How To Be Supportive If Your Partner Has Penis Problems, From A Sex Therapist

The overwhelming majority of my male clients pursue sex therapy to manage erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation.

May 6, 2014 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

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Helping solve penis problems since 2010.

Hello, lovely readers of xoJane! Thank you so much for all of your kind words on my first column. I used many of your comments to weasel my way into a semi-regular appearance here, so I’ll be covering even more ways to have a sex life that doesn’t suck! I’ll also be answering your questions, so feel free to email me at sextherapist@xojane.com.

Today I wanted to discuss how to be a supportive partner when your partner is dealing with erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation. 

My first exposure to penis performance issues came courtesy of an episode of Friends that I watched with my parents. In this particular scene, Ross and Rachel have just finished a picnic, and are rolling around on the ground making out. Rachel pulls away and exclaims, “Oh, honey, it’s OK, it happens to every guy,” to which Ross responds, “That wasn’t me! You just rolled over a juice box!”

My parents laughed uproariously. Having no idea why a spilled beverage was so hilarious, I asked for an explanation. Exchanging a knowing look, my parents informed me that I’d find out when I was an adult. As an adult, I not only understand what Rachel assumed happened that day, but I spend nearly half my time as a sex therapist talking about these types of problems.

The overwhelming majority of my male clients pursue sex therapy to manage erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. The interesting thing is that most of these clients are young men. We tend to think of ED and PE as occurring mainly in the post-retirement population (like the nice salt-and-pepper gentlemen in all the Viagra ads), but my clients are mainly in their late twenties to late thirties.

Erectile or orgasmic issues develop with a ridiculously predictable pattern -- the guy has an issue getting hard or ejaculating too quickly just once, and doubt starts to creep in almost immediately. All men -- even young virile ones -- have occasional erectile and/or orgasmic issues. The penis doesn’t always like to cooperate. Most men understand this rationally, but have a hard time coping when it actually happens. They start thinking about it all of the time, the anxiety increases, and the problems begin occurring with greater and greater frequency. It’s the worst kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.

We can all get stuck in our heads, but I don’t think most women understand the extent of this snowball effect when it comes to men and their penises. By the time my clients land in my office, they’re a huge jumble of nerves. “I just don’t understand,” they’ll proclaim, “everything was fine up until that one time!”

As we start to unravel the problem together, I almost always uncover the presence of a female partner who doesn’t respond to my client’s difficulties in the most supportive way. I’m not saying it’s the woman’s fault, or her responsibility to fix things, but I hear about a lot of women who are making things way worse.

Take yourself back to one of the most frustrating times you ever witnessed penis problems. Maybe you were faced with a rapidly deflating penis, and instantly went to a place of self-blame. You may have thought, “He’s not turned on by me. I’m not sexy enough. ”

Or perhaps that penis fired off way too quickly, and you felt horribly disappointed. These are the reactions that I hear most frequently, and they’re both quite painful in their own ways. Now, imagine doubling that discomfort, frustration, and insecurity. I can almost guarantee you that that’s how bad the guy beside you felt. He was let down, but even worse, he knew he let you down. He felt emasculated. He felt out of control. He felt awful.

I don’t think we give men nearly enough credit for how much pressure gets put on their shoulders (and other body parts) when it comes to sex. Our standard sexual scripts dictate that men should be the initiators and leaders. They’re expected to get hard immediately and stay hard throughout the entire interaction. They’re supposed last a while, but not too long. We’re talking about the human body here, not a robot.

Our culture makes jokes about men wanting sex wherever and whenever, but the reality that I’m seeing in my office is men that feel suffocated by sexual expectations and performance pressure. Men that really need our compassion.

I’m not here to judge. I too have been guilty of less-than-optimal responses to penile problems. I’ve done everything I’m about to tell you not to do. It is frustrating when a penis doesn’t respond the way you want it to, and it can be hard not to think it’s about you. But you’ll have much more success getting the party back on track - whether it’s in a one-night stand or a long-term relationship 0- if you follow these guidelines:

  • Obey the Golden Rule. Be polite! Be kind! Think about how you would want him to respond if you were having issues. Rolling your eyes or jumping out of bed in a huff won't do either of you any favors.
  • Recognize that he’s not entirely in control of his body in that moment, and think about how scary that is. You’ve got all of this aforementioned pressure and expectation on this one part of your anatomy, and all of a sudden it’s not doing what you want it to do. One of the most impactful moments in my career was when one of my clients described the abject terror that accompanied his performance problems. It finally clicked for me, and I felt so much more sympathy than I ever had before.
  • Appreciate the fact that you both want the same thing (unless he's a jerk, but that's a different column). You both want to have sex. You both want to satisfy each other. You’re both frustrated and unsure of what to do when the problem arises. You're on the same team!
  • Give him some verbal reassurance in the moment. Say something along the lines of, “Hey, it’s not a big deal, let’s just chill out for a second.” Suggest a different activity like, “How about you to touch me?” You can also ask if there’s anything you can do to help (“Want me to go down on you?”), but try not to be infantilizing with your tone.
  • Expand your definition of sex, especially if he has penis issues frequently. If you're in a hetero relationship, you don't always have to have p-in-v sex to have a good time, and in fact, the more you learn to pleasure each other in different ways, the more pressure you take off his penis.
  • Same goes for not letting his orgasm dictate the end of the sexual interaction. You can still have fun sexytimes together without the presence of an erection.
  • Don’t take it personally. Easier said than done, I know, but it’s genuinely not about you the vast majority of the time. The feelings of self-consciousness and insecurity may come up, but make the choice not to act on them.

So much of this advice really just boils down to basic human empathy. If we can take a second to get out of our own heads and recognize that the person in front of us is questioning his very masculinity in that moment, we can be better partners. Here’s to healthy and happy boners for all!