"I'm 26. This shouldn't be happening to me." Those are the words of one male Redditor among many shedding teacup-fulls of tears over their erectile dysfunction. In a recent story on Mic, more guys complain of the problem being compounded by doctors dismissing young patients' concerns with platitudes like "it's just performance anxiety" or "it's all in your head." Add on top of that ED sufferers' perception that their partners are disappointed with their sexual performance, and it's no wonder the problem persists.
But wait a minute.
A persistent problem among sexually-active young people and their ability to orgasm...frustration over partner ignorance...dismissive doctors discounting the veracity of their patients' complaints...does any of that sound familiar to you? OH WAIT, IT'S WHAT WOMEN HAVE BEEN DEALING WITH SINCE ORGASMS WERE INVENTED. Welcome to the club. It sucks.
But the good news is, as hostesses of this party for so very long, women are uniquely qualified to give some useful advice on how to deal with sex hangups.
First of all, yeah, you shouldn't be dealing with an inability to get aroused as a virile young person. But neither should your female partners, and I'd be willing to wager you've flaked on proper foreplay a time or two in your day. So before you rightfully and righteously claim that the world is being unfair to your penis, take a moment to think about how unfair the world is to all women's vaginas, all the time. #yesallwomen
Second of all, yes, it completely sucks when doctors dismiss your concerns based on your age or their own judgements about sex and sexuality or a myriad of other possible, shitty, unfair reasons. But this happens to women constantly. Need I remind you that no one bothered to explore and discover the complete anatomy of the clitoris until 1998? Or that women are less likely than men to be treated for their pain? A young relative of mine once told her gynecologist that she felt like her birth control was tanking her sex drive, which was making her feel depressed, and asked if she could switch to another form of birth control. Her gynecologist's response?
"Well, you're 18, so we don't really concern ourselves with that at your age."
Third of all, yes, it's a huge drag when your partner's insecurities get in the way of their compassion. Mocking you for your body and how it works, or, conversely, making your problem all about themselves and freaking out about how this must secretly mean that you aren't attracted to them, doesn't give you the space to express your emotions, work through anything, or actually feel supported. Women definitely have no experience with this problem, right? Nope. Definitely not.
OK, so now that we've had a healthy privilege check, let's talk about what you actually need to know about erectile dysfunction.
1. Yes, It Happens To Young Guys, Often
If your idea of a dude struggling to get it up conjures up the image of a sad old man, think again. An estimated one in four men under 40 sought treatment for ED according to a 2013 study, and that's not even counting the ones who were too ashamed or too unaware to seek treatment.
2. It's Not The Condom, It's Your ED
One of the more harmful side effects of young men not realizing or refusing to acknowledge the possibility that they're suffering from erectile dysfunction is their tendency to blame the condom. "It feels better without one" is a common manipulation tactic used to coerce women out of practicing safer sex. But as a recent study found, of the 32 percent of straight males who reported that condoms made them lose their erections, most of them just had erectile dysfunction! Also, more than a third of that study's participants had never been taught how to put on a condom correctly, so it's not a huge surprise that condoms are associated with boner-kills. What actually needs to happen here is treatment of ED, better sex ed that teaches proper condom application, and a willingness on the part of the erection-haver to experiment with different types of condoms and find one that actually fits them well.
3. Find A Doctor Who Listens
Most women know that just because someone is a doctor doesn't automatically mean they have no biases. (Ahem.) Counterintuitive though it may be, the truth is that there are plenty of sex-negative gynecologists (see above), misogynistic doctors, and transphobic healthcare providers. It's not all that uncommon to have your legitimate concerns dismissed by a physician, or for the answers simply not to be there, because no one has thought to ask the question. (Ask me about all the weird looks I get trying to explain queer lady sex concerns to doctors in various fields. There is no literature on anything.)
But if a doctor is brushing off your concerns about erectile dysfunction, and you feel as though ED is affecting your quality of life, you really have to sack up and find a second opinion. Or third or fourth or fifth. Yes, it's frustrating, but the truth is, most people who aren't cis men have an impossible time finding quality care. Truthfully, you have a leg up on the rest of us, and you still won't have to work quite as hard. You just might not be used to getting dismissed. Privilege can be cool like that.
4. If You Can Sustain An Erection During Masturbation, Then The Problem Is Likely Psychological
Tons of dudes (according to Reddit) claim that their problem is "real," by which they mean "not in their heads." They insist that they don't have performance anxiety, and then go on to detail how they have no problems maintaining an erection during masturbation, but then once they're faced with a partner, they lose it. Guess what? That's the literal definition of performance anxiety. Seeing a psychologist may be more helpful to folks with this issue than a hastily scribbled Viagra prescription, to get at the root of their underlying anxieties, judgements, and self-doubt.
5. Reframe The Importance Of The Penis In Sex
Often times, the psychological hangups of ED are around female partner-pleasing. Once an erection wilts, it may as well be the sex apocalypse for everyone involved. But here's a secret I'm going to let you in on: a dick typically doesn't even crack the top three favorite things women like to get off with. One through three might be anything from tongues, to fingers, to two hands doing different things, to three hands (one hers), to touching herself while you help in some other way, to a vibrator. Your dick just isn't that important to her orgasm. I don't say that to scare you; I say that to empower you! And to free you from the tyranny of your own false sense of importance! A sex therapist visited by you and your partner can help you reframe your sex to be "pleasure-oriented" rather than orgasm/"results"/finish line-oriented. And seriously, once you stop worrying about it so much, the problem often really does fix itself.
6. Drugs Are Bad For Boners
Whiskey dick has spawned several new offspring since men first realized that getting sh*tfaced was generally bad for sexy business. Among them are weed dick, which science has recently proven the real existence of, but even drugs like SSRIs prescribed for depression are notorious boner-kills. Obviously, discuss prescription med concerns with a doctor (your third, fourth, or fifth opinion-hunting skills may need to be enlisted here). But recreational drug use might also be a culprit worth looking into.
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