Today we have a question that I think has wider applications than the standard Ask Dr. NerdLove. The letter writer in question has a number of issues and concerns that are actually incredibly common amongst men, and I feel that this is worth exploring in depth.
So let’s get started.
Hi Doc, I’m a big fan of your blog, and was wondering if you could offer me some words of advice, or at least some consolation.
I’m 33 and still a virgin. I’ve had a few opportunities to have one-night stands in the past, but my problem is, I have serious performance issues. I have a fairly low libido and do not develop spontaneous erections often, much less then the pressure of the spotlight is on me. At a handful of times in my life, I could have gone all the way with a girl, but I get nervous in these cases, and I just don’t get hard. It doesn’t help that when I was dating my only girlfriend (a girl I was not at all attracted to, physically or emotionally), we actually tried to go all the way and I couldn’t do it. I really haven’t been able to get rid of the burden of shame and fear ever since. Sometimes the thought just makes me ill.
I largely know the problem, though: an over-reliance on internet porn has largely compartmentalized my sexuality into “something I do by myself, in the privacy of my own home”. I’m really trying to break this habit, but even when I go a week or more without masturbating, I don’t feel much of a change. I definitely want real physical affection, even if I don’t need to get my rocks off immediately. But is there any hope for me to actually perform for a woman some day?
Guy with Performance Anxiety
Let’s start off with the obvious: It’s ok that you’re still a virgin. One thing that annoys me about our culture is the idea of sexual performance and experience as a measure of masculinity; the level of pressure inflicted upon young men to get laid actually does a great deal of psychological harm and sets up all sorts of absurd standards and expectations. As a result we have people rushing into sex before they’re ready and others who feel somehow less because they haven’t had sex. In both cases, you can end up with any number of issues and performance issues based around sex. It wrecks their self-esteem and even pathologizes the sex act itself. A number of the issues I see in the letters I receive from my readers stem from the pressure that they feel to meet some arbitrary standard sexually.
The other thing that I want you to know is that you’re not alone. There are many, many people who have issues similar to yours. They’re not uncommon, nor are they insurmountable. It may seem like a daunting mess at first, but it becomes incredibly manageable if you start to break things down.
Let’s start off small: your low libido. You don’t mention whether you have always had a low libido or if it’s decreased over time, nor do you mention whether this is something you’re concerned about. Having a low libido isn’t inherently a bad thing. Some people naturally have a lower libido than others. If it is something you’re concerned about, then the best thing you can do is make an appointment with your doctor and have your hormone levels checked. It’s entirely possible that you have low testosterone levels, which can be remedied via hormone replacement therapy.
You may also have issues with depression, which would certainly exacerbate the other issues. In addition, certain medications, especially antidepressants or anti-anxiety medicines can also affect your sex drive. When I was younger, I had issues with chronic depression and had to go on Zoloft; not only did it kill my sex-drive deader than the dodo, but the few times I could be bothered with sex, it made actually reaching orgasm next to impossible. If you’re taking any antidepressants or other medicines, you should see about having your prescription adjusted until you find a medication and dosage that works with fewer side-effects.
In the meantime, you should also look to your diet and exercise levels. Obesity and a lack of exercise can not only contribute to lowered libido and testosterone on the physical level, but they can negatively affect your self-esteem. It’s hard to be interested in sex when your sense of self-worth is lower than a snake’s ass in a wagon rut. A healthier diet – fewer simple carbs, more green leafy vegetables and lean protein – and regular exercise can do wonders; not only do they help boost your testosterone level but they provide a rush of endorphins and help you look better to boot. And there’s nothing quite like looking in the mirror and thinking “Goddamn, I am a sexy motherfucker” to boost the ol’ self-esteem.
Don’t concern yourself with the number of spontaneous erections you have per day; you’re naturally going to have fewer as you get older. When you hit your mid-30s, you’re not going to be getting the sudden wood that you used to get when you were in your mid-teens.
Now as for the performance issues…
Good news! Your problems aren’t strictly physical. The fact that you masturbate to internet porn is a sign that you do get hard and get off… just not when other people are involved.
I wouldn’t be so quick to blame Internet porn for an inability to perform sexually. While it is possible to wear a groove into your brain’s pleasure centers that says “This is how I get off!”, I think your issues are far more basic.
Y’see, I don’t see compartmentalization as the issue. The issue is that you’ve built sex up into this massive thing of supreme importance that describes everything about who you are. You’ve allowed your anxiety to become a defining label, where your inability to perform has become part of how you see yourself. In your head, you’re The Guy Who Can’t Get It Up. That in turn, makes you even more anxious to perform when it “counts” and the pressure you put yourself under further undermines your ability to get hard or get off. It doesn’t help that you’re also undoubtedly convinced that everybody is judging you based on this too.
You’ve put sex up on a pedestal and given it such momentous significance to your life that it you’re intimidated by it. So now you’re already working at a disadvantage – you’re seeing sex as this alpha and omega of who you are as a man - and then on top of that, you have immense, impossible expectations of it and you. It’s no surprise that your dick goes limp… you’ve set yourself up for failure, and the fact that you “failed” further reinforces that set-up, which becomes a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle.
Seriously: how the fuck is anyone supposed to get hard with that much pressure on them?
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