November 7, 2013 at 11:30 am EST | by Michael Radkowsky
Heat of the moment
erection, hands, gay news, Washington Blade

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Dear Michael,

My sex life with my boyfriend of six months is verging on dismal.  I have a really hard time staying hard and am doing my best to avoid his finding out or having this become an issue in our relationship.

This has been a problem for me in other relationships and has been a cause for concern to me for many years. Before I have sex, I’m always worried that I won’t be able to get or keep my erection, so I have to concentrate on things that will get me aroused. I have a virtual library in my head of fantasies and porn scenes that usually can do the trick but it isn’t easy to stay focused on them the whole time.

If I open my eyes I start to get nervous and often can lose my erection. The same thing often happens when my partner wants to do things that are outside of my routine. I get distracted and nervous about how it will go or if I will be able to stay hard, then I can’t. Things work best when I stick to my routine and stay focused on what’s in my head.

I also have trouble achieving orgasm. The only way I seem to be able to come is by blocking out whatever is happening and focusing on some fantasy inside my head that can get me off.

I know this is not a recipe for hot sex, but I am so afraid of things not going well and my boyfriend thinking I’m not attracted to him (which isn’t the case at all). In the past guys have dumped me over this and I don’t want to lose Jeff.  But I don’t know how to get out of this cycle of anxiety.

Michael replies:

Take a nice, slow, deep breath in, and then slowly exhale. Relax — this is fixable.

Right now your anxiety is running the show. And when you’re extremely anxious, it’s difficult to get hard, stay hard or come. You can help yourself by finding ways to stop being so fearful that you won’t be able to maintain an erection or reach orgasm.

First, accept the reality that, like all men, you are guaranteed at various times in the future to lose your erection or not reach orgasm. This happens and the more you worry about it, the more it happens. In my work, I find that it’s especially common for gay men to have these fears, perhaps because so much emphasis is often put on sexual performance in gay male relationships. It doesn’t feel great when only one of you has an erection.

Second, take some pressure off yourself by letting Jeff know that you have a history of getting anxious about getting hard and coming. Keeping this a secret makes your problem worse by heightening your pressure to perform well, in order to avoid being found out. And by not letting Jeff know that this is a long-standing struggle, you’re making it more likely that he will take it personally when you don’t get hard or come.

Yes, there is a risk that Jeff will believe your difficulties are somehow his fault or a rejection of him. You can’t control that, but you can give him the information that would help him understand that your anxiety has nothing to do with him.

Another important move for you to make: Take your attention off the state of your penis and off the fantasies and images in your head. Your focus on these things turns sex into a tense, almost solo experience, rather than one of intimate connection; and it keeps wiring your brain to be turned on by fantasy, not reality. Gently redirect your focus to simply enjoying the encounter with Jeff.

Your erection may come and go; you may or may not have an orgasm. You will reduce your anxiety by accepting that what you fear will sometimes happen and then staying in the moment with Jeff. Although an erection certainly comes in handy at times and orgasms feel great, you really don’t need to be hard, or to come, to give yourselves and each other pleasure.

Please remember that I’m giving you an outline for how you can move forward, not a comprehensive approach that uniquely fits all aspects of your struggle. So I urge you, and other readers facing this issue, to work with a therapist experienced with erectile dysfunction who can help you get a grip on your anxiety.

One more point: You may also want to consult with your physician or urologist to rule out any physical contributors to your difficulties.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay individuals and couples in D.C. He can be found online at All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to

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