I just want to preface I really enjoy reading you and you’ve helped me out a lot when it comes to try and figure myself out as well as become more confident.
There’s just one aspect of my life in which I don’t feel confident at all: my sexual experience and sexual self-esteem. I’ve only had 2 sexual partners so far, mostly foreplay — that in and of itself isn’t a problem — yet my sexual confidence is at its lowest, even before I lost my virginity. Without wanting to go into details, my ex wasn’t really a supportive person, and everytime I would lose an erection due to performance anxiety, or struggle to adjust to a new position she would point it out in a hurtful way.
I feel this made me completely disinterested in sex, especially because I can’t portray myself in a sexual scenario; I always have the feeling I will fail, or be rebuked again, and I don’t even bother trying to date because I feel like I just CANNOT have sex.
This subject is actually stressing me a lot, and makes me feel like no one would actually want to sleep with me. Do you have any advice on how I could change my mindset or build better sexual confidence / self-esteem? I think I’m in need of some change (it’s pretty much the only area of life I’m not confident about)
Thanks for having me Doc
It really sucks that your ex was a hurtful asshole, SF. It doubly sucks that she was buying into and reinforcing toxic ideas about what it means to be a man. One of the common, restrictive tropes about manhood and masculinity is that men — cis men, specifically — are sexual satyrs, always ready to go, and if they aren’t walking around like peripatetic porn stars, they’re at least able to get harder than Russian trigonometry at a moment’s notice. In reality, not only do men (biological or otherwise) vary widely in libido or interest in sex, but dicks are goddamn divas. Like Luciano Pavarotti, if everything isn’t absolutely perfect, penises will often refuse to perform. “Not perfect” can mean anything from “stimulation eased up for longer than five seconds”, “the chemical balance in my body has shifted slightly”, “had too much to drink”, “stressed at work”, “worried about unrelated issues” and the perennial classic, “being nervous or anxious about pleasing my partner”. And, of course, if someone draws attention to being less stiff than a double shot of rye and not standing at attention like a mushroom-headed Marine, especially in a negative manner… well, that means that anxieties about not being hard in the moment are always going to be front-of-mind. That, in turn, creates a self-reinforcing cycle of anxiety; you couldn’t get hard one time, which makes you worried about being able to get it up this time, which then means you’re more likely to lose your erection, which then makes you more anxious. Wash, rinse, repeat. Throw a partner who gives you shit for it and, yeah, that’s gonna do a number on you and your best friend John C. Thomas, esq.
In porn, nobody ever loses their hard-on thanks to the magic of editing, off-screen fluffers and better living through chemistry. In the real world, however, everyone is human with all the wild diversity of experiences during sex that entails. Sometimes folks — even young, virile go-getters — get a little softer while shifting positions and could use a little stimulation to get one’s head back in the game; this isn’t that big of a deal. It’s when partners treat this as a mark of shame or the idea that any sort of assistance to get hard again that this actually becomes a problem.
Such as with you and your shitty ex. And while she’s been kicked to the curb like last week’s compost, the whammy she did to your head lingers.
So, how do you fix this? How can you start getting past her bullshit and start feeling like a sexual being again?
Well, there’re a lot of possibilities, some more practical or sensible than others. On the short-term solution side of things, cock rings — rubber, silicone or leather rings worn at the base of the penis — constrict the penis when erect, meaning that blood can’t leave the spongey-tissues that cause erections. This means that you will stay harder, longer, because the blood can’t flow back and cause things to deflate. Similarly, medication like Cialis or Viagra can ensure that things get hard on an as-needed basis; God knows there’re enough websites out there that offer doctor-on-staff prescriptions that’ll send the pills straight to your door without having to look your GP in the eye.
But these are stop-gap solutions; at best, it’s Dumbo’s Magic Feather, letting you put your brain at ease and giving yourself permission to not think about things and keep your anxiety from fucking with your head… and your head. At worst, it’s a bandage on a hemorrhage, addressing a surface problem when the real issue is much deeper. And while I can see the value of a temporary solution that could interrupt your anxiety-brain long enough to remind you that yes, you can get hard when it counts, these could very easily make things worse. Creating an association between, say, popping sildenafil before a date and your ability to please your partner means that you can end up making any of these solutions into a crutch that you train yourself to require to perform.
