Zenza Flarini

Sexuality in Conversation

Performance Issues Aren't Just an "Old Man" Problem

Performance problems and other sexual health issues are commonly seen as an “old man’s” predicament. But new research from the United Kingdom exposes a rather unfortunate reality: young men are also affected by sexual health issues. A lot of them. Since June, in addition to being Pride Month, is also Men’s Health Month, we’d like to take this opportunity to speak on men’s sexual health.

The research, from the University of Glasgow, found that 40 percent of men from ages 25 to 34 have experienced sexual performance issues in the past year. Issues include: lack of interest and arousal, difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection, difficulty climaxing or climaxing too early and physical pain. Thirty-six percent of men from 16 to 24, and 40 percent of men under 35 have experienced more than one of these issues.

Dr. Kristin Mitchell, lead author of the study, believes sexual problems have a long-term impact on future sexual wellbeing. Yet, men do nothing about it, due to what many believe is our collective apprehension to acknowledge or discuss any sexual shortcomings.

The majority of these sexual issues, particularly in young males, is being blamed on easy access to internet porn. “Young men who lack sex education may be comparing themselves to porn stars on a physical and performance level (size of penis and how long they seem to last),” Aoife Drury, sex and relationship therapist, told Metro. “The younger the age of the male when they begin to regularly watch porn, the greater the chance of it becoming their preference over partnered sex, and the likelihood of developing a sexual dysfunction increases.” Aoife believes a connection between porn and poor sexual education in schools (abstinence-only policies and fear-based tactics usually promote shame and silence around sex) are primarily to blame. Young men learn so little in sex ed that they turn to porn to quell remaining curiosity.

“Sexual education in schools is quite limited,” Dr. Jenni Skyler, sex therapist and licensed marriage and family therapist at AdamEve.com, tells Playboy. “The primary lesson in school-based sex education typically orbits on reproductive health and avoiding contracting infections or diseases, with minimal discussion of intimacy, pleasure, and navigating conflict and consent.” She maintains that educating children on these excluded aspects of sex would help build positive relationships emotionally and sexually so kids can be empowered to make meaningful choices regarding their sexuality.

Men oftentimes turn to pornography as an easy and controllable refuge from the pressures and worries about pleasing their partner in bed.

Skyler is not surprised by the aforementioned figure regarding men’s sexual health issues. In fact, she thinks they’re underreported. She and her husband (both sex therapists) predict young men are the largest growing demographic in sexual health. “Men are increasingly insecure around whether they can live up to what they perceive their partner is expecting of them,” she says. “Men oftentimes turn to pornography as an easy and controllable refuge from the pressures and worries about pleasing their partner in bed.”

There is sense to be made of this. Research published just last year concluded that sexual dysfunction is the driver of porn use, not the other way around. Nearly 30 percent of men surveyed said they preferred masturbation to intercourse with a partner. Researchers remarked that excessive pornography viewing was a side effect of a sexual issue already being present as men who were avoiding sex with their significant others due to a problem would watch it when masturbating alone.

But this could be a chicken or the egg type situation. In her experience, Skyler says men who struggle with erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation tend to be drawn to porn because there is no pressure to perform in front of a partner. Yet, watching a flawless and rehearsed porn scene can increase insecurity for men who feel they need to have sex in the manner that porn demonstrates. It’s a double-edged sword. Both solutions are ultimately the problem.

Another important factor impacting men's—particularly young men’s—sexual confidence is social media. “Men are worried about public shaming if things go awry in the bedroom,” Skyler explains. Men also fear being labeled selfish or self centered, so they become increasingly uncomfortable voicing what they enjoy with regards to sexual touch. In turn, this makes them feel uncertain as lovers. Both total libido killers.

The current state of masculinity isn’t helping either. With phrases like “toxic masculinity” popping up in every other headline, it’s safe to assume the term is going through something of an identity crisis, which may not be such a bad thing. Men who struggle with sexual function or inexperience are reluctant to discuss it out of shame and embarrassment. So they silence themselves because they don’t want to be judged by their partners. Many worry they will not be seen as sexy, confident, or knowledgeable in the bedroom.

So what’s a partner to do? Dr. Skyler councils it’s imperative that the partner not get frustrated. “If the partner can stay grounded and patient with an understanding it's not about them, then the penis can join the party when it's ready,” she begins. “In addition, if partners can talk about what kind of sexual activities and touch feel good, both parties can gain confidence and pleasure as they learn how to map each other's bodies and be good lovers with one another.”

Whether it’s porn, a lacking educational system or a combination of the two, young men are paying the ultimate price. And until these factors are rectified, partners must do their best to encourage their man to be sexually vulnerable in order to build bedroom confidence.