experiencing it and the person who’s on the other end. To you, it feels like no matter how much you try to reassure him, he doesn’t believe you, because he keeps coming back to ask for more reassurance. To him, he keeps coming back because he does believe you; that’s why he keeps asking for it. The problem is that the reassurance doesn’t last… and so when the brainweasels start gnawing on him again, he has to go back to the person who can help put them back down for a bit.
Now, because it’s almost certainly something going on in his head, that means that the answer is ultimately for him to get on the therapist’s couch to start unpacking things and working on finding some resolutions.
But in the meantime, there are a few stopgap measure the two of you can take that can help slow him down so that he doesn’t panic-thrust and hurt you and you can both enjoy the intimacy.
To start with, there’re desensitizing lubes, sprays and wipes out there that you can buy without a prescription. Romans, for example, offers wipes that contain about 4% benzocaine; just about enough to dull sensitivity without numbing things entirely. Similarly, if he’s willing to actually talk to his GP, some SSRIs have off-label use for treating premature ejaculation.
On the non-medical side of things, there’s always the option of getting him off first, before you move to his topping you. This way, you’re both able to focus on the foreplay and lead up to actual penetration and his refractory period means that he’s less likely to orgasm right at the start of things. And of course, if he’s really worried about being unable to please you because of how quickly he ejaculates, there’re always toys. There’re plenty of strap-ons for men, ranging from ones you strap to your thigh or that sit on the pubic bone above the penis; with these, he’s able to be the one topping you (thrusting, controlling the depth and speed, and so on) without having to worry about orgasming too soon. After you’ve gotten yours, he can then switch from the artificial penis to his biological one and finish things off for himself without the pressure of having to perform like a porn star in order to please you.
But like I said: these are stopgap measures. The only real treatment is going to be for him to use his words — both with you, and with a therapist who can help him unpack his insecurities and find some answers. Encourage him to start talking to a therapist, SSRS; the sooner he starts, the sooner the two of you will be able to start having the kinds of sex and intimacy you used to have.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org