I appreciate you’re not a medical doctor so can’t comment on potential physical causes for this issue, but I’m not even sure where to start looking for advice on this that doesn’t immediately descend into snake-oil and weird assumptions. I’ve been following your blog since the sex-positive hey-day of the late aughts, so I hope you or your followers might have some pointers. (We’re in the UK, for accessing resources purposes)
So, my husband (M39) and I (M35) have been together nine years, lived together four, and married for two (and before some cleverclogs in the comments suggests it, no, there’s been no infidelity). I get that one’s sex life tends to get less athletic as you get older and more familiar, but we’ve got an ongoing problem that is just getting upsetting now, namely that my husband is experiencing premature ejaculation when he’s topping during penetrative sex. I think it started maybe 5 years ago – he’d been going through a pretty stressful time with one thing and another, I tried not to make a Big Deal of it when it started because I didn’t want to give him a complex – and it’s got to the point where he goes off a matter of seconds after he’s in. It’s uncomfortable for me (he’s even hurt me a couple of times when he’s involuntarily thrust before I was ready), and unsatisfying for both of us (he’s only getting the most perfunctory orgasm out of it).
It’s also deeply upsetting for him, because it plays into a whole slew of insecurity about being “undesirable” and “unlovable” no matter how much I try to convince him that I do love him and desire him very much. He doesn’t have a problem getting or maintaining and erection, and lasts for a normal length of time during other kinds of sex, it’s literally just topping. Thing is, although we do have and enjoy having non-penetrative sex (I’m including oral in that, fwiw), he’s sort of got it in his head now that anal is some sort of Gold Standard and that I couldn’t possibly be satisfied by anything else. And, like, I am, of course I am and I let him know that, but if I’m going to be honest, though, and also conform to stereotype, sometimes I like being fucked and I do miss it. (As a couple of asides/ context points, he doesn’t especially enjoy bottoming, and I have depression which can make my sexual response a bit hit and miss sometimes, but I’m usually happy to get him off even if I’m feeling dead from the waist down)
So, how do we even begin to address this? I’m pretty sure it’s a psychological thing rather than a physical one, and he’s being stubborn about going to his GP about it. We had limited success with me getting him off, then giving it half an hour before trying, but he got worried he was just training himself to cum too quickly that way too and stopped it. I actually have no idea what his masturbation habits are like, we’re both deeply private about that (thanks conservative upbringing!). I’m seriously worried this is going to start impacting on all aspects of intimacy between us, as we do get into vicious cycles of avoiding sex, or anything that could be interpreted as initiating sex, because of the upset it causes both of us. I love him, I think he’s terribly attractive, and we otherwise have a very close, supportive, affectionate relationship, but I know from past experience that nothing kills a relationship faster than lack of intimacy.
Thanks for any suggestions,
Slow Speed Racer, Slow
One of the unusual things about sex is how much of it depends on what’s going on between the ears as much as between our legs, SSRS. It’s kind of amazing how much our brains can affect our sexual response — from desire to arousal to, well, being a little too quick on the trigger. I think you’re right: it sounds like your husband’s issue is psychological rather than physiological. If he’s only orgasming that quickly when he’s topping you and lasting a normal (for him) amount of time for other forms of sex, then the odds are it has to do with the stuff going on upstairs, rather than in his junk.
What that is, exactly, however, is a tricky thing to work out because there’re so many potential causes and triggers. It could be, for example, that he’s trained himself to ejaculate quickly during some sex acts. If he’s been cranking one out, especially either to porn or fantasizing about topping, and he’s been trying to get off as quickly as possible, then he may have created an association between topping and speed.
(This can sometimes happen when one partner is trying to hide the fact that they’ve been masturbating; the faster they get off, the less likely they are to get caught, and so on.)
Alternately, it could be that whatever he went through five years ago — you don’t say — has given him a complex about his relationship with you. If it was something that hit him square in the confidence or made him doubt his ability to please you, his desirability to you or simply the security of the relationship, then topping you could have taken on such dire importance that it causes him to pop off right at the start. Which, I realize, seems counterproductive, but that’s brains for you.
