Tell Me About It

I’m worried about my sexual performance

Has porn habit affected my ability to maintain an erection?

PROBLEM: My first sexual encounter was oral sex and I was unable to sustain an erection throughout it – even though it was with my girlfriend, whom I loved and found incredibly attractive. In the months leading up to that I had been watching porn maybe four or five times a week, which I stopped immediately. But unfortunately we broke up (not over my performance issues).

I had to wait six months until my next sexual experience. This time I noticed I was better, but I still couldn’t sustain an erection for more than seven or eight minutes at a time. I had reduced significantly how much porn I was watching by then.

Also, currently, I might get a few morning erections a week but not every day.

I’m 18 and I’m wondering how normal this is, and what can I do to improve my performance?

ADVICE: There are many myths surrounding the first sexual performance that are propagated by movies and porn, and these can lead to the erroneous belief that there is something wrong with you. This belief then becomes a problem and can result in performance anxiety and the result is a sexual difficulty that is caused by thinking, fear and anxiety.

However, if you are in any doubt at all about your physical health it is a good idea to get a check-up with your GP, so you can lay to rest any doubts about a medical issue.

One of the biggest myths of the first sexual experience is everything will be perfect and this is bolstered by watching porn, where there is no pressure on you to succeed. In real life, the fear of judgment and the commentary in your head all have a huge effect on your body. Your girlfriend did not break up with you over this; it is worth noting that most people are seeking intimacy and connection, and sex usually gets better over time as the relationship becomes a safe and trusted place.

Self-consciousness becomes a problem as you focus the full force of your critical attention on your fear of failure, so your body feels pressure and the capacity for it to work naturally becomes restricted. Thinking and fear become the barriers to sexual functioning, so this is the place to tackle the problem.

The core of sexuality is a desire that drives you to be fully focused on the other person using all your senses – this is where you should give your attention, away from yourself and on touch, taste, sound, sight and smell. In other words, when you find you are worried or tense, go to your senses where they connect with the other person. Tickle, taste, sniff, ask, hug, enjoy.

This is not an instant cure but it will, over time, allow you to relax so your body can become responsive. At 18 you cannot have a long history of sex and it is unfair on your body to demand it to act as if it had. Discovery should be a fun and challenging experience and a journey that you take with someone you at least like and trust. You have your whole life to experience sexuality and the idea that you should have it all sorted before you are 20 is worth challenging.

That said, it is a very difficult thing for a young man to feel that there is a problem with his sexual functioning. Because there are not many places to have useful discussions about this, the problem can sometimes last for years, with procrastination and putting off relationships a common result. A very useful book is The New Male Sexuality by Bernie Zilbergeld. This normalises male sexual difficulties and offers practical solutions.

Porn can complicate sexuality for young men, as it offers both pleasure and secrecy. The sexual response can be trained to respond to a particular stimulus that does not happen in real life and so some retraining needs to happen. It sounds as though you have an awareness of this and are trying to address it by cutting down on the amount of porn you are watching.

For many people, porn does not present a problem; but for others it can take a long time for the established pattern of sexual response to shift – up to a year of trying something different, in some cases. The point is to allow yourself time and not be disappointed if you do not get the results you want quickly but be strong in your intention of wanting your sexuality to be connected to a real-life and worthwhile partner.