MSP Q&A: Why can’t I stay hard during sex? What causes erection problems?

Recently on Yahoo Questions, a 16 year old boy wrote in to ask why he was having erection problems (specifically, why he was having trouble staying hard, once he already had an erection) during sex. It’s unfortunate, but some people were writing in to tell him to take Viagra or that he had an STD. This was my response:

Even though men don’t always talk openly about erection problems, it is actually very common among men of all ages (yes, even 16 year olds) to have occasional erection problems. Unfortunately, sometimes when a guy has one or two erection problems, he starts to get nervous and wonder if – thanks to all the Viagra/Cialis/Levitra ads – he has “erectile dysfunction.”

The reality is that most of the time, when young men in their teens, 20s and 30s, the cause is usually psychological rather than physical. That doesn’t mean that you’re crazy; rather it may mean that you are stressing yourself out trying to be a good, pleasing partner; that you are worried or anxious that you’ll be able to get or keep an erection; or it may mean that you’re having sex just because you have the opportunity but not because you’re really “into” your partner.

Having taught human sexuality classes to college students for years, one book that some of my students have found helpful is called “The Sexual Male: Problems and Solutions.” Another – and my personal favorite – is called “The New Male Sexuality” and it is by Dr. Bernie Zilbergeld. Your local commnity library might have one or both of these. If not, you can order it online or call a local bookstore and ask them to order one of them, if they’re not already in stock (Borders and Barnes and Noble often have one or both in stock).

In very rare cases, young men who have erection problems may have other health problems such as diabetes, so if you have questions, please do check in with your healthcare provider. However, in the vast majority of cases, the cause is likely stress or anxiety and not a medical problem. Try to relax, tale your time, focus on pleasure and enjoyment, and choose to have sex only when you are ready to have it and not when you’re not, or when you’re overly worried about getting a partner pregnant, getting an STI, or anything else that troubles you.

Also, sexually transmissible infections (STIs – also called STDs) do not cause erection problems. However, if you have had sex with one or more people whether or not you have used condoms – it is recommended that you get checked for STIs. That’s just part of being a sexually responsible person.

Check out Dr. Herbenick’s book, Because It Feels Good: A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Pleasure & Satisfaction, and follow us on Twitter @mysexprofessor

Related MSP Posts:

- How to Last Longer During Sex: Do Cock Rings Work? (Click HERE to read)
- Sex Toys for Men and Couples: The Penis Ring Thrust Counter (Click HERE to read)
- Oral Sex Techniques and Games for Couples: Flavored Body Sugar (Click HERE to read)
- Playing with Men’s Testicles: Fun Sex Games (Click HERE to read)
- How to Perform Oral Sex Without Gagging (Click HERE to read)
- How to Have Sex in the Shower (Comfortably) (Click HERE to read)
- Hummingbird Sex Position (Click HERE to read)

[Read the full Q&A on the Yahoo Questions site.]

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at www.sexualhealth.indiana.edu.

  • Amber

    I wonder if alcohol might play a part in his erection problem. Lots of teens (like lots of adults!) rely on alcohol to reduce sexual inhibitions and aren’t aware of the effect it has on sexual function.

  • Amber

    I wonder if alcohol might play a part in his erection problem. Lots of teens (like lots of adults!) rely on alcohol to reduce sexual inhibitions and aren’t aware of the effect it has on sexual function.

  • Debby

    Definite possibility! Good call.

  • Debby

    Definite possibility! Good call.

  • J

    I Have this same problem and im 16 years old. its just happened suddenly over the space of a week. I cant stop worrying about it now. im scared it will happen long term.
    going to doctors about it but dont now what he/she can do :(

  • J

    I Have this same problem and im 16 years old. its just happened suddenly over the space of a week. I cant stop worrying about it now. im scared it will happen long term.
    going to doctors about it but dont now what he/she can do :(

  • Anon

    Debby, this has been happening with my 24-year-old boyfriend for almost the entire length of our year long relationship. I am positive it is psychological, as he’s fine on his own and wakes up with erections. We are very much in love and lately he has been telling me that all he can think in his head is “perform perform perform” and it’s the anxiety causing the issues. He’s a very masculine guy and I know this is crushing him. We are both very frustrated. He told me he was going to go to therapy but won’t talk about it anymore. My therapist has advised me not to nag him but I don’t know what to do to get him to talk openly about things. How can I find out if he’s actually getting help? Should we put a ban on sex for now and just press a reset button on our sexual relationship by exploring and playing? Thanks.

