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My awful first sexual experience killed my confidence

I was 18, really drunk and I couldn’t ejaculate. The girl ignored me afterwards and I was mortified, and I have struggled with sex since

PROBLEM: My first sexual experience was awful. I was 18, really drunk and I couldn’t ejaculate. The girl ignored me afterwards and I was mortified. I’m fairly sure she told her friends, as I could see them huddling together and laughing when I was around. The effect is that I have struggled with sex since, and most of it has been even more embarrassing. I have had mostly one-night stands, and I haven’t had to see the woman again afterwards, which eases my tension somewhat, but most of these encounters are unsuccessful too.

I’m nearly 30, and all my friends are getting engaged and some are having kids. I’d like to get to the bottom of this problem and sort it out so I can have a normal life. I’m being asked to weddings with a plus-one invitation and have no one to go with me. People are always slagging me about being too choosy, but the truth is that I worry that if someone knew about the real problem I’d never live it down.

Porn works for me but I notice my morning erections are no longer a guarantee: is this because of my age or should I be worried? This is occupying my every waking moment and it’s really getting me down.

ADVICE: Men can experience sexual difficulties at many times in their lives, and there is growing evidence that younger men are presenting with problems. Young men are usually relatively fit and healthy, so the problem is often in the psychological or emotional area. However, a visit to the GP is recommended to rule out underlying medical difficulties such as diabetes, heart problems, or other issues that have erectile dysfunction as a symptom. Men are often reluctant to seek help and thus the problem is exacerbated by creating a habit of avoidance.

The first sexual experience has become one where the aim is to get through the hurdle and come out with some level of success and confidence.

However, with the pressure on performance, often led by what porn portrays, the experience can feel like an exam or judgment. Failure can lead to self-doubt, recrimination and shame. This can have a profoundly negative effect, and the man can then begin to worry and think too much about his performance. This focuses his attention on himself, and his body may go into defensive mode and refuse to function. He may then begin to anticipate further problems.

All this increases self-doubt and in turn tenses his body, making it less likely to perform on demand. The fear of humiliation can mean that the man avoids intimate encounters, and he may turn to porn for comfort.

Having all your sexual experiences with porn can lead to a lack of knowledge of what is required in the real world of intimacy. To be intimate requires connecting with the other person. Honesty and openness are the key. In the one-night-stand situation you are trying to get your body to respond, but what is actually happening is that your body is defending itself against possible judgment and so it retreats. If this situation is to be tackled, it will require courage and risk-taking; you will have to coax your body into feeling safe, and that safety cannot be fake. Connecting with another human being will make you feel vulnerable, but that is the key to most successful relationships.

You say your morning erections are no longer guaranteed. Having checked that there is no physical issue, it is safe to assume that the lack of desire or response is another stage of retreat for you. Medications such as Viagra are worth considering, as they may restore confidence in your body, but you will probably still need to face intimacy issues.

The starting point for this is finding someone with whom you share an attraction and whom you think is worth pursuing. You may have blocked finding people attractive as a protective measure, and so it may take some deliberate practice for you to check out who you are drawn to. The next steps all involve courage and faith in your ability to choose well. When you have gone on a few dates, you will need to say something about your sexual difficulties, and this is a very tough thing to do. Most women will see this as a huge step into intimacy (because it is) and will offer to do the journey with you.