Sex was a personal chimera for a big chunk of my life. Different factors, mostly shyness and an addiction to porn that I used constantly to kill my libido, kept me from being anywhere close to a sexual experience all the way till my mid-twenties. My virginity was an incredibly pressing issue that, often inadvertently, was taking an increasing toll on my self-esteem. As I made changes in my life to get out of my comfort zone, I finally started to break out of that shell. I found my purpose, and that purpose was to have sex so that I could lose my virginity once and for all. I put myself out there and started to be more social and more shameless in my interactions with women. After years of total inactivity, I found myself having my first kiss, going on my first dates. At last, I had something of a love life — as opposed to, you know, nothing. I felt like I was getting closer to that moment that I had anticipated for so long: losing my virginity. Imagine my disappointment when the long-awaited event was finally going to happen and my penis decided not to attend. ---------------- A soft penis is a hard pill to swallow. The only thing being raised are questions, as the man wonders why his body does not reflect the cravings in his mind at the same time that his partner doubts whether such cravings really exist. I remember the tension in my body as I started making out with a girl. My hands and my mouth are on autopilot as my concentration focuses on my penis and how it will behave this time. A bit into the makeout session I notice there is no activity down there, and she does too as soon as things escalate and she reaches down my pants. I feel my heart beating strong as she strokes my flaccid dick, trying to bring it to life. She takes my pants off in an attempt to remove all obstacles, unaware that the main obstacle is not there, but all the way up in my head. I anxiously lay down as she goes down on me, struggling to suck my elusive, floppy dick. I notice the change in her demeanor as she realizes that her efforts are having no effect on me whatsoever. I close my eyes and try to bring to my imagination any image or memory that can help me get hard, but after a while, when I feel like I can’t tolerate the cringe any longer, I give up. “Hey, I don’t think it’s going to happen today. I don’t know why, I’m sorry”. I offer to give her oral, but as I’m doing it all I can think about is how I failed again. What’s worse, I have the feeling she’s thinking the same thing. We clumsily wrap it up and call it a night, and she gets an Uber to go back home. Of course, lost erections do not necessarily have to be traumatic experiences. I always made an effort to stay cool and find other ways to enjoy with my partners, and for the most part so did them. However, after enough failed attempts, keeping a positive attitude starts to get more and more difficult. Frustration quickly built up both for me and for my sexual partners, especially for those with whom I spent more than one night. They saw how an incident that at first might have just been isolated revealed itself more and more as a sort of permanent condition. Understandably, not all girls are willing to work through a partner’s recurring erectile dysfunction. It is not something most people are willing to sign up for if all they are seeking is a casual relationship. This is why I made the habit of lying about the whole situation whenever I would hook up with a new partner and inevitably suffered from impotence once again. “It’s happened to me before, but it’s not something that I usually struggle with”. “It sometimes happens when I first start dating a girl, but it always goes away soon”. This seemed easier than coming out and admitting to a long-standing issue. In all honesty, I was selfishly trying not to scare them away from a second or third date, which I saw as further chances for me to one-sidedly and little by little try to work on my problem. However, my faked nonchalance and insistence on it not being a recurring issue only left them thinking it might be them causing it. It often hurt their self-esteem as they doubted whether their attractiveness and sexual skills were good enough for me. I saw my candidates for hookup buddies drop one after another as either I or they stopped calling the other to avoid more awkward encounters. ---------------- Dating while suffering from erectile dysfunction is a wild ride. After enough disappointing experiences, I soon came to expect the worst and developed bad associations with sex. There was a constant and fierce internal battle where a part of me really looked forward to having sex while the other part was absolutely terrified of it. The same part would not always win. Sometimes I would be straightforward and invite the girl over to my place, others I would avoid it no matter how obviously she showed her interest. A part of me would be hopeful about going on a date, the other was jubilant when the date did not go well and I got to come back to the safety of my room all by myself. And yet, as embarrassing as many of these encounters were, they seemed to be slowly helping me make progress and grow slightly more comfortable with sex. Motivated by these little improvements, I would force myself to hunt for sex, many times dating girls I wasn’t really attracted to or risking friends by making a move on them. Aware of my actions, my self-image deteriorated and I alternated periods of time where I desperately sought sexual partners with others where I would keep away from dating altogether, burnt out by the whole thing. It seemed like every tiny advance came only after so much effort and collateral damage. The process looked less like a healthy struggle to overcome my problems and more like a desperate fight against invisible enemies. Deep down, I felt lost in a hopeless battle against my mind and my body. It was in this desperate situation that I ended up meeting a girl that would put me on the right track. Right when I had almost stopped caring, the same flaming app that had been fueling my frustrating dating life finally got me in touch with the right person. With her, I felt comfortable opening up and being vulnerable, and I saw much more progress than before. Although I kept struggling with erectile dysfunction way into it, our relationship gave me the perfect context to work on my issues with intimacy and it eventually helped me overcome my impotence and take other important steps towards a more satisfactory sex life. ---------------- Reflecting on it, it’s clear what different factors contributed to my erectile dysfunction. Surely the pressure to lose my virginity was a mental barrier too strong to overcome. For so many years, I had learned to feel inferior and blame many of my problems on my lack of sex, and in doing so I had turned sex into an immense deal. Losing my virginity was, in my eyes, the opportunity to finally turn my life around for the better. The expectations were insanely high and I found them impossible to be up to. Once I came across my erection problems, I fell into a negative spiral where my anxiety about previous experiences turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy every time I got a new chance. Yet performance anxiety was not the only thing behind my erectile dysfunction. My addiction to porn had laid the perfect ground for such an issue to prosper much more easily than it would have for anyone else. Years of abusing porn had built an unrealistic image of what sex should be, what my and my partner’s bodies should look like, and how we were supposed to act — contributing to my obsession with performance. It had also conditioned my body to respond to a very specific type of stimulation. The grip of a hand seemed to be the only thing that worked on my penis, a connection hard-wired into my brain after years of compulsive masturbation. This explains how handjobs were the sexual act I least struggled with, while every other kind of stimulation seemed to do nothing for me. An obvious consequence is that I did not get to enjoy my dating life as a single man. My problems with sex tainted the whole experience with unnecessary stress and anxiousness. In bed, not only did I fail to get erections, but more importantly I failed to welcome and enjoy all the other things that I could indeed do. My erectile dysfunction had built a great wall of anxiety that was blocking everything else from my view. Looking back, I barely remember anything from those sexual experiences. A bundle of nerves, I was so much in my head that I can’t really recall how any of those kisses, touches, and blowjobs felt. My extreme self-awareness prevented me from being in the moment and focusing on the sensations, turning sex into an arduous endeavor instead of a pleasurable experience. On top of that, in my selfish, blind search for a solution, I was neglecting others’ feelings as well as my own. Ultimately, I was fighting the wrong battle. I was mistakenly placing all my focus on my virginity and my sexual performance, and failing to see how my erectile dysfunction was only part of larger issues. A poor self-image, my addiction to porn, problems with intimacy. These were the things that I needed to deal with, the real blockers that prevented me from enjoying sex. Only later, in the more comfortable framework of a long-term relationship, would I be able to work on the real issues and take steps towards a healthier sex life. Along the way, I eventually managed to overcome my erectile dysfunction, but, more importantly, I was able to reframe what sex meant for me. A deep and emotional — regardless of how fleeting— connection with someone, a feast for the senses, an occasion to let go, be present and be vulnerable, an exciting, fun, and pleasurable experience. Something to enjoy, and not to just have.