This is why I think it’s more important to address the underlying issue — while it’s not as fast and easy as sliding on a cock-ring or dry-swallowing a pill, this has the benefit of actually providing a long-term and permanent solution to the issue, instead of plastering over it and pretending it’s not there.
Now the first and most obvious step is simple: you need to date a better class of partner. Your ex was the exception, not the norm; most women aren’t shitheads like she was and understand that hey, sex is absurd, weird shit happens and it’s better to roll with it. As most people can tell you, all sorts of absurd and silly things happen when two (or more) people are boning. Someone gets a cramp at an inconvenient time, someone farts, hits their head against the wall, knees their partner in the junk, falls off the bed… rather than let this ruin the mood, folks who are comfortable with sex and sexuality (and their partner) will laugh it off, give it a little time and get back to business. Dating someone who’s caring and compassionate means more laughing with you than at you and understanding that occasionally you hit road bumps on the way to Pound Town. While you don’t want a partner who’s going to treat you like you’re a porcelain statue or who is going to put foam bumpers on every metaphorical corner, you do want a partner who’s supportive and generous, not someone who thinks the appropriate response is to give notes like a TV exec in the middle of the production.
But another — and arguably more important — step is to expand your horizons. Part of the reason why you’re dealing with persistent erection anxiety and self-esteem issues that come bundled with them is because you, like a lot of folks, have a very narrow definition of “sex”… and it’s all centered around your dick. Don’t get me wrong: penises are great and all, but they’re not the end-all/be-all of pleasure, nor is sex exclusively defined by “insert tab-a into slot-b, repeat”. A lot of guys — and again, porn has a lot to do with this — see vaginal penetration as the point of it all. Everything else is just the warm-up before the big game. Yeah, oral is good for foreplay but everyone knows that orgasms only count when they’re being delivered by the magic stick… and without any assistance from hands or toys.
And that’s bullshit. Sex is a holistic exercise, one that involves your whole body and mind. It’s not limited to “getting the pole in the goal”, it’s sharing pleasure between you and your partner, and it doesn’t require your having a steely erection to make it happen. Yes, you may have times when your penis doesn’t want to play well with others. But you know what never goes limp, nor fails to work when needed? Your fingers. Your hands. Your mouth and tongue. Dildos and vibrators. All of these can be used to have incredible sex and please your partner without needing to worry about whether your dick is fully engaged or not. Yes, it’s all still sex. Trust me: if your future girlfriend is falling back on the bed after the third or fourth orgasm (or even just one really good one), she’s not going to be seeing this as a failure because they came about from your using a silver bullet on her or going down like a nuclear sub. She’s going to see that as some bed-rocking, back breaking, saw-the-face-of-god-and-you-both-winked banging.
Now admittedly, it can take time to get there — especially as you’re trying to get your confidence back. But there’re solutions to that as well: take things slower with your next girlfriend. Part of what you’re trying to do is ease your anxiety about not being able to get an erection… so take boners off the table at the start. Learn to love making out like teenagers. Fool around like you don’t know when your parents are going to get back. Get comfortable with each others bodies and presence in bed, talk about what turns you both on and gets you both off. Let yourself enjoy being with someone and be enjoyed by someone without worrying about whether you’re going to cross home plate and put some of those expanded ideas about sex into play at the start rather than later down the line.
This not only has the benefit of establishing that wider definition of sex early on, but it means that you’re not going to feel the pressure to be hard at the drop of a hat. You’ll be more comfortable being sexual — in general and with your future partners — without feeling like anything less than ramrod straight is a failure. And when you’re not worried about performing, you’ll actually be able to perform when the occasion arises.
But best of all, by being more comfortable with expanding your definitions of sex, not only will you be a much better lover in general — the kind women brag about to their friends — but if you do have a moment where you go soft, you’ll be able to pivot smoothly to another way of pleasing your partner without missing a beat or breaking the mood. Then, after the moment’s passed and you’re able to get hard again, you’ll be ready to bring penetration back on line and add that back into the evening’s repertoire.
It’s not nearly as dire as it may feel right now. Date better women, de-prioritize rock-hard boners as the alpha and omega of sex and embrace all the many ways of getting down. You’ll have your sexual confidence back in no time.
I wanted to write to you because I wanted your advice on a situation that’s been bothering me for a few days.