Unfortunately, the only person who can tell you what’s going through his head and what he’s feeling is, well, him. And it’s pretty clear his anxiety is doing a number on him. One of the most frustrating things about dealing with insecurity is how it comes across differently to the person experiencing it and the person who’s on the other end. To you, it feels like no matter how much you try to reassure him, he doesn’t believe you, because he keeps coming back to ask for more reassurance. To him, he keeps coming back because he does believe you; that’s why he keeps asking for it. The problem is that the reassurance doesn’t last… and so when the brainweasels start gnawing on him again, he has to go back to the person who can help put them back down for a bit.
Now, because it’s almost certainly something going on in his head, that means that the answer is ultimately for him to get on the therapist’s couch to start unpacking things and working on finding some resolutions.
But in the meantime, there are a few stopgap measure the two of you can take that can help slow him down so that he doesn’t panic-thrust and hurt you and you can both enjoy the intimacy.
To start with, there’re desensitizing lubes, sprays and wipes out there that you can buy without a prescription. Romans, for example, offers wipes that contain about 4% benzocaine; just about enough to dull sensitivity without numbing things entirely. Similarly, if he’s willing to actually talk to his GP, some SSRIs have off-label use for treating premature ejaculation.
On the non-medical side of things, there’s always the option of getting him off first, before you move to his topping you. This way, you’re both able to focus on the foreplay and lead up to actual penetration and his refractory period means that he’s less likely to orgasm right at the start of things. And of course, if he’s really worried about being unable to please you because of how quickly he ejaculates, there’re always toys. There’re plenty of strap-ons for men, ranging from ones you strap to your thigh or that sit on the pubic bone above the penis; with these, he’s able to be the one topping you (thrusting, controlling the depth and speed, and so on) without having to worry about orgasming too soon. After you’ve gotten yours, he can then switch from the artificial penis to his biological one and finish things off for himself without the pressure of having to perform like a porn star in order to please you.
But like I said: these are stopgap measures. The only real treatment is going to be for him to use his words — both with you, and with a therapist who can help him unpack his insecurities and find some answers. Encourage him to start talking to a therapist, SSRS; the sooner he starts, the sooner the two of you will be able to start having the kinds of sex and intimacy you used to have.
Dear Dr. NerdLove:
My partner and I separated three months ago after two and a half years of being together. We had initially been dating long distance, and after the first year we decided that I would move cities to be closer to each other. While our decision to split was mostly amicable, I know that my ex is having a more difficult time accepting it and forgiving me for my responsibility for the fall out (our breakup was not the result of cheating and/or abuse).
However, my former partner and I have the same tight knit group of friends that has made it super awkward to navigate since our split. She naturally introduced me to most of these people, and some friendships we have obtained as a couple. She would always say to me, “These are OUR friends, not my friends.” While I’m trying to be respectful and give my former partner space and time to heal, I can’t help but feel left out of certain social events or gatherings. Both my ex and I have skipped out on certain things to avoid seeing each other.
These are friends that I have vacationed with, spent holidays with, etc and I truly don’t want to lose these connections. I also don’t want or expect to put our friends in the middle and make them feel like they need to choose sides. Do I need to find a new friend group until everything blows over?
I’m feeling helpless in this friendship custody battle.
Split The Party
This is a tricky one, STP. One of the things that people often miss when it comes to relationships is that relationships are, in their way, an entity unto themselves. There’s you, your partner and the two of you as a couple, creating a single being like a fleshy Voltron. One of the things this does is create situations where your relationship with your friends is with the version of you that’s half of the couple, rather than just yourself.
In an ideal world, when a couple splits up more or less amicably, it wouldn’t create a situation where the friends would feel the need to choose sides. It’d be great if they could compartmentalize their friendships with the individuals from their friendship with the couple, especially in cases where there’s no “bad guy” as it were. But that doesn’t always happen; even when people have the best of intentions, friends of the couple often end up drifting one way or the other. Of course, this doesn’t mean that people automatically get their friends in the break-up; there’re plenty of times when friends who were originally closer to one partner will end up choosing the other.
But there really isn’t a way of ensuring that this happens. Nor is there any perfect way of dividing up time so that you and your ex don’t have any awkward encounters and keep a perfectly equitable relationship with your friends.
