My boyfriend Chris and I have a problem that is escalating into a fight. For the past year or so he’s been having performance issues in bed. He sometimes has trouble getting an erection and even when he does, he can’t always reach orgasm.
At first this didn’t bother me because I know it can happen to anyone, but as it’s continued, I’ve been getting upset. We’re both young (27), too young to be having this problem! And I’m wondering what’s going on.
Chris says he’s not having an affair or sex on the side and also says he still finds me attractive. I’m not sure I can believe him because I don’t know why else this would be happening. For the first year or so, we had great sex.
He says that my being angry puts pressure on him and that doesn’t help his performance. But I can’t be warm or supportive of him when he isn’t really meeting my sexual needs and I am not sure he’s being totally honest. I am hurt and feel rejected, and I’m becoming resentful that our sex life is becoming a flat tire.
What’s the best way to handle this? We’re just spinning in circles and feeling increasingly distant.
While sexual dysfunction is an individual issue, it is also a couples issue because it impacts both partners and both partners can contribute to the situation worsening or improving. So I’m going to speak to the two of you about what you can do to make things better.
Chris, do you know what has changed in the last year or so that has made it difficult for you to perform? I have a few hunches that I’d like you to check out.
First, please go to your physician and get a physical, pronto, to rule out anything going on with you physically that could be interfering with your sexual performance. Tell your doctor what’s been happening with you sexually, even if you’re uncomfortable doing so. Remember that medications can affect your ability to get hard and have an orgasm.
If nothing is wrong physically, I suspect that you’ve been getting insecure and worried about your performance. Performance anxiety is normal for men of all ages to experience. It can start with something as simple as a random episode where you couldn’t get hard for no particular reason, which leads you to start worrying about how things will go the next time you have sex and things snowball downhill from there. Next thing you know, you’re afraid to even get naked because you’re worried you won’t get an erection.
How has your mood been? Anything been happening in your life that might be causing you to be distracted or sad? Depression can play a big role in lack of desire and lack of ability to perform. Other possible contributors to performance anxiety can include body changes like weight gain that leave you worrying about your attractiveness or anything else that interferes with being in the moment.
One more thing to consider: Given that your boyfriend says that things were great for the first year or so, how do you feel about deepening your commitment? Intimacy can be scary and I wonder if you might have some anxiety about getting closer that is playing out in your sex life.
I’ll take your word to your boyfriend that you aren’t having an affair, but I wonder how much porn you might be watching. Porn raises our arousal threshold, making it difficult to get turned on by the flesh-and-blood guy we’re actually with. Check out yourbrainonporn.com for more information.
Now to your boyfriend, the letter writer: Please do your best not to take Chris’s difficulty personally. Sexual dysfunction usually has little to do with the other person. Making this about you will only cause strife between you and Chris, which won’t help matters and may also increase Chris’s anxiety, making it even less likely that he’ll be relaxed enough to perform. You can be helpful by doing your best to enjoy being close to Chris for right now, whether or not erections and orgasms are part of the experience.
This is my advice to Chris as well. The two of you are both feeling rejected and feeling like there’s something wrong with you. To move forward, take your focus off getting hard or coming for now, and explore how else the two of you can feel good together. There is a lot more to sex than penetration and orgasm. Be creative. Slow down. Be playful. Talk to each other about what feels good. Being in the moment together may help you to get past this issue.
My aim has been to give you a general understanding of what might be going on and encourage you to explore some avenues toward improving the situation. If problems persist, please seek a therapist who is skilled in helping couples with sexual dysfunction.
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D., licensed psychologist, specializes in gay relationship counseling and individual therapy in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.