So, one of my closest friends, we’ll call her Britney, has been seeing her coworker, we’ll call him Sam, for a few weeks now. Britney broke up with her boyfriend of 6 years a few months ago. I’ll spare you the gory details but let’s just say it was NOT a clean break. I personally think she’s moved on too fast and hasn’t really allowed herself time to heal, but whatever. She’s an adult. She can make her own mistakes.
Just some background before I get into the meat of this situation: Britney has some SERIOUS self-esteem and self-respect issues. I see it, her parents see it, my boyfriend (who is also very close with her) sees it.
I’m going to try to condense this as much as possible for you. A couple weeks ago, some shit went down between Britney and Sam when Britney (a previous addict) showed up to work one day messed up. She told me that she had taken a bit too much of her (prescribed) Ativan. Sam said he didn’t know how to react because he’d never been with an addict before, so he shut down and basically ghosted her for a couple days.
Now, a few days ago, Brit came to me and explained everything. I told her that what he did was immature and disrespectful. Sam is almost 27. His story of “I didn’t know how to react” is complete bullshit and I don’t buy one word of it. He couldn’t even man up enough to have a mature adult conversation with her? Instead, he decided to just keep her in the dark for days so she can drive herself crazy thinking about what she did wrong? Come on, dude. She started defending him and telling me to lay off as I haven’t even met him.
This is her M.O. She thinks that now that he’s given her a reason and apologized, that everything’s okay. But the fact still stands that he disrespected her. I told her that it’s not okay and that she needs to see what an amazing human being she is and to start demanding respect from those she chooses to invest her time and energy into.
We’ve been doing this back-and-forth for years. Every time she asks for my opinion, she yells at me and blows me off if it’s not what she wants to hear. It’s like talking to a brick wall. Every time I try to talk some sense into her, it always goes in one ear and out the other to the point where I kinda feel like “okay, well, what the fuck is the point?” She’s just not gonna listen to what I have to say and do whatever the hell she wants anyway, so why waste my breath.
Now, obviously, this is a direct result of her self-esteem issues. There are times when I find myself getting angry trying to get her to see her worth and what an amazing person she is. I mean, her ex-boyfriend cheated on her multiple times before she finally got the message to leave. Even then, I had to drill it into her head that that is not what love is.
I’m the type of person that when I love, I love HARD. I love this girl like a sister. I love her so much to the point where she’s said it feels like I’m attacking her when I’m simply trying to talk some sense into her. And maybe that’s my fault, maybe I should learn to dial it back but I’m not gonna apologize for being a good friend and telling her what she needs to hear.
All of this to say, am I wrong for telling her that she needs to start respecting herself and demanding that same respect from others? Is there something I can do to help her see what a wonderful human being she is?
–Unapologetic Voice of Reason
A couple of things, UVR.
Your heart’s clearly in the right place and I don’t doubt the intent behind everything. But holy fucknuts Batman, you are going about all of this in the most counterproductive manner possible.
First, let’s address the current inciting incident. Britney already has substance abuse issues and apparently fell off the wagon. Now, to be clear: I’m not judging her for this. I’ve known addicts, I understand just how hard it can be to break an addiction and how easy it is to relapse. However, if someone hasn’t been in a relationship with an addict before, it can be incredibly intense and off-putting. It’s not an experience everyone has had before and people are going to have complicated and uncomfortable feelings about the whole thing, especially if it’s someone they’ve been dating for six months or less. That’s not in the “weathered the trials and tribulations of a relationship” stage, that’s not even out of the “everything is shiny and new, easy and exciting” stage of New Relationship Energy. Seeing your partner fall off the wagon at that stage can be scary, especially if you’ve never dealt with it before. Doubly so with a prescription drug like Ativan, when the effects of an overdose can include loss of muscle control, disorientation, confusion and trouble breathing.
So, yeah, I’m not entirely surprised that this freaked him out and he needed time to get his head wrapped around what happened. That was likely a scary and unusual situation for him, and it may well have made him question whether — and how — he wants to move forward. Did he handle it in the textbook perfect manner? No… but then again, it’s pretty damn hard to do so if that’s the first time you’ve ever encountered this situation.
