My partner and I have found that often when we’re trying to have sex, he has trouble keeping an erection. What could be causing this and how do we figure out how to meet each other’s needs?

AG: Thanks for the thoughtful and nuanced questions! This is a pretty big topic with a lot of different implications so we’re going to spread our answer over two weeks. Today we’ll be discussing different types of desire and some of the physiology that contributes to or inhibits erections. Next week we’ll go into more detail about factors that can inhibit or excite sexual desire as well as the norms shaping these situations. We’ll end by talking about the importance of communication in these situations!  

AA: Thank you again for this question. It can definitely be a hard one to ask and not something we talk very much about in our society, even though it is very common. According to a 2000 study, 43% of women and 31% of men report some sort sexual dysfunction.  Even in looking at the language used to describe this type of concern, there is potential for better reflecting the prevalence and therefore normality of this type of experience. The more we can begin to normalize these experiences the more we can reduce the stigma and isolation that people may feel regarding these concerns.

AG: In today’s society there are many gendered norms about sexual desire. One pervasive norm is that all male bodied individuals have spontaneous desire, where they can instantaneously feel sexual regardless of the context, and that all female bodied individuals have responsive desire where they need to be in a sexual situation in order to feel sexual desire. While these may be true for many bodies, it is really important to remember that all individuals at any given time experience a different mix of things that contribute to desire.

AA: This is such an important point to make regarding sexual desire and how that can play into arousal. I will also note that erections for male-bodied individuals are affected by a number of factors. These can include being aroused in the sexual experience, as well as blood flow to the penis upon stimulation. Male-bodied individuals who experience difficulty maintaining an erection may not be getting the necessary amount of blood flow to the penis. There are a number of things that can contribute to decreased blood flow to the penis; use of alcohol and other drugs, medications one may be taking, high blood pressure, and some other medical conditions.If you feel that one of these factors may be attributing to an inability of maintaining or achieving an erection it would be best to consult a medical professional.

AG: All of these factors aside, the context of a sexual experience also directly shapes arousal and desire. Even if both people are excited about each other and the idea of having sex, other things can be contributing to your state of mind that might be preventing an erection. For example, if your roommate had walked in on you and your partner once then worry about that happening again might be distracting and could possibly prevent an erection. So many things can contribute to this such as an upcoming exam, a fight with a friend, thoughts or concerns about your body, and much more. The list is endless and looks different for each person at any given time.

AA: This is a great beginning to the conversation and next week we will explore more, so stay tuned for next week’s blog post.