In that awful moment, he is flooded with dread.  Instead of being capable of fulfilling, he shrinks to limp in faded glory.  Sometimes eyes meet with questions and with fear, but more often eye contact is avoided.  It’s just too uncomfortable.  The answers sought are unavailable so he offers equally limp excuses.  It is an awkward drama when he cannot perform.  Erectile dysfunction may have physical or emotional causes.  This article focuses upon erection loss when its source is emotional, an event most men will experience at some point in their sexual lives.

    The lingering memory after this kind of experience haunts men.  They recall the embarrassment and feelings of inadequacy whenever they sniff a hint of a sexual opportunity.  Without the confidence that good sexual performance provides, some men even avoid the closeness of affection, because it is a precursor to sex.  Even men with formerly high sexual desire suddenly have none.  Their partners may not understand why he is suddenly so distant.  A single man with a history of failed erections may avoid dating.  In fear, he mistakenly believes that every potential partner will want him to pass the sex test on the first date, one in which he will certainly crash and burn.

    Because most men have minor awareness of their emotions, they may be unable to identify the negative emotions responsible for a sudden loss of arousal and erection.  Confusion reigns in that moment when for the first time his penis isn’t doing what he wishes; men often can’t figure out why.  Facing a partner’s questions is a second loss of control. 

      A female partner when together with her male partner who is not performing, is thrown into a predicament for which there is no easy scripted response.  She may feel it necessary to mask her disappointment, yet in doing so, she will be insincere, despite her wish to kindly reassure him. A less secure woman may believe his loss of erection is a statement about his feelings for her; that she is not desirable enough, or that her sexual skills are lacking.  None of these are are probably true. Each assumption heightens discomfort while fueling disconnection between partners. If the sexual opportunity is not salvaged, its memory may be as the proverbial elephant in the corner; obvious, awkward and unaddressed.

    Anxiety, stress and pressure are the most usual suspects; they kill arousal.  Anger and emotional disconnection between partners do this too.  As men age, they are increasingly vulnerable to the deleterious effects on sexual performance, though young men are not immune.  If anxiety is a common emotional feature of a man’s personality, he is even more susceptible to suffer erection loss when the pressure of performance is on.  Good health protects men’s erections while poor health makes erections less resilient if it does not destroy his sexual functioning completely.  Medications, such as blood pressure pills, can eliminate erections altogether.  Pro-erections medicines are helpful to make an erection more confident, and can also be a useful ally to destroy a negative, emotionally-based cycle of performance anxiety.

      Once it has happened, erection loss is an event that tends to re-occur.  The experience of failure to perform is strongly anxiety-provoking, turning each subsequent sexual opportunity into a fear-producing event.  Thus the climate is perfect for re-occurrence.

        When there is not so much pressure upon a penis to produce results, it is better able to perform.  Once successes are achieved, couples can practice and develop the skill of repair, regaining arousal even after it has been lost.  When sexual partners are able to talk about their relationship, feelings and sexual play, they are enabled to engineer low-stress, low-expectation sex, the right environment for erections to last.  With moments of closeness, acceptance and connection, in a team effort, partners can slow and ultimately defeat the negative cycle of fear and failure.  Andrew Aaron, LICSW

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