  • Anon

    Debby, this has been happening with my 24-year-old boyfriend for almost the entire length of our year long relationship. I am positive it is psychological, as he’s fine on his own and wakes up with erections. We are very much in love and lately he has been telling me that all he can think in his head is “perform perform perform” and it’s the anxiety causing the issues. He’s a very masculine guy and I know this is crushing him. We are both very frustrated. He told me he was going to go to therapy but won’t talk about it anymore. My therapist has advised me not to nag him but I don’t know what to do to get him to talk openly about things. How can I find out if he’s actually getting help? Should we put a ban on sex for now and just press a reset button on our sexual relationship by exploring and playing? Thanks.

  • anon

    i am 19 and really want to have sex with my g.friend but when the time comes i cant get an erection…

  • anon

    i am 19 and really want to have sex with my g.friend but when the time comes i cant get an erection…

  • Carguy

    I am 19 and had sex with a gf for the first time when I was 17 almost 18. Whenever I had sex with her I had no problems. However, now I am trying to have sex with a different girl who I feel I am more attracted to and twice now I haven’t been able to keep it hard enough to put it inside of her. When we are making out or I am feeling her up or we are dancing I can get really hard but then sometimes I can’t keep it. When I was younger like 16, 17 there were some weeks where I would masturbate for like 4 or 5 days and sometimes more than once a day. Now I do it once, maybe twice a week. But the weird thing is I didn’t have any problems with my previous gf who I was not as attracted to as the one I have now. Before I use to get erections a lot just from thinking about sex or from seeing a really really hot girl and it seems to me that that does not happen as much anymore. Does anyone have any ideas? I have noticed maybe possibly a little bit of pain at the very bottom of my sac but only if I try to feel around. One other thing is that for a while now…whenever I go to the bathroom I will shake my penis for a while and it feels as though I am done peeing and not too long after I put it back into my boxers a decent amount of pee will come out……????Thanks

  • Carguy

    I am 19 and had sex with a gf for the first time when I was 17 almost 18. Whenever I had sex with her I had no problems. However, now I am trying to have sex with a different girl who I feel I am more attracted to and twice now I haven’t been able to keep it hard enough to put it inside of her. When we are making out or I am feeling her up or we are dancing I can get really hard but then sometimes I can’t keep it. When I was younger like 16, 17 there were some weeks where I would masturbate for like 4 or 5 days and sometimes more than once a day. Now I do it once, maybe twice a week. But the weird thing is I didn’t have any problems with my previous gf who I was not as attracted to as the one I have now. Before I use to get erections a lot just from thinking about sex or from seeing a really really hot girl and it seems to me that that does not happen as much anymore. Does anyone have any ideas? I have noticed maybe possibly a little bit of pain at the very bottom of my sac but only if I try to feel around. One other thing is that for a while now…whenever I go to the bathroom I will shake my penis for a while and it feels as though I am done peeing and not too long after I put it back into my boxers a decent amount of pee will come out……????Thanks

  • For Real

    It seems that science may never find the proof for this because it isn’t what they are looking for, but it is true, men’s erections are simply his bodies response to the woman’s desire. We are mammals aren’t we, and with all other mammals this is just they way it works, so why not with humans. Maybe there is no disfunction at all, simply misunderstanding.

  • For Real

    It seems that science may never find the proof for this because it isn’t what they are looking for, but it is true, men’s erections are simply his bodies response to the woman’s desire. We are mammals aren’t we, and with all other mammals this is just they way it works, so why not with humans. Maybe there is no disfunction at all, simply misunderstanding.

  • Debby

    Thanks for your comments. You’ve hit on a very important point – that erections don’t exist in a vaccuum and that people’s sexual responses are often in “response” not just to their own fantasies or thoughts but to the relationship they have with a partner. Misunderstandings can certainly get in the way of sex as can other relational issues.

  • Debby

    Thanks for your comments. You’ve hit on a very important point – that erections don’t exist in a vaccuum and that people’s sexual responses are often in “response” not just to their own fantasies or thoughts but to the relationship they have with a partner. Misunderstandings can certainly get in the way of sex as can other relational issues.

  • confused

    In reguards to the previous comment from Debby” What do you mean when you say ” sexual responses are often in “response” not just to their own fantasies or thoughts but to the relationship they have with a partner”?

  • confused

    In reguards to the previous comment from Debby” What do you mean when you say ” sexual responses are often in “response” not just to their own fantasies or thoughts but to the relationship they have with a partner”?

  • confused16yearold

    hi, errm im kinda in the same situation as that guy. errm i had unprotected sex on the 23rd of dec and for a bout two weeks now ive had trouble getting fully hard ( i cant) and it goes down really quickly. since oct ive put on weight stopped excersising and have started eating junk food nearly everyday could tht be it ?