DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I just want to preface I really enjoy reading you and you’ve helped me out a lot when it comes to try and figure myself out as well as become more confident.
There’s just one aspect of my life in which I don’t feel confident at all: my sexual experience and sexual self-esteem. I’ve only had 2 sexual partners so far, mostly foreplay — that in and of itself isn’t a problem — yet my sexual confidence is at its lowest, even before I lost my virginity. Without wanting to go into details, my ex wasn’t really a supportive person, and everytime I would lose an erection due to performance anxiety, or struggle to adjust to a new position she would point it out in a hurtful way.
I feel this made me completely disinterested in sex, especially because I can’t portray myself in a sexual scenario; I always have the feeling I will fail, or be rebuked again, and I don’t even bother trying to date because I feel like I just CANNOT have sex.
This subject is actually stressing me a lot, and makes me feel like no one would actually want to sleep with me. Do you have any advice on how I could change my mindset or build better sexual confidence / self-esteem? I think I’m in need of some change (it’s pretty much the only area of life I’m not confident about)
Thanks for having me Doc
DEAR SOFT FOCUS: It really sucks that your ex was a hurtful a--hole, SF. It doubly sucks that she was buying into and reinforcing toxic ideas about what it means to be a man. One of the common, restrictive tropes about manhood and masculinity is that men — cis men, specifically — are sexual satyrs, always ready to go, and if they aren’t walking around like peripatetic porn stars, they’re at least able to get harder than Russian trigonometry at a moment’s notice. In reality, not only do men (biological or otherwise) vary widely in libido or interest in sex, but dicks are goddamn divas. Like Luciano Pavarotti, if everything isn’t absolutely perfect, penises will often refuse to perform. “Not perfect” can mean anything from “stimulation eased up for longer than five seconds”, “the chemical balance in my body has shifted slightly”, “had too much to drink”, “stressed at work”, “worried about unrelated issues” and the perennial classic, “being nervous or anxious about pleasing my partner”. And, of course, if someone draws attention to being less stiff than a double shot of rye and not standing at attention like a mushroom-headed Marine, especially in a negative manner… well, that means that anxieties about not being hard in the moment are always going to be front-of-mind. That, in turn, creates a self-reinforcing cycle of anxiety; you couldn’t get hard one time, which makes you worried about being able to get it up this time, which then means you’re more likely to lose your erection, which then makes you more anxious. Wash, rinse, repeat. Throw a partner who gives you s--t for it and, yeah, that’s gonna do a number on you and your best friend John C. Thomas, esq.
In porn, nobody ever loses their hard-on thanks to the magic of editing, off-screen fluffers and better living through chemistry. In the real world, however, everyone is human with all the wild diversity of experiences during sex that entails. Sometimes folks — even young, virile go-getters — get a little softer while shifting positions and could use a little stimulation to get one’s head back in the game; this isn’t that big of a deal. It’s when partners treat this as a mark of shame or the idea that any sort of assistance to get hard again that this actually becomes a problem.
Such as with you and your s--tty ex. And while she’s been kicked to the curb like last week’s compost, the whammy she did to your head lingers.
So, how do you fix this? How can you start getting past her bulls--t and start feeling like a sexual being again?
Well, there’re a lot of possibilities, some more practical or sensible than others. On the short-term solution side of things, cock rings — rubber, silicone or leather rings worn at the base of the penis — constrict the penis when erect, meaning that blood can’t leave the spongey-tissues that cause erections. This means that you will stay harder, longer, because the blood can’t flow back and cause things to deflate. Similarly, medication like Cialis or Viagra can ensure that things get hard on an as-needed basis; God knows there’re enough websites out there that offer doctor-on-staff prescriptions that’ll send the pills straight to your door without having to look your GP in the eye.
But these are stop-gap solutions; at best, it’s Dumbo’s Magic Feather, letting you put your brain at ease and giving yourself permission to not think about things and keep your anxiety from f--king with your head… and your head. At worst, it’s a bandage on a hemorrhage, addressing a surface problem when the real issue is much deeper. And while I can see the value of a temporary solution that could interrupt your anxiety-brain long enough to remind you that yes, you can get hard when it counts, these could very easily make things worse. Creating an association between, say, popping sildenafil before a date and your ability to please your partner means that you can end up making any of these solutions into a crutch that you train yourself to require to perform.
