What to Do When Your Erection Fails at the Worst Time

Losing your erection during intercourse or other sexual activity can be embarrassing, but it does no good to agonize over it endlessly.


Erectile dysfunction can strike at any time. And for some men, ED strikes at what most would consider the worst possible time — during sexual intercourse or some other form of sexual intimacy.

The options for a man who’s lost his erection during sexual activity are relatively limited. He can always try to pretend he’s had an orgasm and thus lost his erection in a fairly natural way. Alternatively, he can find some way to satisfy his partner that doesn’t require an erection.

What’s the Problem?

After dealing with the disappointment and embarrassment of the moment, your attention will no doubt turn to questions about what caused your erectile failure. Is it just a temporary phenomenon or perhaps a warning of a more persistent problem?

In much the same way that temporary factors can occasionally make it difficult or even impossible for a man to get an erection, such causes as stress, fatigue, overindulgence in alcohol, or even an episode of performance anxiety may be the culprit behind his inability to maintain an erection long enough to complete sexual activity.

Acute or Chronic?

While that knowledge does nothing to lessen the feelings of inadequacy such an incident may cause, it can usually be chalked up as an isolated incident that hopefully will not recur any time soon. It also helps if your sexual partner is understanding and compassionate about your loss of erection.

Needless to say, repeated erectile failures during intercourse or other intimacy is a clear sign that this is not just an occasional problem but rather a symptom of chronic erectile dysfunction. In that case, see your doctor or a specialist in an effort to pinpoint the physiological or psychological causes of your problem.

Sex Without an Erection

The late Jeanne Shaw, an Atlanta-based sex therapist and clinical psychologist, told WebMD that much of the angst over sexual dysfunction could be resolved if more men recognized that an erection isn’t needed to be sexual.

In an interview with WebMD, Shaw said, “What I see as a problem is the public has been educated to believe that good sex requires an erect penis that stays hard through the entire sexual encounter,” a mindset that she characterized as somewhat adolescent in character. “This definition of good sex changes the basic nature of an encounter from intimacy and pleasure to achievement and performance.”

However well-intended, Dr. Shaw’s philosophical musings on the link between erections and good sex probably will win few converts among male listeners, most of whom consider an erection essential for satisfying sex as well as an important symbol of their manhood.

Primary Symptom of ED

The primary symptom of erectile dysfunction is an inability to achieve and/or maintain an erection strong enough for sexual intercourse. As previously noted, recurrent loss of your erection during sex falls under this heading and is a problem you should discuss with a qualified medical professional.

ED affects as many as 30 million American men, according to data from the National Institutes of Health. The older you are the more likely you are to suffer from some degree of erectile dysfunction. The incidence of ED increases as you age, affecting 47 percent of men over the age of 75. However, the good news is that this disorder is treatable at any age.

Heart health and circulation are behind most cases of ED.


What’s the Root Cause?

However, to treat ED, you and your doctor first must determine what’s causing it. Although it was once widely believed that most cases of impotence were psychological in origin, it’s now accepted that psychological causes account for only about 10 to 15 percent of all ED. Among younger men, particularly those under the age of 40, psychologically-rooted impotence is most widespread.

Among the most common psychological causes of erectile dysfunction are anxiety, depression, relationship problems, and stress. You’re usually aware when the stress of work and everyday life is getting the best of you, and anxiety — sometimes closely tied to some of those same stressors — is also easy to detect.

Fighting Depression

Depression, however, can be a much more insidious threat to your erectile function and overall sexual health. Depression is not always characterized by the typical feelings of sadness that most people tend to associate with this disorder. In other words, you can be suffering from clinical depression and not really recognize it for what it is. You may realize that something’s not quite right but still be unable to pinpoint the problem or put a name to it. To overcome depression, you’ll undoubtedly need counseling from a psychiatrist, and it may be necessary to take an antidepressant to help resolve the problem.

All of which brings up still another common cause of erectile dysfunction, albeit one that can usually be corrected. Certain medications, including some antidepressants, may make it more difficult to get an erection. If you think that one or more of the drugs you are taking is compromising your erectile function, talk to your doctor to see if he can prescribe an alternate medication that doesn’t have the same side effect.

Physiological Causes

As to the physiological causes of ED, they are generally diseases or disorders that restrict blood flow. It’s often said that what’s good for the heart is also good for the penis, and things that threaten heart health can also impede erectile function. Just as your heart needs unimpeded blood flow to function normally, your penis requires strong blood flow in order to achieve and maintain an erection.

Medical conditions that interfere with your body’s vascular health are the biggest risk factors for developing erectile dysfunction. Such conditions include atherosclerosis, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and peripheral artery disease. Because nerves also play a key role in erectile function, neurological disease or disorders are also associated with a high risk of erectile disorder.

Surgical Treatment

Traumatic damage to the nerves or blood vessels that supply the penis can also cause erectile dysfunction. However, in such cases, surgery is probably the only way to undo the damage so that you can once again lead a normal sex life.

No matter what may be causing your erectile dysfunction, the underlying cause almost certainly can be treated or, at the very least, alleviated temporarily to permit a return to normal sexual activity.

Impotence Medications

The first line of defense for most men diagnosed with ED is a family of prescription medications known collectively as PDE5 inhibitors, so-called because they temporarily block the effects of the phosphodiesterase-5 enzyme, which impedes blood flow to the penis.

Viagra, the first of the PDE5 inhibitors to reach the market, first went on sale in the United States in 1998. In the years since its introduction, several other drugs have followed. These include Cialis, Levitra, Staxyn, and Stendra. All work in very much the same way.

Other modes of treatment for erectile dysfunction include penile implants (malleable and inflatable), vacuum constriction devices (also known as penis pumps), and penile injection therapy. Together, you and your doctor can decide which of these treatments is best suited for you, a decision that may depend to some extent on your overall health and the presence of any underlying medical conditions.

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Don Amerman is a freelance author who writes extensively about a wide array of nutrition and health-related topics.

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