“This never happens.”

That’s what men say when they realize, in horror, that their body isn’t responding the way it’s designed to respond—whether it’s too soft, too soon or not at all. Even if it’s a lie, it’s what you’re supposed to say when “you’re the man.” The same way women have been taught their identity is dependent on beauty, men are told again and again their worth depends on sexual prowess.

In gender studies, the pressure to perform falls under a sociological concept known as hegemonic masculinity, otherwise known in the blogosphere as toxic masculinity. Basically, hegemonic masculinity promotes the dominance of men over women as a global concept. That’s a lot to live up to. Although the current zeitgeist might have you believing otherwise, women aren’t the only ones dealing with destructive societal expectations. Men too internalize patriarchy, and not always to their benefit.

At the very least, it is known that all men experience erectile dysfunction at some point in their lives, whether it’s temporary, recurring or due to physical limitations. Performance anxiety as a whole, however, is a slightly different beast, so I put out a call to men to tell me about it in their own words. I was moved to get back a facet of candid stories, with a few even mentioning abuse or personal injuries as the cause. The struggle is absolutely real, and it’s a struggle I’ve honestly never really considered as a woman. It may be profuse, but men should take comfort in this: You are not alone.

All men shared their stories on the condition of anonymity.

It’s not a myth. Drinking inhibits a man’s ability to get an erection or ejaculate. “We had been out drinking. I had a raging hard-on for a while by this point. We finally got home, ripped each other’s clothes off, and then vroooop, the guy downstairs was so exhausted, nothing could wake him up.” This was probably the most common story I heard from men regarding issues with their hardware, particularly from younger men.

Thanks to the explosion of pornography online, sex has become a “performance” instead of a natural expression of mutual attraction. “I feel like I need to live up to the unrealistic standards of porn, like having sex for 40 minutes and making her orgasm multiple times. I even worry my cock isn’t big enough now.” Just so you know guys, most women don’t want a massive cock and marathon sex. Most of us prefer a normal-size dick on a passionate lover for seven to 15 minutes. Fact.

Traditionally, the pressure to perform in the bedroom falls on men. Like in any high-pressure situation, a person can choke. I’ve definitely experienced this in the past year, thanks to my job as a sex columnist. A lot of men will freeze up when they’re with a woman they idealize and fantasize about. “I had been fantasizing about sleeping with her for years. When the moment finally came, I panicked. I was so concerned with impressing her, so nervous and excited, so in my head, my body completely shut down. It was mortifying.”

Despite being incredibly common (and a billion dollar industry), most men don’t admit to any sort of erectile dysfunction because they fear it makes them less of a man. “The more we think about that, the more anxiety we feel. Worst of all, if we suffer it once, it’s almost a given it’ll happen again because it’ll stay in our heads and add to the anxiety.” This shame can lock men in a vicious cycle that’s difficult to escape until they reach out for help.

Heart attacks and high blood pressure aside—never underestimate how financial, work and family stress can affect you in the bedroom, too. “I’ve learned that you just have to ride it out and be patient. Relax the mind and the body invariably performs at its optimum.”

Each individual man responds differently to anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications, but a change in your sex drive or performance is a guaranteed side effect for almost every one. “In my mid 30s, I sought therapy for depression. Turns out I had manic depression. The prescription made me nearly unable to orgasm.” Go easy on yourself while you find the right chemical cocktail.

I was surprised how many men mentioned insecurities about their bodies. It didn’t occur to me that men could be as self-conscious as women in the bedroom, but they absolutely are. “I’d say I’m average in most ways—neither well-endowed, nor small. Yes, we think about this when taking someone home for the first time. I am overweight, so that may play a part in the anxiety, too.”

Not all men think with their dicks. In fact, sometimes, the more a man cares about a woman, the less his dick wants to cooperate. ”The irony is the less emotionally connected you are to a woman, and you’re simply out to fuck her, the less it happens. When I’m in love and there are a lot of emotions swirling around my head, it feels like my mind and body aren’t in sync or able to control what’s happening inside.”

The kinkier the sex, the higher the probability the little guy might freak out and forget his lines. Personally, I’ve been involved in two threesomes where the dude was so shocked he was finally having a threesome, he couldn’t maintain an erection. It’s normal. “I totally had it during my first threesome. I was basically off to the side trying to make it work.” The best solution? Get out of your head by focusing on pleasing your partner/s.

Even if your worst nightmare occurs and you go soft while the woman of your dreams stands before you in her hottest La Perla lingerie after a fantastic dinner and stimulating conversation, have no fear.

It’s no big deal.


And the bigger deal you make of it, the harder it’ll be to bounce back. “I’ve found almost every single woman to be incredibly understanding. Even though she’s hungry and horny for action, most women are incredibly tender and patient. That makes all the difference when you go back and more often than not, given a little time, you’re soon at it like rabbits.”

Bridget Phetasy is a writer and comic in Los Angeles. Twitter: @BridgetPhetasy.

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