This is why I think it’s more important to address the underlying issue — while it’s not as fast and easy as sliding on a cock-ring or dry-swallowing a pill, this has the benefit of actually providing a long-term and permanent solution to the issue, instead of plastering over it and pretending it’s not there.
Now the first and most obvious step is simple: you need to date a better class of partner. Your ex was the exception, not the norm; most women aren’t s--theads like she was and understand that hey, sex is absurd, weird s--t happens and it’s better to roll with it. As most people can tell you, all sorts of absurd and silly things happen when two (or more) people are boning. Someone gets a cramp at an inconvenient time, someone farts, hits their head against the wall, knees their partner in the junk, falls off the bed… rather than let this ruin the mood, folks who are comfortable with sex and sexuality (and their partner) will laugh it off, give it a little time and get back to business. Dating someone who’s caring and compassionate means more laughing with you than at you and understanding that occasionally you hit road bumps on the way to Pound Town. While you don’t want a partner who’s going to treat you like you’re a porcelain statue or who is going to put foam bumpers on every metaphorical corner, you do want a partner who’s supportive and generous, not someone who thinks the appropriate response is to give notes like a TV exec in the middle of the production.
But another — and arguably more important — step is to expand your horizons. Part of the reason why you’re dealing with persistent erection anxiety and self-esteem issues that come bundled with them is because you, like a lot of folks, have a very narrow definition of “sex”… and it’s all centered around your dick. Don’t get me wrong: penises are great and all, but they’re not the end-all/be-all of pleasure, nor is sex exclusively defined by “insert tab-a into slot-b, repeat”. A lot of guys — and again, porn has a lot to do with this — see vaginal penetration as the point of it all. Everything else is just the warm-up before the big game. Yeah, oral is good for foreplay but everyone knows that orgasms only count when they’re being delivered by the magic stick… and without any assistance from hands or toys.
And that’s bulls--t. Sex is a holistic exercise, one that involves your whole body and mind. It’s not limited to “getting the pole in the goal”, it’s sharing pleasure between you and your partner, and it doesn’t require your having a steely erection to make it happen. Yes, you may have times when your penis doesn’t want to play well with others. But you know what never goes limp, nor fails to work when needed? Your fingers. Your hands. Your mouth and tongue. Dildos and vibrators. All of these can be used to have incredible sex and please your partner without needing to worry about whether your dick is fully engaged or not. Yes, it’s all still sex. Trust me: if your future girlfriend is falling back on the bed after the third or fourth orgasm (or even just one really good one), she’s not going to be seeing this as a failure because they came about from your using a silver bullet on her or going down like a nuclear sub. She’s going to see that as some bed-rocking, back breaking, saw-the-face-of-god-and-you-both-winked banging.
Now admittedly, it can take time to get there — especially as you’re trying to get your confidence back. But there’re solutions to that as well: take things slower with your next girlfriend. Part of what you’re trying to do is ease your anxiety about not being able to get an erection… so take boners off the table at the start. Learn to love making out like teenagers. Fool around like you don’t know when your parents are going to get back. Get comfortable with each others bodies and presence in bed, talk about what turns you both on and gets you both off. Let yourself enjoy being with someone and be enjoyed by someone without worrying about whether you’re going to cross home plate and put some of those expanded ideas about sex into play at the start rather than later down the line.
This not only has the benefit of establishing that wider definition of sex early on, but it means that you’re not going to feel the pressure to be hard at the drop of a hat. You’ll be more comfortable being sexual — in general and with your future partners — without feeling like anything less than ramrod straight is a failure. And when you’re not worried about performing, you’ll actually be able to perform when the occasion arises.
But best of all, by being more comfortable with expanding your definitions of sex, not only will you be a much better lover in general — the kind women brag about to their friends — but if you do have a moment where you go soft, you’ll be able to pivot smoothly to another way of pleasing your partner without missing a beat or breaking the mood. Then, after the moment’s passed and you’re able to get hard again, you’ll be ready to bring penetration back on line and add that back into the evening’s repertoire.
It’s not nearly as dire as it may feel right now. Date better women, de-prioritize rock-hard boners as the alpha and omega of sex and embrace all the many ways of getting down. You’ll have your sexual confidence back in no time.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com