But speaking of handling situations, while Sam didn’t exactly cover himself in glory, quite frankly, neither have you. I’m not entirely surprised that Britney got upset with you over the way you responded to this. From the sounds of it, you’re getting all of the information second hand and drawing inferences, ones that she clearly felt were inaccurate. Now, in fairness: people in shitty or toxic relationships will defend their partners to their friends and family. Trust me: been there, done that, got plenty of personal experience in these matters. But whether or not your inferences were or weren’t accurate, berating her and yelling at her that she was wrong and needs to do exactly what you say is the wrong approach.
Here’s the thing: nobody has ever browbeat someone into breaking up with a toxic partner or respecting themselves more. In fact, this has the opposite effect. Like families or friends who do things to “toughen someone up” or “make them less sensitive”, yelling and criticizing aren’t how you make someone feel better about themselves and respect themselves more. And, quite frankly, it isn’t being helped by the fact that you’re contradicting your own message to her. You’re telling her to respect herself and have boundaries, to not let people treat her badly… but then you get pissed at her when she draws a boundary with you. That’s not her lack of self-esteem talking, that’s her telling you that what you’re doing and the you’re going about it isn’t helping her and she doesn’t appreciate it. But if you ignore those boundaries on the grounds of “well this is for your own good” or “I’m just trying to help”, you’re underming your own advice by showing that no, some boundaries don’t seem to count. “I love her so much to the point where she’s said it feels like I’m attacking her when I’m simply trying to talk some sense into her” is not the excuse you think it is, especially if she’s asked you for help or advice. That’s not being a good friend, that’s someone who isn’t listening to what their friend is asking for.
Nobody — even people looking for help — appreciates help that starts with “muscle up you wuss” or being beat over the head. In point of fact, what this actually does is cause them to dig their heels in and refuse to listen. Worse, yelling at them, judging them and criticizing them for not making the choices you think they should make means that when they decide they do need help or assistance, they’re not going to come to you. All you’ve done is shown them that any sort of admission that they were wrong is going to come with a heaping helping of “I told you so” and judgement, when what they need is compassion.
You can’t “tough love” someone into leaving a shitty partner. You can’t argue or debate them into it either. The only time someone is going to leave their partner — whether they’re a cheating piece of shit or an actual abuser — is when they’re ready. You can’t speed that day along with yelling or harsh truths. One very common reason why people will stay with shitty partners is because they don’t want to deal with the judgement and comments from friends and loved ones. The fear of that judgement, the embarrassment of having let things go on as long as they did and the pain of hearing that criticism will cause them to shy away and stay with the situation they know. Does this make logical sense? Fuck no it doesn’t. But we’re not talking about logic, we’re talking about people and people are not logical. The way you make it possible for them to leave is by providing them with care, compassion and support; when they’re ready to make the leap, you want to make sure they have a soft place to land.
And again: I speak from experience here. I’ve got folks in my life who still give me shit about my toxic relationship from nearly two decades ago. You know who I go to when I need advice, comfort or solace about heartbreak or emotional issues?
Literally anyone else.
Doesn’t matter that they love me — and I know they do. Doesn’t matter that they want what they feel is best for me. What matters is that they have made it clear that a relationship that hurt me deeply and caused me trauma is still fair game to bring up and toss out into casual conversation like it was nothing and that means I wouldn’t feel safe bringing anything else sensitive to them. Why would I if it means another fuck-knows how many years of having it brought up again and again?
You want Britney to start treating herself with respect? Start by modeling what that looks like. You want her to have compassion for herself? Show compassion first. And if you want her to have stronger boundaries and not let people walk all over her, respect her boundaries, even when you disagree with them. Support and help doesn’t look like yelling at her and telling her what to do, it’s encouraging her when she makes the right call, helping her pick herself up when she stumbles and being someone she can turn to for understanding and care, not judgement and criticism.
Want to see a great example of this in action? Watch Harley Quinn and pay attention to the relationship between Harley and Poison Ivy. They’re both fucked up individuals — to put it mildly — and it ain’t perfect, but Ivy’s friendship and support of Harley is a big part of what helps her leave. And — I might point out — it doesn’t involve browbeating her or yelling at her and justifying it because Ivy cares SO much.
Your yelling at Britney isn’t going to raise her self esteem or inspire her to new heights. That just makes her feel attacked and like she can’t do anything right. Care, support and encouragement will.
Want to help your friend? Start by being a better friend to her.