Life

Hey Man: 'I Can't Stay Hard During Sex With My Girlfriend'

Rhys Thomas discusses post-lockdown erections (or lack thereof) and communication in friendships.
October 13, 2020, 8:15am
I'm worried about having sex advice
Photo: VICE
‘Hey Man’ is a personal advice column about guys, by guys. Need help? Email HeyMan@vice.com.

Hey man. I’ve been friends with the same group of mates since school. Some have come and gone, but the people I still occasionally see never make the effort – it’s always me.

Should I just give up making effort for people who make zero effort for me? Are they still my friends, or should I just concede that things change, and that actually I should learn from the fact I am trying to stay in contact with people who simply can’t be bothered?

Hey man,

People don’t talk about navigating friendships enough, men or otherwise. It makes no sense. We go through life with more friends than romantic partners, but often focus on them more than our mates.

Maintaining a friendship across a lifetime is near impossible. I’m clinging onto my early twenties, and while my primary school best mate’s surname is the password to one of my Government portal logins, we don’t speak much. This isn’t to say we aren’t friends, but beyond a birthday message and serendipitous encounter in our hometown, we don’t speak.

I also have an eight-year-old group chat with a few high school mates. It’s never been fully inactive, but sometimes no one will speak for weeks. We’re always catching each other at different points: night shifts, early morning shifts, nine to five shifts, taking the kids to school shifts (for some) and ad-hoc freelance shifts. We haven’t drifted apart – just adapted to new pathways and destinations.

I’m mentioning this because, as you say, it’s pretty normal to float away from your social networks. Sometimes, you find yourself in a liminal space: a grey matter between being pals and not. Sometimes the group chat is stagnant or plans don’t work out and you’re annoyed. It’s their fault, they’ve ignored your text, they haven’t phoned back.

Here, life and business coach Michael Cloonan steps in with a question. “How are you measuring their efforts? What do your friends have going on in their own lives? Do you know they can't be bothered? Have you asked? If you feel there's a problem, ask. Don't assume.”

This is important for men generally. An overarching aspect of male phenomena that needs addressing is communication. This column, I hope, will begin to bring nuance to the idea of communication for men™. Men are piss poor communicators: about ourselves and our intentions within just about any relationship we have. There’s a reason dogs are a man’s best friend – it’s often the only place we possess the communicative vocabulary to fulfil a relationship without struggle.

So I think Cloonan is right. It’s worth assessing the situation properly. If your mates are just ignoring you, fair play, we’ll come to that. But it’s a tricky time for everyone right now, so it can be worth having a more serious check-in with them. If there’s a group chat you all use, perhaps send some DMs. Just say, “Hey man, been a bit quiet on the group chat. Is everything okay? If you fancy a call, just let me know”.

They might be busy, they might take you up on it, but either way ensure you are putting in all the effort you can. It’ll allow you to be clearer on where you stand. Of course, if it’s the other way around and you feel like you need them, let them know. Communication is key.

Cloonan also says if you have assessed the situation and you know you want to move on, that’s fine. “If everybody wants to be friends you figure out how, and adjust. If you’re carrying dead weight, just take it off, throw it away.”

Hey man. I seem to have a difficult time maintaining an erection now that I’m having sex with my partner again (we were away from each other in lockdown). My libido has been the same more or less throughout lockdown, but I’ve been watching porn a bit more. I’m worried she’ll get dissatisfied if we keep not being able to have sex like we used to, especially as we haven’t seen each other in months. Does this mean I’m not as into her? Have I damaged my ability to have real sex?

Hey man,

Fortunately, when it is psychological this is a temporary and very common problem. Erectile Dysfunction (ED)  affects about a third of men under 30. The vast majority of ED experienced by people under 40 is due to psychological causes – stress, anxiety, and performance anxiety.

Given the state of the world at the moment, and the fact that there’s been a building tension when it comes to sex for you, it’s likely the ED is down to a form of anxiety or stress. Not having sex in a while and knowing the time is coming can be terrifying if there’s a disconnect between what you want to happen, and what you worry will happen. So it’s likely that. Especially as you say your libido is pretty much the same (and things were fine when watching porn).

I wouldn’t worry too much about the porn . According to Dr Earim Chaudry, medical director at Manual Health Centre, “There is a fairly new phenomena known as porn-induced erectile dysfunction, but evidence is only just emerging. If you think this might be an issue, try to limit the amount you’re watching and see if there’s any difference.”

Senior therapist Sally Baker says it’s worth considering why you’re watching more porn however (especially if it’s covert), as this could link to the psychological reasons why you’re having issues around sex. It also brings in your question: Are you still into her?

Baker says: “You haven’t mentioned whether you’re voicing concerns with your partner. If you can't share these concerns, you has to ask yourself why you are trying to have sex with her.”

Men are especially bad at having conversations face to face. There's research that shows men are better at delivering difficult conversations side-by-side, so it's worth going for a walk with your partner to talk through your concerns and anxieties about the ED, and anything else.

If this feels a bit strong, there are things you can address on a personal level.

"Look at mental house cleaning,” Chaudry says. “Stress can elevate levels of cortisol, which then suppresses sex organs and desire.”

Baker affirms this: “See it as an opportunity to be your own detective, to find out what you really want the relationship to look like.”

Sometimes, you might just need a bit of a jump-start. Chaudry has found prescribing a treatment like Sildenafil (Viagra is a brand of this) or Tadalafil has been very effective as it provides the confidence that you will get an erection, and tends to ease the anxiety going forward. It can also provide time for you to work on those other areas.

As for worrying about dissatisfaction (which is good, it suggests you care), you don’t have to have sex to provide sexual pleasure. Honestly, you’re more likely to satisfy a partner without your dick anyway. Focussing on things like mutual masturbation and oral can help to build your confidence in the bedroom. Just take it slow. If you typically have a good relationship, you’ll likely quickly feel reassured that your role in the relationship is not determined by sex alone.

If things don’t change, consider discussing your relationship properly. If you think it could be physical (and you’re not getting erect in any situation), ED is related to diabetes among other health issues, so it would be worth seeing your GP.  This is more common from the age of 40 onwards.

Baring in mind what you’ve said though, it sounds like you’re just anxious about getting back in the bedroom. We’ve all been there, and it typically works out just fine in the end.

Good luck man, thanks for opening up about a topic many of us experience.

@rhysthomas