Unfortunately, if you and they are going to be trying to avoid each other for a while, it means one or the other of you are going to have to skip certain gatherings or events. And that means being willing to tell your friends “hey, just FYI, we’re trying to minimize awkwardness and hurt feelings, so Ex and I’ve been trying to keep our distance from one another, so I’d appreciate it if you could give me a heads up if she’s going to be at $EVENT.” While yeah, this does create the potential for folks having to decide which of you they might invite (or trying to finesse who RSVPs first), if you’re going to try to stay out of each other’s way and see your friends, there really isn’t much of an alternative.
Now this doesn’t mean that you have to avoid your friends entirely. While yes, I always recommend making new friends and expanding your social circle, just abandoning the friends you either met through your ex or met as a couple while things blow over means that you’re more likely to get squeezed out entirely. Not out of maliciousness or Machiavellian plotting on the part of your ex but just due to the nature of friendships. Friendships require maintenance and upkeep; if you go radio silent during the awkward adjustment phases of the relationship, then you aren’t able to keep up the friendships you’ve made and transition them to being friends with you now that you’re no longer part of a couple.
That’s why I suggest that you still see the friends you made while you were dating your ex too. You may just have to make a point of spending time with the members of your social circle who aren’t going to be at the events your ex will be attending and vice versa. This can actually work well for you, by the way. By spending time with them on a one-on-one basis, you can help solidify the bonds and friendship with them as an individual, rather than as half of STPandEX. While this doesn’t prevent things from getting awkward or friends drifting to one side or the other, it makes it much less likely that your friendships will start to drift apart because of your absence.
It’s an uncomfortable situation, and I don’t envy you being stuck in it, STP. Hopefully you and your ex will be able to make it through this adjustment period without too much awkwardness and come out on the other side as, if not friends, then at least cool with one another.
Hi Dr. NerdLove!
I’m honestly surprised you responded to my letter about my boyfriend keeping our relationship a secret. I thought I had a snowball’s chance in hell with that one, but I did end up doing what you suggested prior to your response.
That same day I wrote to you, I ended up talking to Ludwig about our relationship. I ultimately talked about how I was sad and stressed over the possibility of our relationship being under wraps for longer than I anticipated, but I also didn’t want to guilt him into coming out if he legitimately wasn’t ready for it. He was really receptive in the conversation and I truly felt heard.
He did tell me that he didn’t want to spill the beans about our relationship to our friends because he didn’t want to shake up our friend group too much. And yes, while I know they’re very drama, I felt it was a weak argument at the time and I still do. We didn’t reach a conclusion to that conversation that night because I didn’t want my emotions to cloud my judgment too much at the heat of the moment, but I felt a lot better just being vulnerable with him.
We eventually talked it over again a few days later face-to-face and it went really well. We once again made plans to be open about our relationship on Halloween, but I made sure to confirm that he really wanted that and Ludwig genuinely reaffirmed with me in response. He confessed that he didn’t feel anxious about us at the time, but he just reacted poorly to a friend finding out about us earlier than he expected and wasn’t prepared for that.
Now, I wasn’t planning on making a huge public announcement about us because that’s not really me. I was just hoping for a quick handhold at a party if anything because I’m not used to displaying PDA. Ludwig, on the other hand, really surprised me with his go-getter attitude on Halloween. Ludwig told a close mutual friend about us on the way to pick me up for a party and our friend was genuinely shocked but very happy to hear the news. (It was nice to learn that our secret really was kept).
Then at the party, he initiated all the PDA from light shoulder and hand touches to full-on cuddling during a movie we all watched. I wasn’t expecting this at all, but it was a very nice surprise and it was really nice to not care about what others thought. He also shared that sentiment after we left the party and confessed that he felt a lot better about everything and we had a great rest of our night.
Thank you, Dr. NerdLove, and everyone in the comments for your advice and words! I do genuinely care about Ludwig and I know and trust that he genuinely cares about me as well. However, I’m going to actively put myself first and ensure my happiness throughout my relationship and be more transparent about my feelings with him, both positive and negative.
A Open Happy Sonnet
Glad everything worked out, OAHS! I’m glad you were able to talk things out with Ludwig and share your side of things. It seems like it made an impression on him.
Thanks for writing back and letting us know how it all went!