Why Your Partner Can't Stay Hard (And What to Do About it)

Psychological ED is much more common than you think

Updated 06/18/18


There are many, many reasons why a male-bodied person has trouble getting or sustaining an erection. From stress, to age, to shame about performance, there are both physical and psychological factors that might be causing your partner’s erectile dysfunction, but often the psychological factors reign supreme.

Psychological Erectile Dysfunction is simply not something we want to talk about. We are quick to prescribe Viagra or Cialis and call it a day. While this may be a cure for some, it isn’t always the answer. There are deeper, more pressing mental issues that are not being addressed such as anxiety, shame, and vulnerability—all of which need to have room to be expressed judgement-free.

Here is why your partner is having trouble staying hard (and what to do about it).

Rule out any medical factors first

While trouble staying hard can happen for a variety of reasons, you first want to rule out any medical factors. Your partner should seek advice from his doctor, and he may be referred to a urologist or other specialist. There are a series of simple tests to figure out if this is a physical issue or a mental one.

These are complicated conversations to have. Society has placed so much importance on male “performance” and their ability to have “rock hard erections” that having any kind of concern in that department is still taboo. Just remember, you love each other and this is something that affects both of you. It’s worth having a doctor involved so you know what you’re dealing with.

Once you’ve ruled out the physical, you can try different methods to treat the psychological blocks that might be causing this trouble.

Psychological blocks are extremely common

You would be truly shocked how easy it is to diffuse an erection—it’s almost mind-blowing. When a woman is aroused, our vaginal canal expands, our clitoris become engorged, and we become naturally lubricated; all often subtle to the naked eye (or hand). When the natural lubrication isn’t quite cutting it, we can grab some water-based (or whichever kind we prefer) lubricant.

For a man, his ability to “perform” is based completely on getting hard. That is a lot of pressure for a person to have on their shoulders. A hard-on is something we can physically see (even a half-hard penis is obvious). We focus far too much on this, which can be extremely damaging to a male-bodied person’s psyche. If you worry about getting hard, you have trouble getting hard. It’s that simple.

Stay away from self-blame (both of you)

The first thing we usually end up doing is blaming ourselves. We fall into a shame spiral, worrying about everything from whether our partner finds us sexually attractive, to whether they are enjoying sex, to wondering if they’re having an affair. These thoughts are very dangerous and wind up making it both difficult to discuss important feelings we’re having and downgrading our own satisfaction with sexual play.

The same if true for your partner. If he believes that he isn’t sexually satisfying you, he won’t be able to stay hard. It can be as simple as one occasion where he suspects you didn’t have a good time in bed. He gets in his head and then begins to feel perpetual shame. This is a big-time boner-killer.

We have to be able to talk about our feelings in order to take the pressure off of performance. Show your partner articles. Talk about other sexual things you can do. And above all, be empathetic.

Encourage. your partner (we all need that sometimes)

The healthiest thing you can do is encourage your partner and make sure he knows how sexy and hot you think he is. We’re not talking about catering to the male ego, but if your loving, supportive spouse is having erectile issues, it’s perfectly OK to bolster him up.

We all need to feel hot sometimes, and this is especially true when we’re dealing with body image issues. Don’t give up on him and don’t let him give up on you. Remember, you are in this together and you’ll figure it out no matter what.

Take sex off the table for a few weeks

There are a million ways to have orgasms and sexual pleasure without an erection, we just don’t give weight to those “other” sexual things. We tend to think penetrative sex is the only “real” kind of sex there is. This is a load of BS and only further adds to the pressure your partner feels about getting it up. Talk about a catch-22.

“Sexual intercourse” is not the end-all-be-all of sex. Let’s make that clear.

Take sex entirely off the table for a few weeks (even a full month). We don’t recommend taking the “blame” on yourself, but if you’re dealing with a particularly sensitive partner, you can always make up an excuse. You can say you’re dealing with a small yeast infection and your doctor says no sex for a month. You can tell your partner you pulled an internal muscle during spin class.

Or you can just be totally honest. There is no “right” way. It’s your relationship. It’s up to you.

Spend the next few weeks exploring other sexual play. Try some new oral sex tricks. Enjoy an tantric massage. Explore your partner’s other erogenous zones and visa versa. Have you explored your partner’s balls? We highly recommend it.

You can even give some erotic meditation a try. All of these things remove the pressure. They send your partner a message that says, “You are sexy. I want to do any and all sex things with you. I love your penis, but it isn’t the only thing I love.”

Gigi Engle is a sex educator and writer living in Chicago. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @GigiEngle.

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